HOUSTON, Texas, Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) — Join the Archivists of the Houston Area for the second biennial Houston Archives Bazaar on Sunday, November 17 from 10am to 2pm at White Oak Music Hall, 2715 N Main Street, Houston TX 77089. This free, family event is an opportunity for Houston communities to engage with historical collections and resources. Discover local histories, share your stories, and learn to preserve them! Featuring interactive activities and exhibitors from over twenty Houston and Gulf-Coast area archives, at the Houston Archives Bazaar (HAB) visitors will learn about the Bayou City’s diverse and extensive historical resources in the Resource Gallery; have a conversation and connect with knowledgeable archivists at the Ask-An-Archivist station; bring up to five personal items and gain hands-on experience digitizing family photographs, letters, documents, and other treasured personal materials at the Digital Memories Booth; and learn preservation and wet salvage techniques in demonstrations by TX-CERA. Complete your Passport to Houston Archives to win giveaways and more! Visitors are encouraged to bring items to contribute to the Houston Time Capsule, which will be “buried” under a 30-year restriction in the AHA! records at the Woodson Research Center. Visitors are also encouraged to share a story about Houston in the Oral History Storytelling Booth, contributing to the growing collection of HAB oral histories that began in 2017. The Archivists of the Houston Area is a professional organization that exists to increase contact and communication between archivists and those working with records, to provide opportunities for professional development, and to promote archival repositories and activities in the greater Houston, Texas area.
Over the course of the twentieth century, commensurate with the growth of the Latino population, many local libraries, historical societies, small museums and collections within colleges and universities in the Southwest have become repositories of Hispanic/Latino materials. However, these valuable collections are not well documented and, in some cases, there is risk of damage to the collections. This is largely due to the lack of adequate resources and training at these institutions, both large and small, such that these materials are often held in below standard conditions and are unknown to the scholarly community potentially interested in them.
In 2017-2018, Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage conducted a survey of small historical societies, libraries and museums in the Southwest that might hold Hispanic archival materials and to assess how they were preserved and made accessible. The survey results were published on Recovery’s website to serve as a guide to Hispanic materials at small institutions.
The final phase of the project involved inviting personnel from these small institutions to a meeting to offer us feedback and other projects that could plan out a larger, second project and to offer basic training to the personnel at these collections, to help stabilize the collections and make them accessible.
In summary 358 surveys were distributed. Of these, 59 were completed and returned. This effort was followed up with phone and email contacts to 36 institutions. Of the final list of 36 organizations reporting fully, we invited 18 to come to Houston for a full-day conference; of these 8 attended and participated in the conference. The final “Guide” published on Recovery’s website includes the full report of holdings of these institutions, the types of institutions and their needs; in these, there was a considerable amount of Hispanic archival materials identified, so as to justify the need for this project.
On Friday April 27, 2018, we brought in the historical society directors to the University of Houston to give us feedback, receive some training and plan the next steps.
Nicolás Kanellos, Ph. D.
Brown Foundation Professor of Hispanic Studies
Director, Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage
On May 14, 2019, in a collaboration between the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 60, the University of Houston’s Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage/Arte Público Press, and SERJobs, members of the community gathered to celebrate the launch of the Alonso S. Perales Digital Archive. Among those in attendance was Perales’ daughter, Marta Perales Carrizales. This digital archive marks the first digitized collection on the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Digital Archives site.
Alonso S. Perales was one of the most prominent US Civil rights leaders of the twentieth century. He was born in Alice, Texas in 1898. Perales served in the US Army during World War I. After his military service, he attended college and law school at the National University (which later became George Washington University). Upon receiving his law degree, Perales became only the third Mexican American to practice law in Texas (Olivas xi). Perales dedicated his life to Mexican American civil rights and empowering the working-class community through knowledge and education. In 1929, Perales co-founded of the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC)–the first nationwide Mexican American civil rights organization, not to mention the largest and oldest US Latino political association. He served as the second LULAC national president from 1930 to 1931 (xiv). In addition to his work in the United States, Perales served as Nicaraguan Consul General for twenty-five years and as counsel to the Nicaraguan delegation to the United Nations in 1945. In addition, he helped draft the original Charter of the United Nations. Perales authored Are We Good Neighbors and two volumes of En defensa de mi raza. His writing stressed the need for anti-discrimination legislation and civil activism for the Latino community.
