AUSTIN, Texas—The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archive of prominent Nicaraguan writer and activist Gioconda Belli.
The acclaimed author of nine novels, a memoir, two volumes of essays, nine poetry collections and four children’s books, Belli is the recipient of several major literary prizes over her decades-long career, including the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize for poetry (1978) and the Reina Sofía de Ibero-American Poetry Prize (2023).
Known for her feminist writing and erotic poetry, Belli has a broad international following, with works translated into at least 20 languages. The English translation of her memoir, The Country under My Skin, was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times book prize.
Belli was among the leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which defeated the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, and she worked in support of the Sandinista government until 1993. Amid her increasingly vocal criticism of the Daniel Ortega–Rosario Murillo regime, Belli was forcibly expelled, stripped of her citizenship and declared a traitor to her country in February 2023 along with 93 other Nicaraguans. This is her second exile.
In celebration of her archive’s arrival at the Benson Collection, Belli will visit the campus of The University of Texas at Austin from March 19-22, 2024, for a series of events, including a public lecture.
Belli discussed her work, the contents of her archive and her decision to entrust it to the Benson in an interview with Benson director Melissa Guy. Read the interview in Spanish here or in English translation.
“As a longtime admirer of her literary work and her activism, I am honored that Gioconda has entrusted the Benson with her collection,” Guy said. “We look forward to engaging students and faculty with the archive, and to welcoming Nicaragua’s greatest living poet to Austin in the near future.”
For more information: Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.
The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Jorge Tetl Argueta Pérez Papers. This collection captures the personal history of Argueta’s work as an award-winning children’s book author, poet, activist, organizer, cultural worker, teacher, and publisher. It includes manuscripts, books, journals, original artwork, correspondence, photographs, posters, and newspapers.
Jorge Argueta was born in El Salvador and is of Pipil-Nahua descent. In the early 1980s, he immigrated to San Francisco during the Salvadoran Civil War. This experience influenced his early poetry, before he began writing children’s books. He is currently the Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, California, and is active in both San Mateo County and the Mission District community of San Francisco.
Known as a performer and event organizer, Argueta works to promote multicultural children’s literature through events such as reading series, poetry festivals, and street fairs. He has held positions in notable San Francisco organizations, such as the de Young Museum of San Francisco, where he was a Poet-in-Residence for the Poets in the Galleries Program. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of Acción Latina and a curator of the Mixed Poetry Series. He is an editor at Luna’s Press Books and is co-owner of Luna’s Press Bookstore in San Francisco.
His impact does not stop in California, however. He established a children’s library, La Biblioteca de los Sueños, in 2016. A lifelong dream of his, the library now stands in Santo Domingo de Guzmán, his hometown. He also started The International Children’s Poetry Festival in Manyula, El Salvador, which has occurred every November since 2010. Argueta’s dedication to children’s literacy and literature has had a tremendous impact on both of his communities.
Argueta’s work is recognized nationally and internationally. He has received the Américas Book Award, NAPPA Golden Award, Lee Bennett Hopkins Award, and Salinas de Alba Award, and his books are featured in the likes of the USBBY Outstanding International Books List, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. He continues his commitment to spreading multicultural children’s literature through classroom visits, earning the gratitude of young readers across the country and much thank-you correspondence from his visits. Although he is a prominent figure in bilingual children’s books, he also aims to reach older audiences through poetry and a memoir published in 2017.
Two upcoming exhibitions at the Benson Latin American Collection will focus on Chile in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the violent coup that overthrew the government of democratically elected president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.
In addition, a LLILAS Benson special event, “Chile 50 Years after the Military Coup: Testimonies and Remembrances,” taking place Tuesday, September 12, features a panel of Chileans, some of whom lived through the 1973 coup, moderated by Professor of History Joshua Frens-String. The event and the exhibitions are free and open to the public.
A second public event, organized by LLILAS Benson and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, is titled “Before and After Chile 1973: Recovering a More Just Future.” It will take place in the Benson’s 2nd floor conference room on Thursday, October 19, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Battle for Chile: Cold War, Coup, and the Court of Public Opinion
From September 11, 2023, through April 30, 2024, the Hartness Reading Room Gallery at the Benson Latin American Collection will host an exhibition that focuses on Chilean politics and activism in the late 1960s through the mid-1980s.
Centered on Chilean and non-Chilean individuals and entities trying to influence public and international opinion, Battle for Chile shows the country as one center of an international clash between capitalism and socialism. It focuses in particular on the high-stakes fight for international opinion as the post-coup regime continued to commit unspeakable atrocities under the guise of fighting global communism.
Reports and telegrams from the George Lister Papers show U.S. government concern over Salvador Allende’s candidacies and eventual election as well as an account of the coup in process. Sepa, an anti-Allende publication, declares his presidency illegitimate and seems to call for a military overthrow. Material distributed by the Pinochet regime and aimed at international audiences promotes reports of economic progress. Chilean and non-Chilean activists in the post-coup era work to share news of human rights violations. Anti-Pinochet and pro-Allende activists accuse the United States and other governments and corporations of creating the conditions leading to the coup or even supporting it. Transnational socialist organizations, often based in Cuba, capitalize on atrocities to build support for their cause through captivating posters and publications.
