Advertisement

Latinx Files: Why we need a Latino museum

Republican Sen. Mike Lee blocked an effort to establish a National Museum of the American Latino within the Smithsonian.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah blocked an effort to establish a National Museum of the American Latino within the Smithsonian Institution.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images)

Last Thursday, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah singlehandedly blocked a bipartisan effort to set up the National Museum of the American Latino, part of a proposed expansion of the Smithsonian Institution.

Lee argued that creating such a museum would be divisive, and that unlike Black and Native Americans, who have dedicated Smithsonian museums, Latinxs have not been “uniquely, deliberately and systemically excluded” and therefore did not deserve their own space.

It was that last part that really stuck with me. It lingered because it went against much of what I’ve come to learn about the history of Latinxs in the United States.

Advertisement

Mike Lee must not be familiar with his own state’s history. Otherwise he would know that what he calls Utah used to be part of Mexico — as were California, Nevada and Arizona and parts of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — and that it joined the Union only after President James K. Polk, not content with annexing Texas in 1845, used a border dispute as pretext to declare war against Mexico and go on a blatant land grab that fulfilled America’s so-called Manifest Destiny.

And if Mike Lee doesn’t know about that, what chance is there that he or millions like him would know about the thousands of lynchings of Mexicans and Mexican Americans across the Southwest that followed for nearly a century afterward?

What’s the likelihood that they would know that La Matanza and the Porvenir massacre were carried out by the Texas Rangers? That these extrajudicial mass murders were executed by a law enforcement agency so beloved in the state that they have a professional baseball team named after them, and that they’re a prime example of how Latinxs have indeed been “uniquely, deliberately and systemically” targeted?

Or that decades later, the Eisenhower administration would launch “Operation Wetback,” a mass deportation campaign that resulted in many American citizens being uprooted and kicked out of their own homes?

Advertisement

Or what about the fact that Latinx soldiers were disproportionately killed in action during the Vietnam War but we’ll never actually know just how many because the U.S. government classified them as racially white? This overrepresentation of Latinx soldiers in Vietnam, by the way, was the impetus for the Chicano Moratorium, which just had its 50th anniversary.

These and other incidents are often overlooked, which is tragic because of what they say about history — it tends to repeat itself. This brief and noncomprehensive list of violence against Latinxs put together by my colleague Paloma Esquivel drove that point home in the days after the 2019 El Paso mass shooting.

An even bigger tragedy is that none of our history is really being told outside of the university level. It took going to college in another part of the country for me to learn about what took place on the very land where I grew up.

I’m not alone in this.

Advertisement

Back in October, Mario T. Garcia, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara, told me that many of his freshmen are surprised to learn that the history of our people is foundational to the story of this nation because it had never been taught to them. They don’t know that the first European settlers in what became the United States spoke Spanish.

“The very names of our cities and our mountain ranges and our rivers,” Garcia said, “I say to my students, ‘Those names didn’t come with the Mayflower.’”

In an op-ed published by The Times on Wednesday, Stephen Pitti, a professor of history, American studies, and ethnicity, race and migration at Yale University, argued that the best antidote for the widespread ignorance of American Latinx history is the museum Mike Lee objected to.

“A new national museum would be able to tackle this complex narrative under one roof,” Pitti wrote. “It may not be able to present every aspect of this vast history, but it could greatly expand public understanding of a central part of this country’s heritage.”

Advertisement

(Side note: All that stuff about Porvenir and the Texas Rangers, I learned about it over a decade ago in Pitti’s “History of Mexican Americans since 1848" class, which, I am ashamed to say, I failed. It was a dark time in my life.)

Pitti’s right: What this country doesn’t know about Latinxs could certainly fill a museum, and it’s long overdue that one be built — one that not only chronicles the injustices but also highlights the myriad contributions made by people with roots in Latin America over the course of centuries.

Relying on the Smithsonian to do a better job at incorporating more exhibits about Latinx history and culture, as Lee suggested, isn’t going to cut it. In a recent column, my colleague Carolina Miranda gives a great overview of how the institution has failed to do that exact thing since it released a self-assessment in 1994 that called this exclusion a “willful neglect.