Alonso S. Perales Collection
The Alonso S. Perales Collection is Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage’s flagship online digital archive. In 2009, Marta Perales Carrizales and Raymond Perales donated their father’s extensive personal papers to the University of Houston’s Recovery Program. This collection, which measures over 40 linear feet, contains correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, civil rights writings, and foundational documents related to LULAC. The online digital collection includes a large sampling of these documents. To facilitate accessibility, the digital documents include full-text transcriptions and bilingual keywords for searches. In the future, more US Latino digital archives will be added to the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Digital Collections (available at: usldhrecovery.uh.edu). The original Alonso S. Perales Papers are housed at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections.
Are We Good Neighbors? Mapping Discrimination Against Mexican Americans in 1940s Texas
Perales’ activism also included the empowerment of his community. He urged people to publicly share experiences of discrimination, including the names and addresses of businesses where they were refused service. Many of the testimonies sworn to him in his capacity as Notary Public appeared in his book, Are We Good Neighbors?
The digital mapping project, Are We Good Neighbors?, uses the information in these testimonials to locate these incidents on a map in an attempt to reveal the embodiment of racism. One after another, these accounts tell stories of everyday life: going out for dinner with family, spending time with friends, looking for employment, or moving to a new house. Yet, for people of Mexican descent, these activities were marked by disgust, hatred, shame, and even violence. This project highlights the personal history of racism, one that takes place in our own neighborhoods to real people, rather than distanced through abstract statistics.
The Alonso S. Perales Collection Twitter Bot (@AlonsoSPerales) also strives to bring attention to his activism. This Twitter account automatically posts quotations (in English and Spanish) from Perales’ writing and allows his voice to continue to advocate for education, equality, and justice.
The Perales Collection is extremely important for our understanding of the historical trajectory of US Latinx civil rights. The documents in this collection reveal the ways our community refused to remain silent, even in the face of persecution. Civil rights leaders such as Perales fought for justice long before the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The history embedded in this collection is not readily available in K-12 history books. We hope that digital projects such as these can empower our community through education and help Latina/o/x schoolchildren see themselves reflected in US history in a positive light.
LULAC is the largest and oldest Hispanic Organization the United States. LULAC advances the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of Hispanic Americans through community-based programs operating at more than 1,000 LULAC councils nationwide.
Arte Público Press is the oldest and largest Hispanic publisher in the United States. Established in 1979, it is the principal provider of cultural materials on Latino life in the United States for general and educational audiences.
SERJobs is a nonprofit community organization that educates and equips people in the Texas Gulf Coast Region who come from low-income backgrounds or who have significant barriers to employment.
Olivas, Michael A. (ed.) In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals. Arte Público Press, 2012.
Orozco, Cynthia E. No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. University of Texas Press, 2009.
Saldaña, Hector. “Unsung Hero of Civil Rights: ‘Father of LULAC’ A Fading Memory.” Practicing Texas Politics, 2013.
Sloss Vento, Adela. Alonso S. Perales: His Struggle for the Rights of the Mexican American. Artes Gráficas, 1977.
I gave the following talk on Jan. 5, 2019 at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention held in Chicago, IL.
This talk was part of a TC Digital Humanities sponsored roundtable on Digital Hispanisms with Alex Saum-Pascual (UC, Berkeley), Sylvia Fernández (U. of Houston), Nora Benedict (Princeton U), Vanessa Ceia (McGill U), Lorena Gauthereau (U. of Houston), Hilda Chacón (Nazareth College). This roundtable was designed to spark a conversation on the intersections between Digital Humanities (DH) and Hispanic Studies (HS). For all the speakers’ abstracts, please visit: https://mla.hcommons.org/groups/digital-humanities/forum/topic/mla19-582-roundtable-digital-hispanisms-2/
As we reflect on Digital Hispanisms in this roundtable, I want to briefly describe the types of theoretical frameworks and methodologies that emerge when engaging the digital humanities (DH) through US Latinx Studies. Specifically, I am interested in the groundwork laid by Chicana and Third World feminists. Rather than continuing to center hegemonic Anglophone theorists, I argue that by drawing from the lived experiences of Women of Color, we can shift the types of conversations taking place in the field of digital humanities. As a Woman of Color, I recognize that we cannot rely on hegemonic DH theory to acknowledge, much less accurately represent, our lived experiences and the digital stories we tell. As an example of DH discourse elaborated from the perspective of Third World feminism, I will discuss my mapping project, “Are We Good Neighbors?” and how my proposed theoretical framework highlights what is at stake in doing this type of DH: it’s a matter of humanizing a past that has all too often been silenced. Third World feminism accounts for the way that theory and lived experience meld, and stresses that the theoretical needs to be grounded in the flesh because our experiences cannot be separated from who we are.
