Latino Museum Studies Program: An Introduction

Those who follow me on social media may have noticed that I am no longer in Albuquerque, but Washington, D.C. This temporary location change is due to a very fortunate fellowship with the Smithsonian’s Latino Center, where I will be serving as a Latino Museum Studies Program participant for the next month. As such, I wanted to write a post (and break in the blog feature of my new site!) to serve an introduction to the program and what to expect for future posts about my experience both within the Latino Museum Studies Program (LMSP) and at the Smithsonian as a whole.

The LMSP a six-week program that starts off with an intensive two-week seminar, where fellows attend a series of lectures and tours by Smithsonian staff and affiliates, and a four-week practicum with different Smithsonian institutions that is assigned prior to arrival. All participants are graduate students from multiple fields generally focused on some form of Latino studies and (at least in the case of the current cohort) are of Latino descent. Ultimately, the program seeks to create a forum to explore Latino representation within museum spaces both in the exhibitions and in the faculty and to illustrate how participant involvement in these movements can improve the representational landscape of museums and its staff.

The program was created in 1994 following a report, Willful Neglect, about the lack of representation of Latino experience at the Smithsonian and people of Latino descent in curatorial and other staff positions. This opening document essentially argues that the only way for Latinos to be so drastically underrepresented in these areas is by intentional or noticeable neglect, and the only way to really change this practice is by training Latino scholars and including the Latino community in discussions about curating exhibitions, adding new objects, and developing museum practices within the field. I’ll go more in-depth about specific discussions in the future, but all lectures and discussions center on how individuals and Smithsonian staff have sought to increase Latino representation and how we, as scholars and potential museum practitioners might impact the field as well.

My interest in this program is multifaceted. First, my historical research focuses on a Latino community. My Master’s thesis is a case study of the Santa Fe Maternal Health Center (SFMHC), Catholic use of contraception, and how the poor, Hispanic, Catholic community received and utilized its services in spite of religious backlash. A large part of this project seeks to reinsert patient voices in the narrative, which have often been ignored over the voice of the nurses and female SFMHC Board who founded the Center.

This program also speaks to my interest in museum studies, education, interpretation, digital educational media, and video games. I love working in programming in museums and thinking about how to enhance museum spaces with digital components and improve educational experiences through these means as well as traditional museum practices. Museums, increasingly, are looking to digital tools to use in exhibitions, and I want to be a part of that conversation. The LMSP provides a venue to do just that.

My practicum, “Latinos in the 21st Century,” will allow exploration of this. I will be working with Melissa Carrillo, the New Media and Technology Director of the Latino Center. In part, I will be working with the Latino Center to make their resources more accessible and explore potential digital venues to expand the Center’s work. As a cherry on top of this already fantastic opportunity, it seems part of my job will be to suggest and develop potential video games for users to engage with Latino studies and representation. What I’m trying to say is that this program is perfect and I am in near heaven (It’d be better with my cat and husband here, though).

Either way, the program has kept me very busy for the past week and a half and we are almost done with the seminar section and will start the practicum portion next week. As such, I may have to put a hold on other projects, or at least prioritize my work here. Regardless, you can expect relatively frequent updates about the different seminars I’ve already attended or will attend as well as any reflections on the LMSP, my place in the program as a fellow, and experience of working for the Smithsonian. Stay tuned.


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