UT Austin became the first university from the United States to participate as the guest of honor at this prestigious event. The gathering attracted over 35,000 participants from 10 different countries, and featured over 50 roundtable discussions, research symposia, live podcasts, musical performances, film screenings, and exhibits, covering a wide range of topics.
The UT delegation was comprised of more than 130 faculty members, graduate students, performers, staffers, campus leaders, and alumni representing 20 of the University’s colleges, schools, and units. The University of Texas Press, a long-time FILUNI participant, showcased 600 of its titles, with more than 1,100 books available for purchase at the fair’s on-site bookstore.
While in attendance, Guy had the opportunity to talk with regional media, and was featured in several publications:
“Colección Nettie Lee Benson, joyas latinoamericanas en EU,” El Universal
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.
Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of initiatives by GLAM institutions (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) using Linked Open Data technologies to enhance access to their collections. From nation-wide collaborative campaigns, such as the Program for Cooperative Cataloging Wikidata Pilot, to paradigm-shifting implementations, such as the transition of the Library of Congress cataloging operations to a hybrid MARC and BIBFRAME environment, the growing availability of tools, ontologies and platforms are finally allowing cultural heritage institutions to explore the promises of linked data.
Librarians and archivists see the potential in Wikidata as a pragmatic solution for managing local authorities in a linked data environment; Wikidata is increasingly used for research and increasingly integrated into software applications, including Library Service Platforms like Alma/Primo.
The UT Linked Data Learning Group, an informal community of practice at The University of Texas at Austin, composed of professional staff working in archives and libraries, convenes monthly to address the need for pragmatic ways to integrate linked data into routine workflows. We collaborate to build knowledge, skills, and institutional support for linked data initiatives in our respective institutions.
In 2022, group efforts focused on building knowledge and skills around Wikidata. Some members of the UT Linked Data Learning Group have been exploring and using Wikidata in various projects in recent years. This group aspired to leverage those members’ knowledge and skills to train other staff through a hands-on peer learning experience, with intentions to expand awareness and surface opportunities for integrating Wikidata into existing and future work. To that end, group members designed and delivered a 2-day virtual Wikidata Workshop on January 12-13, 2023.
Staff familiarity with Wikidata and Linked Data
Enhanced linked data ecosystem relevant to Texas Cultural Heritage
Expanded impact of Handbook of Texas diversification efforts (adding & enhancing Wikidata entries about Texas women)
Building a community of practice – campus representation among 36 registrants:
UT Libraries Content Management unit
UT Libraries Access Systems unit
UT Libraries Branch & Borrower Services unit
UT Libraries Stewardship department
UT Libraries Alexander Architectural Archives
UT Libraries Benson Latin American Collection
Harry Ransom Center
Briscoe Center for American History
Tarlton Law Library
Texas Digital Library
School of Information
Hands-on peer learning to build new skills:
21 active editors contributed to Wikidata throughout the workshop. Some continued with contributions after the workshop.
31 new items created in Wikidata for entries represented in the Handbook of Texas
74 existing Wikidata items updated with data from the Handbook of Texas
835 new references for Wikidata statements citing the Handbook of Texas as a source
Individuals involved in designing and delivering the workshop: Melanie Cofield, Head of Access Systems, University of Texas Libraries (UTL); Brenna Edwards, Manager for Digital Archives, Harry Ransom Center; Paloma Graciani-Picardo, Metadata Librarian and Head, Printed & Published Media, Harry Ransom Center; Katie Pierce Meyer, Head of Architectural Collections, UTL; Michael Shensky, Head of Research Data Services, UTL; Yogita Sharma, Alexander Architectural Archives team member, UTL; and Elliot Williams, former DPLA Metadata Aggregation Outreach Coordinator for Texas Digital Library.
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
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.
It is no secret that the Benson Latin American Collection preserves one of the most important Spanish colonial archives in the United States. Within the pages of hundreds of volumes and archival boxes in its stacks are countless historical gems documenting the lived experience of colonized people, colonizers, and everyone in between. However, these perspectives are largely inaccessible: archaic penmanship and obscure writing conventions encode these histories on brittle paper.