“Are We Good Neighbors?” is a story map that includes transcriptions of affidavits and maps incidents of discrimination against Mexican Americans in Texas during the 1940s. These affidavits are from the Alonso S. Perales Collection at the University of Houston’s Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. Perales was one of the first Mexican Americans to practice law in the US and one of the co-founders of the civil rights organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens (or LULAC) (Olivas xi). In addition to practicing law, he was also a diplomat, veteran, civil rights activist, and author of two books: En defensa de mi raza (In Defense of My People) and Are We Good Neighbors?, from which I drew the digital project’s name. As part of his activism, Perales encouraged the Mexican American community to report discrimination and to call out, by name, the public establishments in which these incidents occurred. As a result, his archival collection includes hundreds of affidavits and letters.
One after another, these accounts tell stories of the quotidian: going out for dinner with family, spending time with friends, moving to a new house, riding the bus to school, or even going to the barber shop for a haircut. Yet, for Mexican Americans in the 1940s, these quotidian activities are marked by disgust, hatred, shame, fear, and even violence. And these negative affects are felt and worn on the body. Mapping these instances gives a materiality to the offenses, geolocating them in neighborhoods and commercial centers still frequented today. When the bodies of those who experienced this discrimination are long gone, it is our bodies that can physically stand in these places.
Framed through the lens of Third World feminists, such as Sara Ahmed, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Cherríe Moraga, “Are We Good Neighbors?” reveals the personal history of racism, one that takes place in our neighborhoods to real people, rather than distanced through abstract statistics. What becomes apparent when mapping these accounts is the personal and normalized embodiment of racism in the US. The juxtaposition of these affidavits and maps call people to be witnesses through time and affectively embed the experience in its physical location. These locations are often places that we can imagine ourselves in. Remembering injustices through this type of witnessing makes people of color visible, and is, as Ahmed writes, “about claiming an injustice did happen; this claim is a radical one in the face of the forgetting of such injustices” (2004; 200).
Take for example the affidavit sworn by Amada B. Quesnot, the mother of five-year old Eugene Quesnot. On November 13, 1941, she attempted to take little Eugene to M&S Clinic for treatment yet was turned away because of her ethnicity. Amada writes,
The lady in charge in the Social Workers Room asked me if I was Latin American and when I replied in the affirmative she stated that no Latin American children were accepted for treatment at that Clinic.
(Quesnot qtd. in Perales 204)
Turned away, Amada insists upon her own legitimacy in her letter, tracing it through her US citizenship and both her husband’s and older son’s military service. She was born here, she protests. But her brown skin is read as un-American; and the brown skin of her five-year old child is read as undeserving of medical attention. Her decision to write the letter affirms her need to do something, to plead for political action. She documents a struggle, a status quo that needs to change. Her lived reality is tied to this political desire. Cherrie Moraga’s theory in the flesh makes this connection; a theory in the flesh, she writes, is a theory in which “the physical realities of our lives–our skin color, the land of concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings–all fuse to create a politic born out of necessity” (19). Echoing Moraga’s (1981) argument that theory is fused to the body, Sara Ahmed states that:
The personal is theoretical. Theory itself is often assumed to be abstract: something is more theoretical the more abstract it is, the more it is abstracted from everyday life. To abstract is to drag away, detach, pull away, or divert. We might then have to drag theory back, to bring theory back to life.
Gloria Anzaldúa’s (1987) mestiza consciousness then weaves these two together. It is the thread that ties the theory to the flesh. Anzaldúa imagines the mestiza putting
history through a sieve…This step is a conscious rupture with all oppressive traditions of all cultures and religions. She communicates that rupture, documents the struggle. She reinterprets history and, using new symbols, she shapes new myths.
Mestiza consciousness as an approach to DH calls us to read for the silences in historical narratives, to discard the frameworks that marginalize the experiences of people of color, and to invent new theories and methodologies that center our lived experiences.