Battle for Chile is an opportunity to see some of the Benson’s extensive collection of political ephemera and rare magazines as well as selections from archival collections.
— D Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections & Senior Archivist, Benson Latin American Collection
Walls That Speak: Street Art and Activism in Chile
On October 18, 2019, demonstrations erupted in the streets of Chile’s capital Santiago in reaction to an increase in subway fares, along with concerns about the cost of living and social inequality. Massive protests spread across the nation, some peaceful and some devolving into vandalism. Protesters demanded the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera. This social uprising is now recognized as the most significant in the country since the end of its dictatorship almost three decades ago.
Chilean street artists emerged as participants and instigators, utilizing city walls as a canvas to express demands of the movement as well as document intergenerational trauma connected to Augusto Pinochet’s 1973–1990 dictatorship. Their artwork soon became visible on social media and served as a supportive backdrop for the Chilean demonstrators. Among those artists was Maurice Huenún, aka Pikoenelojo Stencil, who, like his peers, provided a visual narration of the protestors’ grievances and hopes for the future. His stencils explore themes of social justice, human rights, environmental concerns, political corruption, inequality, gender, anti-establishment sentiments, and reflections on local or global events.
Walls That Speak: Street Art and Activism in Chile,a fall 2023 exhibition at the Benson Latin American Collection, highlights a recent acquisition of Pikoenelojo Stencil’s work, showcasing 12 original stencil artworks crafted by this prominent Chilean street artist. The works address topics such as criticism of Piñera’s policies, privatization, international corporations, the Pinochet dictatorship, systemic police repression, criticism of Christian dogma, among other topics. The collection provides a powerful visual narrative of the violent events that occurred in October 2019 while shedding light on the enduring legacy of Chile’s painful dictatorial past.
— Veronica Valarino, Curator of Exhibitions, Benson Latin American Collection
If you go . . .
The exhibitions at the Benson Latin American Collection are free and open to the public during library hours, which are Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Benson is located at 2300 Red River Street.
On Monday, August 14, the U.S. Mint released a quarter commemorating Mexican American journalist and activist Jovita Idar (b. Laredo, 1885–d. San Antonio, 1946) as part of its American Women Quarters program. In conjunction with this release, the Benson Latin American Collection recently published three issues of two newspapers that are associated with Idar. Together, these publications represent some of the earliest examples of Mexican American journalism.
The newly published items include two extremely rare issues of Evolución, a newspaper founded by Idar in 1916 and published until 1920. These issues document international and regional events such as the Mexican Revolution and World War I, as well as local topics such as containment of the flu outbreak in Nuevo Laredo and regional union organizing. There is also a single issue of El Progreso, a Laredo-based newspaper operated by the Idar family.
The Benson has received several requests for material related to Idar during the COVID shutdown and in recent months. In 2020, a cell phone snapshot of the October 26, 1918, issue of Evolución appeared in an episode about Jovita Idar on the PBS show Unladylike. Aware of the significance of these newspapers, Benson Special Collections staff sent them for conservation treatment and digitization as soon as possible.
El Progreso is at the heart of a story about Jovita Idar standing up to the Texas Rangers, who wanted to shut down her family’s paper. According to an oral history with descendant Aquilino Idar and his wife Guadalupe, when the Texas Rangers showed up at the El Progreso print shop, Jovita stood at the door and refused entry. The Rangers left but returned early the next morning and used hammers to destroy the press (oral history held by UT San Antonio Special Collections).
The two issues of Evolución recently received conservation treatment as part of the UT Austin Campus Conservation Initiative (CCI). The program, backed by Provost Sharon Wood, allows paper conservator Rachel Mochon to treat items from the Benson and other campus entities, including the Harry Ransom Center, the Briscoe Center for American History, and the Blanton Museum of Art.
Other Benson items that have received treatment include a sixteenth-century land claim produced by an Indigenous community in Mexico, one of the first dictionaries of an Indigenous language published in the Americas, and a scrapbook from a Brazilian mining operation.
When I arrived in San Marcos Zacatepec in rural Oaxaca, it was dark outside. A kind Chatino-speaking woman cooked me food: chicken soup with homemade tortillas. Dr. Anthony Woodbury from the UT Department of Linguistics and I had been traveling since early that morning, first arriving in Mexico City from Austin and then Puerto Escondido after a several-hour layover. We had to take a bus for several more hours to get to San Marcos Zacatepec, a town in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains and the first I would visit during my trek. This was the setting for the community outreach and research work I would be undertaking during spring break.
The Chatino-speaking region of Oaxaca is breathtakingly beautiful. All three communities that I visited are nestled in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range. Zacatepec is at the lowest altitude of all the Chatino-speaking communities that I visited, so it can get fairly hot during the day. However, San Juan Quiahije, another Chatino community, is several thousand feet higher up the mountain—cooler during the day and quite cold at night.