Thankfully, the National Museum of the American Latino isn’t dead yet. Congress can still approve the creation of this much-needed space by adding to the spending bill that funds our government.

Advertisement

Even if the effort fails, the fact remains: You can’t properly capture the story of America without properly capturing Latinx stories. The museum would bring us one step closer to that.

Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

A programming note: Share your favorite Nochebuena story or memory


Next Thursday will be Nochebuena, which for many (myself included) is the actual Latinx Christmas. Because who in their right mind waits until actual Christmas morning to open their gifts?

Next week’s edition will be dedicated to this special holiday, and I’m hoping to turn this space completely over to you. Email me your favorite Nochebuena memory at latinxfiles@latimes.com, and I may feature it in the newsletter.

Advertisement

Meet our readers: Walter Franco tells us all about Utah’s Latinxs

Latinx Files reader Walter Franco poses for the camera while wearing a Los Angeles Lakers snapback.
Latinx Files reader Walter Franco, who grew up in the San Diego/Tijuana region, has spent 20 years living in Utah.
(Walter Franco)

A few weeks ago I put out a call on Twitter asking to speak with readers who didn’t live in traditionally Latinx places like Los Angeles, Houston, Miami or New York. The idea is to get a broader perspective of what being Latinx in this country is like.

Walter Franco, a 34-year-old sports market researcher, responded. Franco is originally from the Tijuana-San Diego borderlands but has spent more than 20 years living in Utah, which would make him one of Sen. Lee’s constituents. He and I spoke about the diverse Latinx community that exists in Salt Lake City and the role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he is a member, has played in bringing it together. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell me about the Latinx population of Utah.

Advertisement

There are about 500,000 Latinos in the state of Utah, and the majority of them are within a 90-mile radius of Salt Lake City.

Utah is in kind of a unique situation because of the prominence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There’s a big contingent of Latinos who became members of the church in their homelands and made the pilgrimage here. Someone from the outside would think that if there are Latinos here, they’re probably Mexican. But it’s actually really diverse — not in terms of population numbers like in New York, L.A. or Miami, but in how many countries are represented here.

The way that I look at it is that Utah is still an emerging Latino market. Salt Lake City and Utah to me are what Denver looked like 25 years ago.

Let’s take L.A., which has a rich, established Mexican American history going back six or more generations. Then there’s Denver, where you’re now seeing like three or four generations of Latinx roots. And then there’s Utah, which is still very much home to first- and second-generation Latinos. When you look at L.A., you have Latino mayors, you have Angels owner Arte Moreno. You don’t see a lot of that here in Utah because those people haven’t emerged yet. They’re still in sixth grade, or they’re in high school or they’re barely starting college or barely getting their master’s. We’re not going to see the true benefits of this growth in Utah’s Latinx community for another 10 to 15 years, and I’m hoping that they stay in Utah and make this place a major hub for Latinos and our culture.

Advertisement

It sounds like Salt Lake City is more like Chicago or Miami than it is like Los Angeles.

It’s truly a melting pot when it comes to the Latino experience alone because it’s not 90% Mexican here.

Take the church I go to. It’s about 50% Mexican, but the rest of the congregation is from Ecuador, from Venezuela, from Argentina, from Peru. And that’s just a small snippet of my community. I think it’s pretty neat because it’s an opportunity for Mexican Americans like me and others to acknowledge the differences that exist within the broader Latino community, but to also see all the core similarities that bind us together. It’s pretty fun to be able to know and build up the community that way from the ground up.

Meet our Latinx staff: Eduard Cauich explains ‘cruzazuleada’

Last week, Mexican soccer club Cruz Azul collapsed in the Liga MX semifinals in spectacular, heartbreaking fashion. I bring it up because it gave me an opportunity to use one of my favorite Spanish slang words, “cruzazuleada.” What is it, you ask? I’ve asked my colleague Eduard Cauich, a sports columnist with Los Angeles Times en Español who has worked at The Times for 11 years.