For years, the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office has been experimenting with digital technologies to transform this “unreadable” Spanish colonial archive into accessible humanities data for scholars. However, we tried something new this past year and reversed the equation: We convened colonial Latin Americanists online to transform handwritten words on pages into digital text that they could then use to make the digital humanities (DH) more accessible. This resulted in the “Spanish Paleography and Digital Humanities Institute,” a free online program that provided scholars with practical training in the reading and visualization of 16th- to 18th-century manuscripts in Spanish. The program’s syllabus and logistics were designed by Abisai Pérez Zamarripa, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate in history, and myself. Anyone with advanced Spanish-reading proficiency was invited to apply.
“I found this institute thoughtful, generative, and inspiring. The coordinators made every effort to show the participants relevant tools and encourage our progress. It was uniquely helpful to identify DH methods and tools that would make sense in an early modern context and to discuss questions that relate to our field.” — Fall 2021 participant
Colonial Latin Americanists from all over the world applied. While we were only planning to lead one institute, the overwhelming response to our call for applications prompted us to offer two, one in the fall (November–December 2021) and another in the spring (January–March 2022). In all, we accepted 60 participants, including 35 graduate students, eight junior faculty, eight tenured professors, five archive and library professionals, and four independent researchers. By the end of the academic year, we had trained scholars in 11 countries and 18 U.S. states who had varying experience in Spanish paleography and the digital humanities.
“The facilitators were very supportive, and the workshop itself was an invaluable opportunity to meet scholars from across the U.S. and Latin America despite not being able to travel, and to experience a variety of digital humanities tools relevant to our work.” — Dr. Mallory E. Matsumoto, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
One of our main objectives was to help participants obtain and hone Spanish paleography skills. We invited experts from Germany, Portugal, France, and Mexico to provide introductions on specific colonial institutions and their records to expose students to specialized writing conventions and abbreviations. Each Friday, we would break the cohort into groups so that they could collaboratively read and transcribe the week’s case study in a shared Google Doc, which enabled us to give them live feedback and corrections on their transcriptions.
“The group transcription sessions every Friday were invaluable as they allowed us to decipher and discuss doubts with colleagues throughout the [transcription] process, while learning from those with greater knowledge.” — Spring 2022 participant
The spirit of collegiality during these sessions was truly inspiring. We witnessed how scholars, especially those with advanced Spanish paleography skills, actively supported each other in deciphering the texts. After the institute ended, some commented that they considered this group work as “one of the most enriching experiences from the institute.”
After the collaborative transcription sessions, participants continued to hone their paleography skills through assigned weekly homework. Each scholar transcribed two to four pages in various handwriting styles using the University of Texas Libraries’ instance of FromThePage, a platform that enables collaborative transcription work and version tracking. Once they were done with a page, Abisai and I reviewed and corrected the transcriptions, which FromThePage documented and showed, as seen above, to further the students’ understanding of the scripts and abbreviations.
Besides learning how to read the archaic penmanship, scholars were simultaneously helping us enhance the accessibility of the Spanish colonial collection. One the one hand, the cohorts transcribed, and consequently made intellectually accessible, over 90 documents (1,000+ pages) preserved in the Benson Latin American Collection. We are currently publishing them in the Texas Data Repository and will soon ingest them in the University of Texas Libraries’ Collections portal with the images of the original materials to broaden access.
On the other hand, participants also helped us leverage machine-learning technologies to automate this work in the future. As part of the “Unlocking the Colonial Archive” NEH-AHRC grant project, we are reusing these transcriptions to train handwritten text recognition (HTR) models for each of the handwriting styles we commonly find in Spanish colonial documentation. We are then running these models on untranscribed materials at the Benson and in other digital archives to obtain usable automatic transcriptions. To see a list of participants who made a significant contribution to this effort, visit the project website.