Turning to Third World feminism in DH, then, reminds us to bring theory back to life, to bring it back to the lived experience. “Doing DH” isn’t just about the final product, but also about the process of dragging theory back and embodying it. Moreover, shifting the loci of enunciation from the center to the margin, reimagines DH not just as a site of knowledge-production, but also as a site of decolonial resistance and social justice. Our digital work does not need to be reduced to mere zeros and ones or replicate the canonical archive of dead white men’s work, but instead can be a space to reclaim lost histories, reveal injustices, and demand that our voices be heard. Allow me to end with one last Ahmed quotation in order to highlight the importance of thinking through DH via Third World feminism; I ask that you reflect on digital scholarship and digitized archives as I read this: “Your texts are littered with love. Words can pulse with life; words as flesh, leaking; words as heart, beating.” (2017; 230). Thank you.
Ahmed, Sara. Cultural Politics of Emotion. Routledge, 2014.
_____. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2017.
Anzaldúa, Gloria E. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books, 1987.
Moraga, Cherríe and Gloria E. Anzaldúa. This Bridge Called My Back.Writings by Radical Women of Color. 4th ed., SUNY Press, 2015.
Olivas, Michael A. (ed.) In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2012.
Quesnot, Amada , “Affidavit sworn by Amada Quesnot to Alonso S. Perales,” Alonso S. Perales Collection. Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Digital Collections.
Acompáñenos HOY, jueves, 17 de enero a las 2:00 EST, para “#usLdh: Latinos en los Estados Unidos en la era de las humanidades digitales,” un seminario en línea sobre el Programa de Recuperación del legado escrito de las/los latina/o/xs en los Estados Unidos (Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage). Este seminario es parte de la serie Desmantelando Fronteras/Breaking Down Borders de la sociedad de archivistas americanas, Society of American Archivists (SAA) Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives (LACCHA).
Las Dras. Gabriela Baeza Ventura, Carolina Villarroel, y Lorena Gauthereau hablarán sobre los antecedentes del program, la práctica de la custodia compartida (post-custodial), la creación del primer centro de humanidades digitales enfocado en estudios US Latinxs, y los proyectos digitales que se están desarrollando en este momento.
Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage/Arte Públic Press is excited to announce that Drs. Carolina Villarroel and Gabriela Baeza Ventura will be teaching a course at Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching (HILT) June 3-7, 2019. The course, “Digital Humanities + Latinx Studies: Doing Work that Matters” explores analog and digital methodologies to create scholarship and knowledge around the experiences of US Latinx peoples.
Participants will be introduced to the process of developing toolkits and resources to explore archival sources of Latinx peoples while taking into account their historical, cultural and political context. Participants will be guided through processes involved in rescuing materials that have been or could fall through the cracks of the institutional apparatus to ask why and how to rethink these processes in order to incorporate these underrepresented communities and their history within the institutional discourse. Villarroel and Baeza Ventura will guide the class in interrogating the lived experiences of transnational, exile, native, immigrant peoples which are crucial at the time of researching, reading, understanding and writing about them.
Questions that this course will cover include, but are not limited to:
How do we approach US Latinx experience?
How do we understand the importance of ethnic materials in the US?
How do we approach and incorporate languages other than English into DH?
How to identify materials for future projects (research, copyright issues, etc.)?
How do we create meaningful and respectful data?
How do we work with the community owners of the knowledge?
How do we create knowledge and scholarship based on these materials?
How do we engage the local communities?
Participants are expected to complete this course with knowledge of how to use digital surrogates to expand access and dissemination of underrepresented collections, as well as develop plans for community-building and partnerships that could help further the mission and scope of the projects. The course uses an interdisciplinary approach that at its very base questions archival politics and praxis. Additionally, participants will learn about strategies necessary to advocate for programming, grant writing, and faculty and student engagement (undergraduate and graduate).
No prior technical knowledge is required in this course. Anyone with an interest in Latinx studies and digital humanities is welcome.
This course is based on the work of the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage program located at the University of Houston, one of the premier research programs for US Latinx scholarship with a trajectory of more than 26 years of locating, preserving, and making available the written legacy of Latinx in the US since colonial times until 1960.
¡Extra, Extra! The Literary Heritage of Texas, on display Sept. 7-Oct. 31, 2018 at the Central Houston Public Library
¡Extra, Extra! The Hispanic Literary Heritage of Texas is an exhibit of Spanish-language newspapers and first-edition books from the Arte Público Press/Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage collections. This is a free exhibit located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Central Houston Public Library (500 McKinney Street, Houston, Tex 77002). The exhibit includes rare books, newspaper facsimiles, and photographs.