I am a dual-degree master’s student in Latin American Studies and Information Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, working to become an academic librarian with a subject specialty in Latin American and Indigenous Studies. I had come to Oaxaca with a clear goal in mind: to teach several workshops on archival access and navigation for the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), a digital archive at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Dr. Susan Kung, AILLA’s coordinator, invited me to take part in a project with Dr. Emiliana Cruz, professor of anthropology at CIESAS–Mexico, and Dr. Anthony Woodbury, professor of linguistics at UT Austin. As part of the project, I spent my spring break in three Chatino-speaking villages: San Marcos Zacatepec, San Juan Quiahije, and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. Several local language activists and teachers in the community wanted to be able to use the materials in AILLA to learn Chatino and listen to oral histories and stories in the language.
I agreed to go without hesitation, thrilled to participate in a project that brings together archivists, academics, and Indigenous community members around cultural materials represented in AILLA’s collections. I had hoped that, by getting access to these materials, Indigenous communities might be able to use them for projects related to the revitalization of their language and traditional cultural practices.
The Chatino Language Documentation Project is the subject of this 2015 article in Life & Letters magazine, which features reflections from several linguist researchers.
I soon learned that each town experienced different issues regarding their fluency in the Chatino language and ability to access AILLA. The vast majority of the population speaks a variant of Eastern Chatino, a language represented by several collections in the archive. San Marcos Zacatepec, however, differed significantly from the other two towns: For one, it is a very small village with poor internet access. Secondly, most of the community members no longer speak Chatino. There are only about 300 speakers left in the town and all of them are elderly. In contrast, the language proficiency is strong in both San Juan Quiahije and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. While the primary issue in Zacatepec was access to the internet, there did appear to be a connection between a lack of ability to speak Chatino and the teachers having less interest in accessing the archive to find materials to use with schoolchildren.
Community Workshops & the Technology Gap
In total, I taught five workshops on how to access and navigate AILLA in various spaces for different audiences: one small-group workshop at a community member’s house and another at a middle school in San Marcos Zacatepec; one each at a middle and a high school in San Juan Quiahije; and a final one at a public library in San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. Two of the workshops were conducted by myself and the other three were conducted with Dr. Cruz.
Each workshop had its own dynamic. For the first workshop we conducted in San Marcos Zacatepec, we played a game during which an older speaker would say a word in Spanish and the children had to say the word in Chatino. Some of the kids actually knew more Chatino than I thought they did, but it still felt like older members of the community were more invested in what was happening than the children were. In addition, without an internet connection or access to a space for our projector, it was not possible to demonstrate the use of the archive.
The second workshop in San Marcos Zacatepec was held at a private home with a small group of people. This session included Christian, a ten-year-old who brought his Chatino de Panixtlahuaca writing workbooks with him. Everyone was serious about learning how to use the archive and engaged throughout the session. I even saw one person making a PowerPoint with AILLA instructions as I walked the group through how to register for an account and navigate the Chatino language collections.
Unexpectedly, the experience gave me insight on how to effectively organize workshops that connect communities to information resources, a key skill for any academic librarian. Although Dr. Cruz was with me at the middle school in San Juan Quiahije, I taught the workshop at the high school there by myself. This meant coordinating a session with around 40 high school students by myself. This was the first time I had taught a workshop to such a large group of people. It was challenging and I was a little nervous, but the experience was exactly what I needed to become a better information professional.
One issue that became glaringly clear was that technological requirements can be a huge barrier to access for rural Global South communities. In the middle school in San Marcos Zacatepec, there was no internet, so we were not able to actively demonstrate the archive. Although San Juan Quiahije and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca had much better internet, we still experienced technological problems. For example, in San Juan Quiahije, we quickly found out that a majority of the middle school students did not have email addresses, so we had to spend part of the workshop teaching them how to make Gmail accounts. At the high school in San Juan Quiahije, there were issues with power outlets not working. I learned that archivists need to be prepared for anything, be creative, and really reflect on the sort of technology that a community might have access to.
The Need for Continuity
Despite the numerous technological problems, this project provides us with a positive example of how archives can engage with communities whose materials are represented in AILLA’s collections. As I reflected on my experience, I realized that this cannot be the end of our relationship with the Chatino-speaking community. Rather, to ensure that these efforts are successful, this should be seen as the beginning of many more projects along these lines. The experience vindicated my belief that communities whose materials are represented in archives must have access to them, and that we should do whatever we can to facilitate that access.
LLILAS Benson is a proponent of projects that emphasize horizontal relationships with the communities and organizations represented in its archives and collections. As such, LLILAS Benson’s digital resources and digital initiatives hold a great deal of promise for future collaboration of this kind.
Eden Ewing is a dual-degree master’s student at LLILAS and the iSchool.
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is proud to host the 21st Annual ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of U.S. Latino/a/x Culture, featuring a conversation with Chicana/Tejana artist Santa Barraza.
A native of Kingsville, Texas, Santa Barraza is a contemporary artist and founder of Barraza Fine Art, LLC, a gallery and studio committed to furthering the appreciation of the visual arts in the borderlands and among isolated, rural populations.