With transcriptions in hand, students then used them to learn several free and open-source digital humanities tools. Each Monday, we demonstrated how to extract, visualize, and analyze data from these transcribed texts in different platforms, including Recogito, Voyant-Tools, ArcGIS, and Onodo. As a capstone experience, we asked participants to develop and present a pilot digital humanities project using these tools and texts relevant to their research.
“I honestly did not know what to expect going into this institute. My focus was to improve my paleography skills with the digital programs as a benefit. Now, not only am I more confident in my paleography skills, but I have a plethora of digital tools to use for my projects.” — Spring 2022 participant
Given the positive reception and subsequent demand for such training, we will be leading another round of institutes this fall, August 15–September 30, 2022, and next spring, January 23–March 10, 2023. So if you are interested, check out the call for applications and join the collaborative “unlocking” of the Spanish colonial archive!
“I think it is a very complete and ambitious program. You taught me many tools that changed my way of doing history, of thinking about the social sciences and the humanities. I am very grateful to you. I hope you continue to be very successful and that this project continues to grow.” — Fall 2021 participant
These institutes would not have been possible without the support of these individuals:
Dr. Manuel Bastias Saavedra, Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory and Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin (Germany)
Dr. Berenise Bravo Rubio, Researcher-Professor at the National School of Anthropology and History (Mexico)
Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian, UT Libraries
Dr. Guillaume Gaudin, Researcher-Professor at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (France)
Dr. Lidia Gómez García, Researcher-Professor at the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla (Mexico)
Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
Dr. Kelly McDonough, Associate Professor at the Spanish and Portuguese Department, The University of Texas at Austin (United States of America)
Dr. Patricia Murrieta-Flores, Professor in Digital Humanities and Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at Lancaster University (United Kingdom)
Dr. Javier Pereda, Senior Researcher at the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration at Liverpool John Moores University (United Kingdom)
Theresa Polk, Head of Digital Initiatives, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
Dr. Miguel Rodrigues Lourenço, Researcher at the Center of the Humanities, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal)
Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator, UT Libraries (United States of America)
Krissi Trumeter, Financial Analyst, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
This initiative was generously sponsored by:
National Endowment for the Humanities (United States of America)
Arts and Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom)
LLILAS Excellence Fund for Technology and Development in Latin America
Albert A. Palacios, PhD, is the Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.
On the night of March 24, 2022, the UT Tower will be lit in honor of the centennial of a crown jewel of our campus—the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Established as the Latin American library on campus in 1921, the collection is beloved by students and faculty, and visited by scholars from all over the world.
The collection was named in 1975 upon the retirement of revered head librarian and historian Dr. Nettie Lee Benson, who served as its director for thirty-three years, retiring in 1975. The stewardship of Mexico-born historian, archivist and educator Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda from 1927 to 1943 was similarly indispensable in the library’s earlier years. In 2011, the Benson joined forces with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) in a partnership known as LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. This partnership has allowed for an expansion of the Benson in the areas of digital scholarship, post-custodial archiving and archiving of Indigenous languages of Latin America.
To honor the Benson Centennial, The University of Texas at Austin has invested in an interior redesign of the Benson’s main reading room—the first since its construction in 1971. The newly refurbished 6,734-square-foot room is the main entrance to the library and the heart of a place frequented by thousands of visitors each year.
The Tower lighting on March 24 coincides with the grand opening of this beloved space, renamed the Ann Hartness Reading Room, in honor of former head librarian Ann Hartness, whose thirty-eight-year tenure at the Benson enriched Brazilian studies and collections at the university. Its naming was made possible by a gift from Hartness’s son and daughter-in-law, who have also established the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the collection in the field of Brazilian studies. Graham and Ulmer have dedicated the remaining portion of their gift to create the Ann Hartness Benson Collection Matching Fund.
The Benson Centennial Tower lighting is a moment for hope—that this jewel of the University of Texas Libraries may continue to open its doors to the university community and beyond for many years to come, that we may continue to pursue digital projects that make our collections available worldwide through open access, and that support for the richness of this collection will be a means to continue its growth, its inclusiveness and its accessibility to an ever-expanding audience.