On the 3rd floor, a special exhibit explains the editorial process for Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público dedicated to the publication—in English, Spanish and bilingual formats—of children’s and young adult literature focusing on US Hispanic culture.
This exhibit was curated by Elena V. Valdez (Rice University) and supported by a grant from the Rice University Humanities Research Center. It will be on display from September 7 through October 31, 2018.
Estados Unidos es un país compuesto por (in)migrantes, por ende, la identidad y el récord histórico de cada uno se entrelaza con otros países. Si trazamos las raíces de (in)migración de cada uno, los lazos con otros países están siempre presentes. Por otra parte, la situación como (in)migrantes recae en una situación en la que, si bien estas personas llegan, se establecen y crean una vida en este país. No obstante, en muchos de los casos su trayectoria no se ve reflejada como parte de la historia de la nación ya que ni siquiera se contempla o se le da prioridad dentro de los archivos nacionales. En este caso, hablo especialmente sobre los archivos que representen las diversas historias de las personas de color, como lo son los latinos. En estos documentos se puede ver la presencia del español en los Estados Unidos, un sinfín de contribuciones al país desde diferentes ámbitos y una trayectoria que rompe con los estereotipos impuestos a estos grupos de personas. A demás, estos documentos desestabilizan las identidades fijas que se han construido a través de los años. Lo que en muchos casos la nacionalidad o lugar de residencia impone definir que la persona sea de un solo lugar, ya sea al de origen o al de residencia. Sin embargo, el/la (in)migrante puede ser “De aquí y de allá” lo que incluye que su legado se encuentre en distintos países. Asimismo, a través de los años las distintas historias de los (in)migrantes indican que no solamente los mexicanos y/o mexicoamericanos han vivido en Tejas o en otros estados de la frontera, entre otras intersecciones, complejidades, ambigüedades, similitudes y contradicciones.
Frances Aparicio (1993) describe que los puertorriqueños han estado (in)migrando a los Estados Unidos desde la segunda mitad del siglo XIX y a través de los años han establecido una comunidad culturalmente fuerte y visible. Además, los puertorriqueños han sido una parte integral de los principales desarrollos culturales e históricos estadounidenses, específicamente en Nueva York y sus alrededores (20). Sin embargo, archivos que representan estos acontecimientos son escasos, lo que resulta por determinar su historia a través de dos o tres archivos recuperados y reconocidos, como es el caso de los puertorriqueños en Nueva York como el de Arturo Schomburg o Jesús Colón.
El Archivo Digital de Delis Negrón (Delis Negrón Digital Archive)va más allá de dar visibilidad a un puertorriqueño que (in)migró a la ciudad de Nueva York a principios del siglo XX. El archivo de Delis Negrón representa a un ciudadano que se desempeñó profesionalmente en distintas ciudades fronterizas del sur de Texas como lo fue en Laredo, McAllen, Brownsville, Del Río, así como en San Antonio. Tuvo una etapa de su vida en la que cruzó la frontera y vivió en la Ciudad de México, donde trabajó con distinguidos intelectuales y formó parte del grupo de edición del periódico El Universal. Al regresar a la frontera estadounidense, Negrón se estableció definitivamente en el sur de Texas, donde se casó y formó una familia. Al mismo tiempo estuvo muy involucrado con la comunidad hispana de manera política, como también en eventos culturales donde declamaba poesía y era parte del elenco en obras de teatro locales a lado de su esposa, Delia Negrón.
El legado de Delis Negrón, desde sus publicaciones periodísticas y otros documentos, se pudo haber perdido en un bote de basura. A pesar de que parte de su trayectoria literaria, periodística y política sigue presente en los Estados Unidos incluyendo Puerto Rico y en México, para muchos es completamente desconocida. Incluso lo fue para su familia por un tiempo ya que solo lo conocían desde el ámbito familiar como el papá, el abuelo o el tío. Fue a través de conversaciones con personas que lo conocieron en su rol como editor, poeta, actor, que su hija Delia Negrón García se dio cuenta que las palabras escritas de su padre llenaban algunos de los vacíos de la historia y documentaban la cultura de las ciudades fronterizas del sur de Texas, así como de otras partes de Estados Unidos y México.