Barraza’s artwork is in the permanent collections of museums in Texas, California, and Maine; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; France; Germany; and Spain. Most recently, her work is on view in the art museums of Denver, Albuquerque, and San Antonio as part of Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche; the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin for Chicano/a Art, Movimiento y Más en Austen, Tejas, 1960s–1980s; and for the Art in Embassies exhibition organized in Mexico City by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar.
The ¡A Viva Voz! event also marks the opening of the exhibition Legacies of Nepantla: Artists Affirming Identity and Existence, curated by Maribel Falcón, the Benson’s U.S. Latina/o/x Studies Librarian. The exhibition showcases work that is part of the Benson’s archival holdings. It will be on view in the Benson’s Ann Hartness Reading Room through mid-August 2023.
“The exhibition showcases work from women whose myriad identities include Chicana, Native American, Tejana, and Latina, in addition to mothers, sisters, organizers, artists, activists, teachers, and students,” said Falcón. “Many of the featured artists are established as leaders in their communities and recognized as pillars of the Chicano/a art world, such as Santa Barraza, Carmen Lomas Garza, Patssi Valdez, Yreina D. Cervántez, Ester Hernandez, Irene Pérez, and Alma López.”
Due to an event at the Moody Center, parking is limited. We encourage attendees to use alternative forms of transportation. City of Austin street parking is available on Dean Keaton and on Red River north of Clyde Littlefield.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Susanna Sharpe.
Image: Cihuateteo con Coyolxauhqui y La Guadalupana, Santa Barraza, 1996
The Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) at The University of Texas at Austin documents the Black experience in the Americas and the Caribbean through the voices and stories of those who have championed the Black spaces that we use and benefit from today. Diaspora is defined as the “dispersion of any people from their original homeland,” and often when evoked with the Black experience in America, means the historical movement and displacement of Africans from their native homeland.
For the Black community in Austin, diaspora is a much more recent and closer-to-home event as its established Black communities are under threat of disappearing. Through the use of oral histories, the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building Archive tells the story of the herding of the Black community into East Austin, the Black establishments and schools that grew during this time, and the subsequent displacement that has occurred in recent times. While much has changed for the Black community in East Austin, one building has stood in service of its community while enduring its own share of transformation.
The building at 1191 Navasota Street in East Austin was built in 1952 to house what was then the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas (CTSAT). The CTSAT commissioned the building to serve as its headquarters and tapped John Saunders Chase as the architect to design the building. Chase was the first African American to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture and first to become a licensed architect in the state of Texas. The building that Chase designed would serve the CTSAT for 14 years before the association voluntarily dissolved in 1966 to merge with the Texas State Teachers Association. In 1968, the building was purchased by Dr. Ella Mae Pease and would become the House of Elegance. Now a beauty salon, the building served as a social hub for Black community in East Austin and a focal point for social events that Pease would facilitate. During its time as the House of Elegance, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
After decades of service, the building was purchased in 2018 by the University of Texas at Austin and christened the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building. Dr. Suchitra Gururaj, Assistant Vice President for Community and Economic Engagement, explains the decision to purchase the building:
“The idea for renovating the building came about in 2017, when House of Elegance owner, Pearl Cox, decided to sell the property. Former UT President Greg Fenves saw an opportunity to bring prominence to the university with the purchase of the first property designed by John S. Chase, the first Black/African American graduate of UT’s School of Architecture. When the purchase was made, we proposed that the space be repurposed as our next Center for Community Engagement (CCE) of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE). We consider the CCE to be the ‘front porch’ of our university, inviting community members and residents to connect with a large, decentralized, and often intimidating university that has not always welcomed people from diverse communities. In re-creating the Chase Building, we were not only able to celebrate Mr. and Mrs. Chase’s legacy but also to create a new life for the building that represented the intersection of diversity and community engagement. Like successful community engagement practice, our process of renovation was also collaborative, drawing on the mentorship of Donna Carter and relying on the expertise of Dorothy Fojtik and Nathan Goodman at UT Project Management and Construction Services. Over the period of the renovation, the project transformed from a simple university construction project into a true labor of love.”
Donna Carter, the first African American woman to become a licensed architect in Austin, led the effort to renovate the Chase Building. In 2022, the Chase Building reopened as the base for the Center of Community Engagement (CCE). This department within UT’s Division of Diversity for Community Engagement works to deploy university resources to foster connections with the community and meet community needs. In an effort to document the change that the Chase Building and East Austin have undergone over the years, the CCE began to conduct interviews with community members in 2019 and 2020 centering around the Robertson Hill neighborhood, the area that was home to the building. This project was advocated for by the Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association, which also suggested community members to interview for this project. The product of these interviews is the collection of oral histories and photographs that make up the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building Archive. Housed in the BDA’s archival collection, these oral histories cover a range of topics including education, churches, and race and the City of Austin.