THE BENSON LATIN AMERICAN COLLECTION is home to the archive of Mexican politician, writer, and philosopher José Vasconcelos (1881–1959). In this short essay, Diego Godoy describes a man of contradictions, “the personification of both the brightness and darkness” of post-revolutionary Mexico.
One has to admire José Vasconcelos: the young law student who became a leading ateneísta —a member of the intellectual cohort that undid positivism’s decades-long stranglehold on Mexican political, social, and cultural life; the lawyer who was appointed rector of UNAM while still in his thirties; Mexico’s first Secretary of Public Education, who deployed teachers and mobile libraries to poor, rural schools and published affordable editions of literary classics; the mastermind behind Mexican muralism—picture him sitting with José Clemente Orozco, splitting a bottle of tempranillo (Vasconcelos hated distilled spirits), explaining how Orozco and other artists will bring history to the hoi polloi by frescoing colonial edifices; the Culture Czar of the Mexican Revolution.
But one can also loathe him. As the leading theoretician of official mestizophilia, he exalted the Iberian half of the mestizo equation above the Indigenous; if this is not wholly clear in the first part of La raza cósmica, read the accompanying travelogue of South America. Perhaps more egregious was his flirtation with fascism, which reached its highest (or lowest) point when he took the reins of a Third Reich–funded cultural magazine. His love life was similarly troubling: his refusal to fully commit to his mistress, the writer Antonieta Rivas Mercado, inspired her to put a bullet through her heart inside Notre-Dame—with Vasconcelos’s own pistol, no less. And then there was this slight, published in ElUniversal: “Barbarism commences where the consumption of guisos [stews] gives way to that of carne asada [grilled beef];” a jab, presumably, at the stereotypical brusqueness of my own father’s people—northern Mexicans.
Consider Vasconcelos the personification of both the brightness and darkness of the revolutionary project. In this sense, he was not much different from the other protagonists of the first half of Mexico’s twentieth century. Yet his intellectual and cultural impact dwarfed and far outlived that of his contemporaries.
Naturally, there is a good deal published about this maestro de la juventud de América, with the most comprehensive treatments having appeared pre–Moon Landing. More books, chapters, and essays have cropped up since then, many of which grapple with the themes of his work in oblique ways. A new English-language book (it is a largely hispanophone field), perhaps one offering unique focal points and fresh interpretations, would certainly be welcome. And while traditional cradle-to-grave biographies have become academically passé, what is often cold-shouldered by academia tends to be a reliable barometer of mass appeal. Should a researcher engage in such a project, he or she will be glad to know that the José Vasconcelos Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection contain correspondence (and divorce records) between Vasconcelos and his second wife, the pianist Esperanza Cruz. I suspect that many working historians might be dismissive of the man’s personal life. This would be unwise, because clever dashes of detail and anecdote can furnish scholarly writing and lectures with some badly needed flair. Either way, for the Vasconcelos-curious, this collection is the repository of choice.
The Vasconcelos Papers: A Closer Look
The José Vasconcelos Papers are divided into five sections. Correspondence contains the aforementioned letters to and from Esperanza Cruz, other relatives, and an array of writers. Among the latter group is Rodolfo Usigli, one of Mexico’s (and, indeed, Latin America’s) foremost dramatists, and Carlos Denegri, the legendarily unscrupulous, hard-drinking, sexist, insert-whatever-“ist”-you-want newsman—a veritable institution at Excélsior for some three decades. Biographical Materials holds photographs, artistic renderings of Vasconcelos, ephemera—conference programs, event invitations, coverage of his death—and a handful of personal items. Writings contains manuscripts and articles on a variety of subjects by Vasconcelos, as well as works by others reflecting on his cultural footprint. Of note is his four-part autobiography and another original, philosophical tract, La estética. Printed Materials includes journal, magazine, and newspaper articles by and about Vasconcelos, as well as books authored by him and those collected by or gifted to him. Lastly, there are two boxes of Oversized Materials: certificates, diplomas, event posters, newspaper clippings, and so forth.
