Jessica in Washington, D.C.

Jessica is a graduate student in cultural anthropology and a candidate for a graduate certificate in women’s and gender studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Jessica is working on her dissertation, which compares middle-class, heterosexual Mexican-American couples and Anglo couples in the U.S. with the goal of understanding why these individuals choose to be child-free and how gender influences power relations in decision-making. During summer 2013, she is attending the Smithsonian Latino Museum Studies Program in Washington, D.C., to expand her knowledge of Latino studies and explore how her work as an anthropologist can be utilized in a museum setting.

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What is the American experience, anyway?

Our group on tour. Photo by Diana Bossa, Smithsonian Latino Center.

Our group on tour.
Photo by Diana Bossa, Smithsonian Latino Center.

Much of the first two weeks of the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Latino Museum Studies Program (LMSP) have centered on the question: What is the American experience? This seemingly innocuous topic takes many twists and turns and quickly becomes complicated. Whose stories are we telling? From what point of view? Who counts as “American”?  Further, how can and should these questions be fruitfully explored by museums in the Smithsonian, an institute that is deeply invested in telling the American story?

I have explored the above questions with a cohort of 14 accomplished graduate students selected from around the county. We are from different academic disciplines, but are all interested in what it means to be Latino and how Latinos have contributed to the American story. We have participated in a variety of tours, talks, and debates surrounding issues of representation and interpretation of Latino cultures and Latino participation in museum settings.

The first two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. Some highlights include:

Even though the above is only a sample of our two-week schedule, we have also had time to explore Washington, D.C., on our own to learn about the city and seek out other museum experiences of interest.

As I wrap up my first two weeks, full of ideas and questions, I look forward to the next four weeks, where I will be doing hands-on work at the National Museum of American History.

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