The Chase Building Archive consists of nine interviews with members of the East Austin community who have witnessed the change in the area. In her oral history, Mrs. Patricia Calhoun reminisces about growing up in the Robertson Hill neighborhood. She speaks about the streets that she grew up on that still remain today and the establishments in the community that do not. When talking about the importance of Black stories, Calhoun states, “Our stories are important to us because we’ve been here for generations, and yet the community is changing so rapidly that we could be erased without a thought.” This sentiment about the transformation of East Austin and the diminishing presence of its original community is observed throughout the collection. Mr. Clifton Vandyke Sr. jokingly remarks during his interview that “if we aren’t careful, this will be just like visiting a museum where people will come and say this is where African Americans used to live.” These quotes can be found on one of the four curated vignettes, “Storytelling and History,” that weave together common themes found throughout the assorted oral histories.
Another vignette that can be found in the collection revolves around education and its importance with the community. Memories of attending schools like Blackshear Elementary School, Kealing Middle School, and Huston-Tillotson University testify to the many outlets available for education and the community’s pursuit of it. Ms. Lydia Moore spoke about the opportunity to choose which school she could attend after desegregation: “We had been told we would be the first group to have that opportunity to go anywhere we wanted to, but that we’d be ready. We need not be afraid. We need not feel inferior. But we would be ready.”
The thirst for education within the community sprouted from wanting not only to survive, but thrive in the world. The sentiment of wanting to thrive in East Austin is shared throughout the collection and can also be found in CCE’s efforts to collaborate with the community from the Chase Building. Stephanie Lang, Director for community-facing programs at CCE, expresses the aim of this collection: “As historic East Austin continues to change rapidly, the amazing legacy of these communities are at risk of erasure. This archive is but one of the many efforts being done to preserve these stories and provide a way for many generations to access, reflect on, and honor this important history.”
Rachel Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist and steward of the BDA, states, “As we celebrate the legacies of John and Drucie Chase, the work of CCE, and the history of the Chase building, it is necessary to also recognize the local community that has made all of this possible. The interviews in this collection offer an incredible glimpse into the lives and experiences of Austinites from historic, Black East Austin.”
The John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building Archive is stewarded by the Black Diaspora Archive and can be accessed through a variety of avenues. The oral histories and photographs can be accessed online via the University of Texas Libraries Collections portal, here. The analog artifacts of the collection have been described in the collection’s TARO finding aid and can be requested in the Benson Latin American Collection’s rare books and manuscripts reading room. For more in-depth history about the Chase Building, visit CCE’s showcase on it and their series of videos centered around the building and its surrounding communities. Collections like the Chase Building Archive provide us the opportunity to learn how Black communities and spaces come about, and warn us about the diaspora that looms with their absence.
Jeremy Thompson is a Diversity Resident Librarian at the University of Texas Libraries.
It was a doozy of a summer for the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office. Thanks to a Department of Education National Resource Center grant, we had the distinct opportunity to share some of the Benson Latin American Collection’s Spanish colonial treasures with a few communities outside of UT Austin. In a traveling exhibit titled A New Spain, 1521–1821, the reproduced materials demonstrated the cultural, social, and political evolution of colonial Mexico.
We were fortunate to continue our longstanding partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). In collaboration with Claudia Rivers and Abbie Weiser at the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, we put together an exhibit that highlighted Spanish colonial holdings from both libraries, providing both a hemispheric and local perspective. To broaden the impact of the collaborative effort, we also organized an accompanying series of workshops based on the materials for social studies teachers, colonialists, and archival professionals in the El Paso–Las Cruces (NM) region.
We kicked off the programming with a two-day intensive training for teachers from El Paso and Clint independent school districts. The workshops started onsite at UTEP’s library with a curator’s tour, a lunchtime loteria game based on the exhibit, and an in-depth look at Indigenous and Spanish maps from a previous traveling exhibition, Mapping Mexican History. By the end of the day, teachers were able to take home the facsimile Mapping items, some of which are on display this fall at Horizon High School.
The second day of workshops went fully online. One of our 2022 Digital Scholarship Fellows, Dr. Diego Luis, shared an interactive simulation he designed based on an inquisitorial case archived at the Benson to teach about Afro-descendant colonial experiences. We then showcased lesson plans we developed with UT Austin’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction on the navigation of gender roles in New Spain. To wrap things up, we provided the teachers with a survey of digital resources at UT Austin and digital humanities tools they can use to teach about colonial Mexico in their class.
On the final day, we shifted gears and led a series of digital scholarship workshops for local scholars. Students, faculty, and cultural heritage staff from the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University Library powered through three sessions that provided them with practical training in the visualization and analysis of Spanish colonial materials using various digital tools. Attendees learned to annotate various colonial texts and images, map the origins of New Spain’s soldiers, and visualize the networks of Afro-descendant hechiceras, or women casting incantations, in Veracruz.
Upon our return to Austin, another one of our partners, Huston-Tillotson University, graciously agreed to host the traveling exhibit. Thanks to Technical Services & Systems Librarian Katie Ashton, the history of colonial Mexico we put together went up on the walls of the Downs-Jones Library, and will remain there throughout the fall. For those who are not able to visit either installation, you can explore the digital version through our UT Libraries Exhibits platform.