For those who remain uninterested in contributing more pages to the micro library of Vasconcelos Studies, or expelling more breath on the “Great Men” of history, the collection is replete with gems nonetheless. Let’s say that you are interested in the history of education in Mexico, or, perhaps more specifically, the post-revolutionary state’s efforts to cultivate the minds of its citizenry. In that case, digging through issues of the short-lived El Maestro: Revista de cultura nacional will be worth your time. Founded by Vasconcelos as a sort of general culture primer, the magazine aimed to diffuse literary, historical, philosophical, and pedagogical content to educators, children, and lifelong learners. In its pages, Ramón López Velarde garnered his reputation as Mexico’s national poet before his untimely death at 33, and educators found Spanish-language versions of Tolstoy and lessons detailing the “Practical Applications of Geometry.”
A particularly rich vein of material exists for those concerned with “bibliotechology” (as I suspect many reading this are). Vasconcelos’s conviction that “only books will lift this country out of barbarism” spurred the momentous creation of libraries—and the training of competent professionals to steward them—during his tenure as Secretary of Public Education. Under the auspices of his newly formed Department of Libraries and Archives, a young poblana named María Teresa Chávez Campomanes arrived stateside for graduate studies in library science at Pratt and Columbia. Following stints at the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress, she returned to Mexico. Her sterling intellect (and no doubt her connections) pried open the doors to coveted positions, including the directorships of the Biblioteca Benjamín Franklin and the Biblioteca de México. Yet her greatest legacy rests on having mentored a generation of librarians. As a professor at the Escuela Nacional de Bibliotecarios y Archiveros, a founder of UNAM’s Colegio de Bibliotecología, and the author of definitive guides to cataloguing and classification, she was instrumental in the professionalization of Mexican librarianship. Anyone investigating the history of libraries and cultural heritage institutions, higher education, or the Mexican state’s cultural apparatus will find the six years’ worth of correspondence between Vasconcelos and Chávez Campomanes indispensable.
If you are like me, it is another woman’s name in Vasconcelos’s mailbag that will jump out at you: Pilar Primo de Rivera—the head of the Spanish Falange’s Sección Femenina,an organization whose raison d’être was to reinforce the belief that Spanish women should be seen (preferably in their husbands’ kitchens and bedrooms) and not heard. She was also, very briefly, the would-be Mrs. Adolf Hitler, but the Spaniards’ harebrained scheme to forge a Hispano-Teutonic dynasty was scrapped upon discovery of the Führer’s unitesticularity. Some might consider her a surprising correspondent for a man as erudite and seemingly enlightened as Vasconcelos. But the problem with the erudite and seemingly enlightened is that they, too, can be seduced by truly awful ideas. Indeed, the intelligentsia may be even more susceptible because they can readily perform the mental gymnastics necessary to rationalize intellectually or morally bankrupt positions—look no further than the Twittersphere to see otherwise brilliant people with Ivy League credentials hurl critical thinking out the window.
A right-wing analogue can be found in 1930s Latin America, when many of the region’s prominent literati, not the least of whom was don José, were among the torchbearers of an emergent “clerical and hispanophile right-wing nationalism,” as Pablo Yankelevich put it. But exactly how does one go from cultural revolutionary to reactionary? What explains a broadly liberal humanist’s descent into a regressive Catholic conservatism? And not your grandfather’s variety of conservatism either, unless he happens to be a porteño with a curiously German accent. Perhaps Vasconcelos’s faith in democratic principles dissipated after the events of 1929, when his presidential hopes were dashed. Coupled with a battered ego and festering resentment, this is a compelling explanation. So is the company he kept during his post-election exile, notably Leopoldo Lugones, the Argentine poet and accomplice in José Félix Uriburu’s corporatist military regime. No doubt Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles’s ferocious anticlericalism, and comparable atrocities perpetrated by Spanish anarchists and communists, also accelerated Vasconcelos’s rightward shift.
