Latin Heritage Sites Can No Longer Be Ignored: Latino Heritage Fellows

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For too long, historic preservation efforts in the United States have told the story of a national identity rooted in a colonialist narrative and buried in the stories of Indigenous communities, Latinos, and other minority peoples.

It is not surprising that less than 8% of the sites in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) are associated with minority groups, which include Latin American communities, women, African Americans and other populations not. white. In addition, the majority of sites associated with Indigenous peoples have been protected without considering Indigenous stories and commentaries.

Over the past decades, many local heritage organizations have started to recognize these inequalities and have worked determinedly to bring about change. “Place, Story, Culture,” a recent report released by the Hispanic Access Foundation and written by us, will spark conversations about why historic preservation laws and criteria need to be reassessed, rethought, and provide resources to minority communities so that they have full autonomy to protect the sites that are important to them.

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In our report, we identify seven sites that enjoy community support and seek some form of protection, through the Antiquities Act or other means of historical preservation. These include Castner Range and the Duranguito neighborhood in El Paso. The aim of the report is not only to highlight sites that seek to be protected, but to address the general lack of representation of Latin heritage sites among protected area designations, by proposing a more inclusive site designation system. . Additionally, we hope to provide resources to those who need support in their efforts to protect their valuable sites.

While it is important to celebrate sites and places that have already received special state or federal designation, the reality is that we need to put the current practice of historic preservation into perspective.

When Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, it gave any interim president the ability to designate significant historical and cultural sites, as well as extensive landscapes, as places of importance to American history. Since Theodore Roosevelt enacted the law, 17 presidents – nine Republicans and eight Democrats – have used the Antiquities Act to protect our natural and cultural heritage. But administrations haven’t used the law to tell the full story of the founding of this country and the indigenous people it was stolen from, as well as the Latino, black and other communities of color that have shaped history. from the country.

The reason for the under-representation in preservation efforts is that there are many legal steps, institutionalized structures put in place, and physical attributes that can disqualify a site. For example, a site should have two components; integrity and prominence, both of which have served as a control tool preventing minority populations from equitable representation.

Let’s start with integrity. A location must be 50 years or older to be considered for the PNSR, and it must be substantially unchanged. Many minority community sites do not last long due to threat, neglect, and demolition – in other words, displacement. Sites that demonstrate “integrity,” as defined by the rules governing the NRHP, are often associated with the history of rich whites.

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A view of Barrio Duranguito through the lens of a drone.

A visual tour using a drone of the historic Mexican-American Barrio Duranguito in El Paso, Texas

Omar Ornelas, El Paso Times

Another major factor, the “importance” or historical value of a site, is deeply rooted in social inequality. For decades, the history and contributions of the nation’s minority populations have been overlooked, ignored or not taken seriously by conservatives – they have not been seen as significant, no matter how important to the heritage of the nation. a community.

The aim of preservation and conservation should not be to freeze properties over time, but to help preserve the character of the site, while taking into account the community and wildlife that reside in these places. It is also used as a way to learn from our past. These physical places cause memories and stories that would otherwise not be told if the site were threatened.

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To ensure that all residents and communities of this country are represented fairly and honestly, we call on the Biden administration and its respective agencies to act to designate Latino cultural sites as national monuments or other historic designations, while reforming the designation process to ensure people of color are able to tell their stories, in their own words, and participate in the preservation of their precious spaces.

Latino Heritage Scholars Board of Directors: Desiree Aranda, Sarah Z. Gould, Sara Bronin, Antonia I. Castañeda, Sara Delgadillo, Laura Dominguez, Marta V. Martínez, Sehila Mota Casper, Ray Rast, Edward Torrez and Betty Villegas,


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