This initiative would not have been possible without the support of the following individuals and sponsorships:
C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, The University of Texas at El Paso
Claudia Rivers, Head
Abbie Weiser, Assistant Head
Katie Ashton, Technical Services & Systems Librarian, Downs-Jones Library
Alaine Hutson, Associate Professor of History
Diego Javier Luis, Assistant Professor of History
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, UT Austin
Michael Joseph, Doctoral student
Katie Pekarske, Master’s student
Cinthia Salinas, Department Chair & Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusive Excellence
Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian
Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator
LLILAS BensonLatin American Studies and Collections
Jac Erengil, Administrative Manager
Tiffany Guridy, previous Public Engagement Coordinator (special thanks)
Melissa Guy, Director, Benson Latin American Collection
Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections
Jennifer Mailloux, Graphic Designer (special thanks)
Adela Pineda Franco, LLILAS Director & Lozano Long Endowed Professor
Art historian Dr. Virginia E. Miller, a UT Austin alumna, has generously included support for LLILAS Benson in her estate. The bequest designates the creation of two program endowments: Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund in Latin American Art Studies, to support the study of Latin American Art via LLILAS, and Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund for the Benson Library, to support any function of the Benson Latin American Collection.
Dr. Miller completed her master’s in Latin American Studies from LLILAS (at the time, ILAS) in 1973, and earned her doctorate in Art History, also from UT, in 1981. An art historian who specializes in ancient Maya art, she is Associate Professor Emerita of Pre-Columbian and Native American Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Recently, Dr. Miller spoke to LLILAS Benson Communications Coordinator Susanna Sharpe, explaining how a young woman born in London, Ontario, Canada, made her way to Austin, Texas, to study Latin America.
“I was a French major [in college], but nobody was offering me a glamorous job in Paris when I graduated. But I got a chance to work for the YWCA in Mexico City, so I took it,” recalled Miller. “I had already spent a summer in South America by then.”
Driven by her interest in learning more about Latin America, her fluency in Spanish, and her desire to study and live someplace warm, Miller applied to a handful of master’s programs in the U.S. She knew very little about the programs she applied to. “Remember, this is before the internet.” A Latin American history professor she knew told her to choose UT Austin if she got in, so she did, although she admits the decision was rather random. “I hadn’t looked at a map,” Miller laughed, “I didn’t know where Austin was; I just knew it was in Texas. I couldn’t understand anybody at all for the first few days!”
It was during an art history seminar during her first semester that Miller began to develop an interest in the field that would become the focus of her career. Once she began the PhD program in art history, things gradually began to fall into place and her focus zeroed in on pre-Columbian and then specifically ancient Maya art.
Miller remarked on witnessing her own students’ reactions to this material. “A lot of my students were just astonished to learn about [pre-Columbian art]. Even the art history majors. I got a lot of converts from modern and Renaissance art, especially at the master’s level. The best part of teaching was the students’ discovery of these cultures.”
Although she spent most of her career teaching at UIC, Miller also taught at Oberlin College and Northwestern University. As a Fulbright scholar, she taught in both Guatemala and Mexico. She also took a brief break from teaching to join the Foreign Service, working in the consular office of the American embassy in Madrid.
Miller’s memories of UT and of Austin are joyful and positive, and it is clear that the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Benson Collection were a hub for much of her engagement here.
“UT was really foundational to me—to my professional career, but also to me personally. I really enjoyed my time in Austin. It was wonderful having that fantastic library. There were so many events that had a Latin American focus. There were so many faculty, even in areas I didn’t do, like geography and history, that you had this wonderful climate.”
Recalling the Benson, she said, “I loved the library. It had every publication. It was amazing. I mean, I would be researching pre-Columbian art in say, Bolivia, and I would find a journal that had two issues published in La Paz in the twenties [laughs] and it would be in the library! I was completely spoiled. Even Dumbarton Oaks in Washington does not match it. I was in the library a lot. Partly to work, partly to hang out with my friends, and partly because back then you browsed the stacks a lot. . . . I would browse the stacks endlessly to find interesting material on a wide range of subjects. It was the amplitude of the library and the accessibility of the material . . . it was just a very good atmosphere there.”
The inevitable question arose: Did she cross paths with the revered (and sometimes feared) head librarian Nettie Lee Benson? “Oh yeah. She terrified me! [laughs] She was in charge! I also knew Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, and David Block was a close friend of mine in graduate school.” (The beloved Gutiérrez-Witt and the late Block are former head librarians at the Benson.)
The Latin American Studies master’s degree offered Miller the freedom she needed to explore a wide and diverse field. “I was fascinated that when I arrived, I went to see my adviser because I didn’t know what to take, and he told me I could take anything,” she said.
It is clear that Dr. Miller’s gift is her way of giving back to a place that helped shape her and enriched her life.
“I had a lot of fun there. I know that’s not academic, but I really enjoyed my time. Austin is a wonderful memory to me.”
Two members of the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team recently visited Buenaventura, Colombia, to work with archivists and community leaders at Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), a grassroots collective of organizations founded in 1993 that is working to transform the political, social, economic, and territorial reality of Colombia’s Black, Afro-descendant, Raizal, and Palenquera communities through the defense and revindication of their individual, collective, and ancestral rights.
