An Interview with Wanda Hernandez on Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond
Richmond is home to over 100,000 Latinos with various histories and lives. Opening July 27, 2017, Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond, takes a look at the diverse culture and experiences of Latinos in Richmond. I sat down with curator Wanda Hernandez to talk more about the exhibition. Read the interview below and make sure to visit The Valentine when the exhibition openings this summer.
What is your favorite artifact in the collection?
Currently in the Valentine collection, I would have to say the Mexican huipil is one of my favorites. When I was younger my mother would dress us in matching traditional Guatemalan huipiles that look very similar to the one on display in This is Richmond, Virginia. Beyond that, the shackles are my go-to object that I show visitors. It moves me every time, imagining the lives that were incarcerated at the mercy of the white man.
As for favorite object in the upcoming exhibition, that is beyond difficult. However, the first one that came to mind is a Spanish grammar book titled, Silabario Hispano Americano. This book has undergone the Salvadoran Civil War, California earthquakes, cross-country trips, and utilized by four generation of women. It was brought to the United States from El Salvador in the 1970s by Evelyn Trigueros. She later passed it down to her daughter Cynthia who used it to learn how to write and read in Spanish alongside her abuelita Maria, who was illiterate. The object reminds me of all the times that I have watched my abuelita practice writing her name over and over again on a napkin at my family’s kitchen table. She would then decorate her name with flowers. Education in Latin America is a privilege.
What is your favorite oral history from the exhibition?
I honestly cannot say I have a favorite; they are different and move me in different ways. However, the one I related to the most was an interview conducted by a friend Jose Henriquez in the neighborhood of La Mancha in South Richmond. Jose interviewed a young boy named Jonathan. Jonathan talked about wanting to join the army, but not really knowing why because this country deported his father. Jonathan stands in a place of patriotism and betrayal, which I think accurately describes the sentiments of several Latinos particularly in this political climate.
As a Guatemalan American, what does this exhibition mean to you, and what do you hope it means for other Latin Americans?
This exhibition is my first opportunity to tell nuestras historias. No one has cared to ask my mother why she came to the United States, what her greatest achievements are, what her greatest struggle has been. In developing this exhibition I have had the opportunity to ask countless people these questions and then some. With each question I have asked, my pride in who I am, where I come from and where I will go has blossomed. My hope is that every person I have talked to feels the same way.
Given the current political climate what are some ways that this exhibition addresses these issues such as immigration and discrimination?
In the exhibition we talk about various topics – including immigration, identity, education, language, creating community, heritage and our political engagement. One of the components that I am most proud of is that mi gente (my people) have spoken fearlessly about their experiences in this country. This varies if you are Afro-Latino or a white-skinned Latino. Whether you are from Cuba or Honduras. Whether you have an education or not. We touch on the complexity of the Latino experience throughout the exhibition because it varies dramatically.
What is the legacy of the Latin community in Richmond?
Our legacy in Richmond is experienced by Richmonders every day from the home you live in, the food you eat, the schools you attend, the doctors you visit and beyond. What Richmond needs to work on is recognizing the diversity of the people that make Richmond what it is.
Who is a Latin figure who inspires you?
My mothers and my sisters. We’re unbreakable women of color.
What do you want Richmonders to take away from this exhibition?
I want visitors to recognize that Latinos are not a new phenomenon. We have been in the United States for centuries and have helped, and continue to help, build America. This is our home too.
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