Some of the flesh for these bones may be found in Vasconcelos’s correspondence with the Spanish writer José Manuel Castañón. Hailing from Asturias, Castañón ran away from home at 16, but not for the usual reasons that teenagers flee. He aspired to join the ranks of Franco’s soldiers, and did just that in 1936. Five years later, he volunteered for the so-called Blue Division in order to fight alongside the Wehrmachton the Eastern Front. Castañón would eventually grow disillusioned with Francoism and publish accounts of his political 180 from his exile in Caracas.
Vasconcelos’s communication with compatriota Manuel Gómez Morín, however, might just yield more grist. An admirer of Miguel Primo de Rivera and the French protofascist thinker Charles Maurras, Gómez Morín wore many hats: law professor; university rector; banking czar; corporate lawyer; and most importantly, opposition party founder. His disenchantment with the post-revolutionary state began in the 1920s with President Álvaro Obregón handpicking Plutarco Elías Calles as his successor, Calles’s subsequent anti-Catholicism, followed by Vasconcelos’s failed presidential campaign, for which he served as unofficial treasurer. The 1930s proved no better for him and the politically like-minded, as President Lázaro Cárdenas’s progressive reforms clashed with major national and transnational companies, some of which counted on Gómez Morín for legal counsel. Fed up with the state of affairs, Gómez Morín founded the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) in 1939. Many of its earliest followers and official candidates ran the gamut of right-leaning ideology, from Jesuit activists to sinarquistas, members of a Guanajuato-based, Nazi-founded political organization whose rallying cry was “Faith, Blood, Victory.” These days, the PAN is more synonymous with drug-warrior presidents, conservative middle-class voters (the party’s lifeblood), and fake-news-peddling, rosary-clutching middle-aged women. But its early quasi-fascist ties cannot be forgotten.
Spending a few minutes eyeing the finding aid—and Googling unfamiliar names, texts, and organizations—will reveal the remarkable research and teaching potential of this collection. Whether one is concerned with some understudied facet of Vasconcelos’s life or career, or seeks to investigate such disparate topics as Mexican librarianship or transatlantic fascism, the José Vasconcelos Papers will provide unique and unmatched sources.
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce Héctor Rodríguez III’s donation of materials pertaining to his comic series, El Peso Hero.
The series was launched in 2011, when Rodríguez saw the need for more Latino representation in graphic novels. The titular superhero, whose name is Ignacio Rivera, fights to uphold justice and morality in the border region. In some issues, Rivera can be seen helping migrants safely across the border. In others, he fights corruption and drug traffickers. Now celebrating a decade of issues, El Peso Hero will debut on the silver screen in the near future. While Rivera is the protagonist of the series, perhaps it’s his creator who is the real hero.
Héctor Rodríguez is a bilingual north Texas elementary school teacher by day and a comic book creator by night. His commitment to the genre goes beyond his own production: he’s also the creator of Texas Latino Comic Con. The mission of his independently owned Rio Bravo Comics is to give the people a “humble hero,” someone who is relatable to the audience, some of whom are his students. His inspiration comes from his family as well as his life as a Chicano in Texas. Rodríguez, who was born in Eagle Pass and grew up in College Station, uses El Peso Hero as a means to tell stories about the borderlands, from its hardships to its beauty.
For the author, that beauty is found in the multiculturalism that flourishes in the region, where El Santo comics are read while watching lucha libre, and English and Spanish are often spoken in the same sentence. It is for this reason that Rodríguez intentionally has El Peso Hero only speak in Spanish, while the series itself is bilingual. For Rodríguez, it is important that El Peso Hero transcends the U.S.–Mexico border linguistically and culturally to solidify his representation of transnational communities.
The donation features single issues, posters, stickers, storyboards, and a coloring book. One of the many highlights is a rare, signed first issue of the series.
Daniel Arbino is Head of Collection Development at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.