Es de esta forma, el arduo esfuerzo del programa de Recuperación del Legado Escrito de los Hispanos en Estados Unidos, de preservar este tipo de archivos y la iniciativa de crear el Archivo Digital de Delis Negrón conlleva a resaltar “el trabajo de estos intelectuales y grandes artistas y de muchos otros cuyos escritos, que aún nos son en general desconocidos, pero que contribuyeron significativamente a la identidad, historia y cultura hispana en los Estados Unidos.” (Traducción; Kanellos 239-240). Por otra parte, este proyecto profundiza en el conocimiento y cuestionamiento de la identidad y el legado de puertorriqueños, como Delis Negrón, así como de los Latinos y las Latinas en general. Además, resalta el aporte hacia la documentación histórica y literaria de/en ciudades fronterizas presentes en las publicaciones de Negrón en los periódicos locales y sus colecciones de poesía. Finalmente, este proyecto hace un llamado para concientizar que las identidades, los archivos y legados de los (in)migrantes conlleven a una representación de inclusividad, pluralidad, interseccionalidad, y transnacionalismo presente en los Estados Unidos, las cuales cruzan muros y forman parte del aquí y del allá.
 Utilizo el concepto de (in)migración en referencia al uso que hace Frances Aparicio de esta palabra al hablar de la historia de los puertorriqueños en Estados Unidos. A demás este concepto resalta que en muchos casos no todos los Latinos/as son parte de la inmigración, sino de una migración a raíz de las cuestiones políticas de su país con los Estados Unidos, como es el caso de los puertorriqueños a partir de 1917.
 Aparicio, Frances R. “From Ethnicity to Multiculturalism: An Historical Overview of Puerto Rican Literature in the United States.” Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Literature and Art. Edited by Francisco Lomeli. General Editors Nicolás Kanellos and Claudio Esteva-Fabregat. Arte Público Press, 1993.
 Original quote: “the work of these intellectuals and artistic giants and of many others whose writings are still generally unknown [that] contributed significantly to the Hispanic identity, history, and culture in the United States.” Kanellos, Nicolás. “A Socio-Historic Study of Hispanic Newspapers in the United States.” Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Sociology. Edited by Félix Padilla.General Editors Nicolás Kanellos and Claudio Esteva-Fabregat. Arte Público Press, 1994.
Last week (July 31, 2018), I had the honor of speaking at CLIR’s (Council on Library and Information Resources) summer seminar for new Postdoctoral Fellows. I was very excited to get the opportunity to meet a new cohort of fellows just as they are beginning their new positions at various institutions. (For more information on CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowships, visit their website! And keep an eye out for the next round of applications this fall/winter.)
My talk centered on the work we do at Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage (aka “Recovery”), the importance of minority archives, and working toward inclusivity. For 27 years, Recovery has dedicated itself to recovering, preserving, and disseminating the lost written legacy of Latinas and Latinos in the United States. US Latina/o collections, like other minority collections, do not traditionally form part of a larger national historical narrative. Herein lies the importance of minority collections: the stories they tell give us a more nuanced understanding of US history and culture.
Let’s take a step back to think about the structure of archives, the inherent issues, and the questions that we—as archivists, scholars, students, and educators—should ask ourselves when engaging with historical collections. Archives help structure knowledge and history. Michel Foucault argues that history “now organizes the document” [with “document” being the archival] “divides it up, distributes it, orders it, arranges it in levels, establishes series, distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not, discovers elements, defines unities, describes relations” (146). Thus history, or perhaps more aptly, what we understand to be or call history, cannot be distinguished from the production and organization of the archive. Furthermore, national archives help to create an authoritative national narrative. The International Council on Archives, for example, describes archives on their webpage as follows:
Archives constitute the memory of nations and societies, shape their identity, and are a cornerstone of the information society. By proving evidence of human actions and transactions, archives support administration and underlie the rights of individuals, organisations and states. By guaranteeing citizens’ rights of access to official information and to knowledge of their history, archives are fundamental to identity, democracy, accountability and good governance.