PCN participates as one of several sister archives with which LLILAS Benson has developed a partnership to support the digitization and description of archival materials. Funded by a succession of grants from the Mellon Foundation, this project emphasizes the post-custodial archiving model.* Digitized materials from PCN’s Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia archive.
Alex Suarez, Digital Projects Archivist, and Karla Roig, former Post-Custodial and Digital Initiatives Graduate Research Assistant, spent a week in Buenaventura to assist PCN with organizing and processing their physical collection. By processing the physical collection, PCN will be able to digitize and create metadata more efficiently. Below, Suarez (AS) and Roig (KR) answer questions about this meaningful visit.
Please describe what you did while visiting Colombia.
AR: We conducted a series of trainings on archival processing, metadata creation, and digitization. We also had the opportunity to learn about the region as well as the city of Buenaventura. The first few days were spent getting to know the collection and to also understand how PCN works as an organization.
Together with PCN, we brainstormed how to arrange the archive in a way that reflects how PCN operates and how they envisioned using the archive in the future. We also reviewed digitization and metadata best practices so that PCN materials can be accessible worldwide and researchers can learn about the organization and Buenaventura.
We were also invited to attend throughout the week three talks titled “Diálogos ribereños,” organized by PCN and the Banco de la República, in which community leaders engaged in conversation with the community around topics of burial rites, economic practices and the environment, and the settlement of their rivers.
Please share some of the highlights of the trip: the setting, activities, and accomplishments.
AR: I was blown away by the closeness of the community and the work they have accomplished over the last 30 years. Everybody knows each other and have been working toward the same goals. It was so interesting to see the community at work.
One of the biggest accomplishments was PCN creating their archival processing plan and defining their arrangement plan. Some of my favorite moments were spent drinking freshly brewed coffee around [PCN leader] Marta’s dining room table talking about how to arrange the archive and how they envisioned future researchers using the archive.
Another favorite moment was attending an interactive exhibit titled Río la Verdad, by Bogotá-based artist Leonel Vásquez, who installed a swimming pool where guests could submerge themselves and hear the sound of the rivers and people singing songs about their history. It was a deeply powerful experience and one that I will never forget.
KR: About the setting: On Sunday morning, we met with Marta and she showed us around Buenaventura for the first time. Our hotel was in front of the Malecón, their only public park, where people gather early in the morning to wait for the small boats that will connect them to other parts of the Colombian Pacific coast. Walking around the small coastal city, there were many local stores and street vendors displaying their goods—from fruits and vegetables, clothes and shoes, to home essentials. Right away we could sense the tight-knit community bonds. Everyone we passed greeted us with a “Buenos días” and Marta was often stopped by people she knew to have a small conversation.
We stopped at a small coffee shop with the view of the Pacific Ocean to have a refreshing drink, where we talked about geography, how Colombia is divided into different departments, and how Buenaventura is the biggest municipality in the Valle del Cauca department. We were staying in the urban center of the municipality, which is where one of the major ports in the country that brings in a large percentage of imported goods is located. Seeing the large yellow container cranes was impressive, they spotted the skyline from our hotel view to the right, and to the left, on a clear day, we could see the mountains at a distance.
One of my favorite memories from our visit was the cultural exchange that happened between us and the PCN team. They taught us about their colloquialisms and their native fruits such as maracuyá and borojó (we tried them too!) and we shared our own vernacular from Puerto Rican and Cuban Spanish. It was exciting to find the similarities between our cultures as well as learning about the uniqueness of their own: how their communities are based around their rivers and also how the marimba is one of their traditional music instruments. Definitely the highlight of the entire visit for me was how welcoming and friendly the PCN team was, and how excited they were to engage with us at a professional and personal level. Toward the end of the week, we had a team dinner to celebrate what we had accomplished and to thank them for hosting us. That night we talked at length about the week, and we all shared what we had learned and were grateful for. It was a beautiful moment interspersed with conversation centered on the archive, but also with laughter and familiarity.
Any ongoing goals?
The main ongoing goal for LLILAS Benson’s Mellon-funded collaboration with PCN is to continue working on the physical archive and to arrange the materials in a way that reflects the organization.
Note: Post-custodial archiving is a process whereby sometimes vulnerable archives are preserved digitally and the digital versions made accessible worldwide, thus increasing access to the materials while ensuring they remain in the custody and care of their community of origin.
Dos miembros del equipo de Iniciativas Digitales de LLILAS Benson viajaron recientemente a Buenaventura, Colombia, para trabajar con archivistas y líderes comunitarios de Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), una colectiva de organizaciones fundada en 1993 que trabaja para transformar la realidad política, social, económica y territorial de las comunidades negras, afro-descendientes, raizal y palenqueras colombianas a través de la defensa y reivindicación de sus derechos individuales, colectivas y ancestrales.
Alex Suarez, Archivista para Proyectos Digitales, y Karla Roig, Asistente Posgrado de Investigaciones para Iniciativas Digitales, pasaron una semana en Buenaventura para ayudar a PCN a organizar y procesar su colección física. Al procesar la colección física, podrían digitalizar y crear metadatos de una manera más eficiente. Abajo, Suarez (AS) y Roig (KR) contestan algunas preguntas sobre la visita.
