We want to document a history of Latina/os by Latina/os for Latina/os in a space where the stories of our grandparents are honored and new stories are generated from the old. We want a site for the production of art, music, literature, and performance that gives voice to our experience and leads to new ways of imagining our world. We want, most of all, a place of community, where the various paths of our lives can come together in mutual support and respect.
Queremos documentar nuestra larga historia en esta región. Deseamos un espacio en dónde podamos reconocer y celebrar las historias de nuestros abuelos y crear nuevas historias. Queremos crear un sitio en dónde nuestras artes plásticas, música, teatro, y poesia, el "flor y canto" de nuestra comunidad, puedan dar voz a nuestros antecedentes y realidad para generar nuevas formas de imaginar nuestro mundo. Sobre todo, queremos una comunidad, en dónde los diversos caminos de nuestras historias intercalan en un ambiente de respeto y honor.
photos courtesy of flickr creative commons: "jplpagan" and "ahealthiermi"
In 2009, the Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Michigan, in partnership with Fronteras Norteñas, a public history non-profit in Southwest Detroit, applied for and received funding from the University of Michigan Arts of Citizenship Program to explore the possibility of creating a grass roots museum and cultural center that could document the historical presence of Latina/os in Michigan and thereby establish their key role in the life of the State.
This community exploration involved visits to cultural institutions in the region (Charles C. Wright Center, Ziibiwing Museum, Arab American Museum) coupled with a year-long community conversation about the role of museums in public life and the centrality of history/storytelling to cultural citizenship and belonging. Our university/community dialogue not only engendered a great deal of excitement and about the role that a “Latina/o museum” could play in enriching and sustaining Latina/o communities in Detroit and throughout Michigan, it also revealed the multiple tensions of life in a city dominated by outside interests and entrenched political power structures that continue to marginalize the growing Latina/o community.
At the end of our year-long conversation, stakeholders came together for a final retreat to discuss possible future steps for the project. Given the financial realities of the current economic downturn in Michigan, and the consequent reduction in funding for arts and humanities initiatives statewide, undertaking the design, construction, and management of a major museum seemed unlikely. However project participants felt strongly that models did exist for a long-term strategy that could build community interest (across the state) and lay the groundwork for a future institution. You can download a copy of the final report here.
El Museo del Norte: A Museum Without Walls?
_Our strategy for moving forward is to develop a "museum without walls"
that will bring greater attention to the long history of Latinos in the
region and raise awareness about the need for a museum and cultural
center that documents this history.
In a “museum without walls” the community develops and curates exhibits,
and teaches and shares with its members their history, art and culture.
Oral history projects, speaker series, art walks, movie nights, musical
performances and co-curated exhibits with established institutions that
eager to diversify their content and audiences are just some of the
first steps that can be coordinated by a board or supporters seeking to
establish a “museum with walls.”
We do not see “museum without walls”
as a substitute for a more traditional museum. Rather, we envision it
as an important first step in a process that will eventually lead to
the construction of a museum in Southwest Detroit. We remain committed
to the idea of a “brick and mortar” museum, because we believe that
once it is up and running, El Museo del Norte will
offer residents of the state and the region an important and quite
unusual museum-going experience. While there are several institutions,
particularly in the Southwestern United States, which document Latino
culture and history, El Museo del Norte is unique in
that its mission is to highlight the histories, communities and cultures
of Latina/os in the Midwest. We imagine it as an important “site of
conscience” that will not only highlight the stories of Latina/o
immigrants who established thriving communities in northern cities like
Detroit and Chicago in the early 20th century, but also remember the
hardship these early immigrants endured, particularly those experienced
by the tens of thousands of Mexicans who were unjustly deported in the
1930s. Moreover, El Museo del Norte will bring to
light the complexity and heterogeneity of the Latina/o experience by
documenting the hidden histories of other Latina/o communities
including Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central and South Americans.
The greatest benefit of the “museum without walls” strategy for El Museo del Norte,
is that it enables us to develop an identity for the project, even as
we raise awareness about the need for a permanent museum documenting the
lives and legacies of Latina/os in Michigan and the Midwest. We believe
a successful “museum without walls” program stands at the center of any
future capital campaign for a permanent museum.
A central element of our “museum without walls“ strategy will be the design and construction of a mobile display we are calling:La Carpa Mobile Memory Museum. The content of La Carpa will be created from photos, letters, documents, oral narratives and more, both in Spanish and English. La Carpa may take the form of a self-contained “museum” (on wheels) that can be parked anywhere, or it may involve a free-standing display that can be easily assembled, broken down, and stored. La Carpa will travel the state to raise awareness about the need for a permanent museum documenting Latino history.