Given this defined mission of archives, we can think about what archives do or are meant to do; they define:
what is—and what isn’t—considered “important,”
I write these words in quotation marks to stress that the defining or shaping of such concepts is a construction. In this vein, archives have historically functioned as mechanism of colonialism. They have helped to structure our understanding of history and the nation in a way that also structures our understanding of what we call “civilization” and “barbarism.” In order for colonialism to thrive, imperial powers had to not only take over a physical territory, but they also had to control the shared imaginary. Franz Fanon (1963) emphasizes the total reach of colonialism and its desire to destroy the history of oppressed peoples in The Wretched of the Earth. He writes:
…colonialism is not simply content to impose its rule upon the present and the future of a dominated country…. By a kind of perverse logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts it, disfigures it and destroys it. (210)
As a result of this logic, the colonial model created institutions determined to own and possess history in order to categorize it (using Eurocentric methods of classification). In many cases, history and artifacts were/are appropriated, to the extent of removing sacred items and even bodies (or just body parts) and putting them on display. Think of mummified Egyptian and Indigenous bodies, Sara Baartman (known as the Hottentot Venus), etc. Items stolen from their original communities are often displayed or archived in museums, archives, and libraries. Because of this, it is important to take the moment to reflect when we work on, interact with, curate, and teach archives or the items in them. Here are a few questions to consider:
Who determines what belongs in the archive?
Who defined the archive? Who determined what was archivable?
Who created the metadata? (Think about the traditional way of organizing things in a library, i.e. using Library of Congress subject headings)
Who maintains the archive?
Who has access to the archive or the knowledge contained in the archive?
Where did the material originate?
Since, as mentioned earlier, archives have historically functioned as an instrument of colonialism, community members with personal collections are often wary of institutional archives. Even today, large, well-known libraries have disposed of or sold collections deemed “unimportant” (usually minority collections) in order to make room for “more important collections.” Moving away from an archive design that requires possession and ownership is a stance that delinks libraries from the colonial model. The postcustodial theory of archives is “the idea that archivists will no longer physically acquire and maintain records, but that they will provide management oversight for records that will remain in the custody of the record creators” (Pearce-Moses). Digital technology allows archivists the ability to return physical collections to the original record keepers and create digital copies that can be housed in an institutional repository. Furthermore, postcustodial practices offer opportunities for community engagement, as Sofía Becerra-Licha (2017) suggests. Digital technology, she contends,
…presents a significant opportunity for participatory and post-custodial approaches that seek to shift curatorial authority and access to the communities represented. In this model, archivists work side-by-side with community members to actively rectify gaps in historical coverage and proactively document the present day. (n.p.)
Postcustodianship allows us to re-think the institutional structure of the archive and promotes new possibilities for record oversight and knowledge-production. Considering the questions posed earlier and the theory of post-custodial archives, we can begin to restructure archives themselves. Personal and community archives can challenge traditional notions of “the national archive” as both a brick and mortar building and a collection of the “official” history. The goal of post-custodianship is to open up new avenues for creating knowledge. It allows the communities themselves to maintain ownership of their own histories, but also fills in the gaps of the official record by providing minority points of view.
“Traditional archival methods often nourish a “feedback loop” in which one’s access to power determines one’s presence in the archive, and one’s presence in the archive shapes historical knowledge, which, in turn, informs the system of values that shapes the collecting priorities of institutions. So those farther away from the mechanisms of power . . . are rarely represented in institutional archives. And when they are in the archive, their legacies are strictly controlled by the very institutional structures . . . that have tended to marginalize them. As an institutionally-recognized scholar I can access these legacies in the archive and write about them, but the communities that they really matter to can’t.” -María Cotera
Access to the legacy of Latina/os in the United States is ever present in my mind as a scholar of US Latino literature. How can one specialize in this field without a well-rounded, informed knowledge of the Latino community in the United States? And how can one accomplish this when many of their legacies are not present in archives, or are not prioritized when they are present? While it is true, as María Cotera states, that a lack of power contributes to a lack of presence, working on the Delis Negrón Digital Archive has given me hope that we can change this.
The digital approach given to this archive allows for open access to Negrón’s legacy as a journalist, editor, writer, activist, and while much of his work is lost or scattered across other archives, on this page he is not lost amongst the literal and figurative stacks of papers. For me, this project symbolizes a resistance to the archival power that “shapes historical knowledge,” a resistance of the marginalized control of “institutional structures” by making this archive available not only to scholars, but also to the community.
Through this digital archive we not only give access to his participation in the literary, political and historical aspects of life in the United States, but we also hope that it will encourage other Latinos and marginalized members of the community to share their stories in ways that resist the power structures that invisibilize them from the archives.
* This post is part of the Delis Negrón Digital Archive project and can be found at Reflections
Annette Zapata is a PH.D. student at the University of Houston, a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage and an Editing Assistant with Arte Público Press. Her research in US Latina/o Literature focuses on the representation of immigrants in children and YA literature.