Expliquen, por favor, las actividades que realizaron durante su visita.
AS: Llevamos a cabo una serie de capacitaciones sobre el procesamiento de archivos, la creación de metadatos y la digitalización. También tuvimos la oportunidad de conocer sobre la región, así como la ciudad de Buenaventura. Los primeros días fueron dedicados a conocer la colección y también a comprender cómo funciona PCN como organización.
Junto con PCN, aportamos ideas sobre cómo organizar el archivo de una manera que reflejara cómo opera PCN y cómo imaginaban usar el archivo en el futuro. También revisamos las mejores prácticas de digitalización y metadatos para que los materiales de PCN puedan ser accesibles en todo el mundo y los investigadores puedan aprender sobre la organización y sobre Buenaventura.
También fuimos invitadas a asistir a lo largo de la semana a tres charlas tituladas “Diálogos ribereños”, organizadas por PCN y el Banco de la República, en las que líderes comunitarios conversaron con la comunidad en torno a temas de ritos fúnebres, prácticas económicas y medio ambiente, y del poblamiento de sus ríos.
¿Cuáles fueron los eventos más destacados del viaje en términos del lugar, las actividades, los logros?
AS: Quedé asombrada por la cercanía de la comunidad y el trabajo que han realizado durante los últimos 30 años. Todos se conocen unos a otros y han estado trabajando hacia unas metas en común y fue muy interesante ver a la comunidad haciendo ese trabajo.
Uno de los mayores logros fue PCN creando su plan de procesamiento de archivos y definiendo su plan de organización. Algunos de mis momentos favoritos fueron bebiendo café recién colado alrededor de la mesa del comedor de Marta hablando sobre cómo organizar el archivo y cómo imaginaban que los futuros investigadores usarían el archivo.
Otro de mis momentos favoritos fue asistir a una exhibición interactiva que fue instalada en el parque principal durante nuestra estadía. La exposición se tituló Río la Verdad del artista bogotano Leonel Vásquez, quien instaló una piscina donde los invitados podían sumergirse y escuchar el sonido de los ríos y la gente cantando canciones sobre su historia. Fue una experiencia profundamente poderosa y una que nunca olvidaré.
KR: Sobre el lugar: El domingo por la mañana nos reunimos con Marta [una líder de PCN] y ella nos caminó por Buenaventura por primera vez. Nuestro hotel estaba frente al Malecón, el único parque público de la ciudad, donde la gente se reúne temprano en la mañana para esperar las pequeñas embarcaciones que los conectarán con otras partes de la costa pacífica colombiana. Caminando por la pequeña ciudad costera, había muchas tiendas locales y vendedores en la calle que mostraban sus productos, desde frutas y verduras, ropa y zapatos, hasta artículos para el hogar. Inmediatamente pudimos ver la cercanía de la comunidad, a todo el que pasábamos nos saludaba con un “Buenos días”, y Marta a menudo paraba a hablar con algún conocido u otro para tener una pequeña conversación.
Nos detuvimos en una pequeña cafetería con vistas al Océano Pacífico para tomar una bebida refrescante en donde conversamos sobre la geografía, cómo Colombia está dividido en diferentes departamentos, y cómo Buenaventura es el municipio más grande del departamento del Valle del Cauca. Nos estábamos quedando en el centro urbano del municipio, que es dónde se encuentra uno de los puertos más importantes del país que trae un gran porcentaje de mercancías importadas. Ver las grandes grúas amarillas de contenedores fue impresionante, se percibían hacia la derecha del horizonte desde la vista de nuestro hotel, y a la izquierda, en un día claro, podíamos ver las montañas a lo lejos.
Uno de mis mejores recuerdos de nuestra visita fue el intercambio cultural que ocurrió entre nosotros y el equipo de PCN. Ellos nos enseñaron sobre sus coloquialismos y sus frutas nativas como el maracuyá y el borojó (¡también los probamos!) y compartimos nuestro vernáculo del español puertorriqueño y cubano. Fue emocionante encontrar las similitudes entre nuestras culturas, así como aprender sobre la singularidad de la de ellos: cómo sus comunidades se basan en sus ríos y también cómo la marimba es uno de sus instrumentos musicales tradicionales.
Definitivamente, lo que más se destacó de toda la visita para mí fue lo acogedor y amable que fue el equipo de PCN, y lo emocionados que estaban de interactuar con nosotros a nivel profesional y personal. Hacia el final de la semana, tuvimos una cena de equipo para celebrar lo que habíamos logrado y agradecerles por recibirnos. Esa noche hablamos sobre la semana y todos compartimos lo que habíamos aprendido y por lo que estábamos agradecidos. Fue un hermoso momento intercalado con conversación enfocada en el archivo, pero también con risas y familiaridad.
¿Objetivos para el futuro?
El principal objetivo de la subvención Mellon es continuar trabajando en el acervo físico y organizar los materiales de una manera que refleje la organización.
Nota: La práctica de archivos pos-custodiales tiene que ver con la preservación de archivos vulnerables en su lugar de origen, mientras se crea una versión digital del material para hacerlo disponible a nivel global.