Day five and we’re still going strong. After a seemingly never ending drive down from Maine, with a pit stop back at the Clubhouse (AKA Lance’s Apartment) to sleep, we had an early morning rise to drive, amid the rain, the rest of the way down to DC. Did I mention that I HATE traffic?
Nevertheless, 530miles later, we arrived in our Nation’s Capital and wasted no time getting to work. We met up with our gracious sponsors, at the National Park Service, where we had lunch and discussed some of their further initiatives to bring awareness to the Latino community, and our history and heritage within this country going back as far as pre-civil war times.
Right after the meeting, we touched base with the Latin American Youth Center.
Founded in 1968 with the intention of serving immigrant Latino youth, it has grown from “a small grassroots recreation center, to a nationally recognized organization serving all low-income youth and their families across the District of Columbia and in Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.” We were pleased to find that the center also has a partnership with the National Park Service of the National Capitol Region. They have dedicated themselves to the mission of supporting “youth and their families in their determination to live, work, and study with dignity, hope, and joy.” Their three principal goals are to help transition the kids successfully into young adulthood – (1) increased academic success, defined as graduation from high school and at least two years of post-secondary education; (2) improved ability to successfully transition to work and retain employment with long-term career potential; and (3) improved skills for healthy living. We spoke with Araceli Curiel Rosenberger, Communications Specialist for the Center, who added, “We provide youth a safe space to learn, work and play in their own neighborhoods. Here they engage with caring adults that speak their language, reach out to them, and guide them to reach their full potential.”
After the center, we hopped back in Chevy Chase to head over to the Smithsonian Institute, where we linked up with Eduardo Diaz, Executive Director of the Latino Center, which stands as an “Educational Outreach and Research Center… focused on ensuring that Latino contributions to art, science, and the humanities are highlighted, understood and advanced through the development and support of public programs, scholarly research, museum collections and its affiliated organizations across the United States.” Having previously visited the SI back in October during the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival, I witnessed first-hand how amazing and dedicated the Institute is to preserving the culture and dignity of Latinos and their contributions to this country, when I caught the tail end of the American Sabor: Latinos in US Popular Music exhibition.
This time around, Eduardo showed us the Vaquero statue by Luis Jimenez, a Mexican-American artist who met a tragic demise after being crushed while working on a piece that severed a major vein, leading to his death; the statue now currently stands as the welcoming symbol to all who visit the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. We spoke a bit more about the Center’s initiatives which was established about fifteen years ago, “To ensure a Latino presence at the Smithsonian Institution, managing programs and granting funds to other units of the Smithsonian to do Latino programs,” programs that delve into many different facets of our culture, with a focus on developing professional careers of Latinos. Eduardo stated, “We have about eight Latino scholars in residence right now working on many different projects, everything from research on Santeria practice, to culinary arts, to straight up history. We’re very committed to the development of young professionals, even going into the high school level with a program called Young Ambassadors, where we bring top line Latino students into the Smithsonian for an intensive experience to nurture them.” We spoke for another half an hour, about the many different things that they are working on, that definitely merits another article in and of itself. We then went inside the museum where he showed me some amazing paintings by various contemporary artists, including Dominicana Carmen Hererra, an abstract artist, whose painting Blanco y Verde hangs in the gallery in which she has been recently selected to be curator. We also saw a painting by Mexican-American Jesse Trevino, called Mis Hermanos, a photo realist who as a Vietnam Vet, suffered a devastating war wound that cost him his painting arm. Following a bout with depression, he taught himself to paint with his left arm, revitalizing his mind, art and career. We continued with another abstract artist Terecita Fernandez, a Cuban-American, whose painting Nocturnal uses different materials such as graphite. Then we saw a painting called Brownies of the Southwest; Mel Casas from San Antonio, who belongs to an artist collective called Con Safos, a Chicano term that means “We are here,” is a sort of challenge to the world establishing their presence in it. This particular piece, being somewhat of a social commentary with the symbolic images painted within.
Finishing up at the SI, it was off to drive around and see more of our nation’s greatest historical monuments. We capped it off with dinner with our good friend Felix Sanchez, of the National Hispanic Foundation of the Arts. Founded by Sanchez, Jimmy Smits, Sonia Braga, Esai Morales, and Merel Julia in 1997, with the intention of advancing the precence of “Latinos within the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries… concentrating on increasing access for Hispanic artists and professionals while fostering the emergence of new Hispanic talent”, the foundation is flourishing.
After a long day of traveling, exploring, good friends, and food, it’s off to rest; tomorrow before heading up back home, we’ll be stopping in to visit the Mexican Cultural Institute where they have an intriguing exhibition devoted to the myths of the “Underworld,” and no we’re NOT talking about Lycans and Vampiros!