Advertisement

Imagine working so hard to achieve something only to have your fate get in the way when you’re just inches away from reaching that goal. You’re cursed no matter what you do. There is a term for that feeling: cruzazulear.

Cruz Azul has not won a title in the Mexican soccer league since 1997. Since then, they have lost six league finals, one Copa Libertadores final, three CONCACAF Championship League finals, and two Copa MX finals. They don’t just lose. They lose in unbelievable ways. In 2013, Cruz Azul had a chance to capture their first title in 16 years. All they had to do was beat Club America, the most despised team in the league, at Azteca Stadium. They were winning 2-0 on aggregate and America had a player ejected in the 14th minute. All signs pointed to a championship, right? Not so fast! Cruz Azul somehow managed to bungle countless scoring opportunities, allowed a goal in the 89th minute and then scored an own goal in the 93rd minute on a deflected header by the America goalkeeper Moisés Muñoz. Cruz Azul went on to lose that title in a penalty shootout. That epic meltdown is when the term cruzazulear” really started to enter the mainstream.

But just as people started thinking that this curse couldn’t get any worse, the impossible happened. After securing a 4-0 advantage in the first leg of the semifinal against Pumas, Cruz Azul’s coach decided to not risk his starting goalkeeper Jesús Corona, who was injured in the first match, and instead started rookie goalie, Sebastián Jurado. That clearly sent a message that Cruz Azul was feeling overconfident. Pumas scored at the fourth minute, and then again at the 37th. By halftime, Pumas were up 3-0 and needed only another goal to advance to the final. They scored it in the 89th minute.

Cruz Azul, a clear favorite to win the 2020 championship, managed to take the word “cruzazulear” to a higher level of embarrassment in what’s likely going to be one of the darkest chapters in the club’s history. It was so bad they made an apology video for Twitter.

Advertisement

Things we’ve read this week that we think you should read

— In case you missed it, a caravan of hundreds of Hondurans is making its way to the United States to seek refuge after the country was recently ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes last month. It’s pretty hard to ignore the reality that climate change is a humanitarian issue at this point.

— December is usually tamales SZN, but that too has been upended by the pandemic. My colleague (and terrible fantasy football player) Ruben Vives recently reported on the economic hit tamaleros took because of COVID-19 during Thanksgiving, and how the low sales numbers — he dubbed it the “tamale poll” — could be indicative of what’s to come for Christmas.

— And speaking of tamales, The Times has a lot of relevant content to satisfy your masa-filled needs. In the latest episode of his series “Off Menu,” host and columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson headed to Tamales Elena in Bell Garden to talk about their style of Afro-Mexican cuisine. The Food desk has also compiled this list of recipes in case you want to be a hero and try making your own.

Advertisement

— While the pandemic has not been good for tamaleros and the food industry as a whole, it’s been a surprising boon to sellers of huaraches, the traditional footwear. According to Dorany Pineda’s reporting, nostalgia has a lot to do with it.

— Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Jair Bolsonaro, the respective presidents of Mexico and Brazil, have finally called and congratulated Joe Biden six weeks after he won the presidential election.

— The New York Times has this truly fascinating story about a Colombian family that donated the brain of their matriarch for Alzheimer’s research. Despite developing the degenerative disease in her 40s, Aliria Rosa Piedrahita de Villegas was largely spared of the symptoms well into her 70s because of a double mutation in her brain. Scientists are hoping that Piedrahita’s brain will help them in the development of therapeutics. They also published this incredible tale of revenge, which follows a mother going up against a drug cartel and taking it upon herself to bring the people involved in her daughter’s kidnapping and murder to justice.

Best thing on the Latinternet this week: COVID-19 can’t keep Nathan Apodaca down

Advertisement

Earlier this week, Nathan Apodaca, one of the few bright spots of what’s been a truly awful and unforgiving year, announced that has COVID-19. It was sad news indeed, but true to his brand, the viral star posted a video letting the world know that he will survive. Let us hope that we do too.


Advertisement