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:
- A round table conversation with the directors of all of the Smithsonian ethnic-specific museums
- Guided tours of Smithsonian museum exhibits, such as the Central American Ceramics Exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian and the forensic anthropology lab at the National Museum of Natural History, led by experts
- Talks at a variety of Smithsonian departments such as the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Affiliations, and Archives of American Art
- Talks by academic experts on topics such as border studies and migration and Asian/Latino intersections
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.