Category Archives: Archives

Spirit of Viche: Black Ancestral Traditions in the Colombian Pacific

by CAMILLE CARR

The Benson Rare Books Reading Room hosts a
student-curated exhibition, funded by an Archiving Black América–Black Diaspora Archive Acquisitions Grant

Spirit of Viche presents scenes of Black life and culture from the Colombian Pacific and features artistry from its four departments—Chocó, Cauca, Valle de Cauca, and Nariño. Its focal point is viche, an artisanal distilled sugarcane drink whose recipe has been passed down from enslaved African women to their descendants for centuries. Viche has medicinal properties, healing general ailments and aiding women during the process of childbirth. Viche is also deeply spiritual, constituting an integral component of everyday life for Black Colombian Pacific communities.

Several glass bottles sit on a wooden table, their contents range in color from orangish to amber yellow to clear. Different bottles have different colored labels.
Bottles of Mano de Buey viche sit on a table. The different labels and colors illustrate the varieties of distilled spirits offered by the brand. (Photo: Camille Carr)

Join us on Feb. 29 for a special exhibition talk with student curator Camille Carr, LLILAS Director Adela Pineda Franco, and visiting scholar Dr. William Mina Aragón, Universidad de Cauca, and Biblioteca Afrocolombiana de las Ciencias Sociales at Universidad del Valle, Cali
Event information here

Black women have created viche from sugarcane for centuries, also producing derivates that are important in spiritual and traditional healing practices of the Colombian Pacific. The first step in the artisanal process involves harvesting sugarcane along rivers and grinding it using a mill called a trapiche. Once ground, the sugarcane stalks release a juice called guarapo, which is fermented and distilled for up to three months. During the distillation process, guarapo is cooked over an open flame until it becomes transparent, resulting in viche puro. Viche makers, or vicheras, then infuse the drink with local herbs, fruits, and spices to create the traditional derivates of viche, known as viche curado and tomaseca. Black Pacific communities use viche curado to heal general ailments and tomaseca to aid women with menstruation, reproduction, and childbirth. As a spiritual and medicinal drink, viche functions as an ancestral technology for Black survival.

A Black woman holds a bottle and faces the camera. The bottle contains greenish-yellow herbs and liquid and has a pink label. There is a batiked cloth tied around the top. The woman's earrings are large turquoise hair combs and her hair is natural, very full, and reddish.
Vichera Mayra (Maja) Arboleda Mina (photo: Camille Carr)

In November 2021, the Ley del Viche (Viche Law) recognized viche as the patrimonial beverage of Black Pacific communities and permitted its commercialization. Presently, vicheras/os aim to protect the drink from cooptation by people outside the Pacific who wish to profit from the efforts of Black communities. With that in mind, this exhibit endeavors to recognize and reiterate this ancestral craft as a practice original to Black Colombian women and their communities.


The materials on display were collected in 2023 by LLILAS master’s student Camille Carr as part of the inaugural Archiving Black América-Black Diaspora Archive Acquisitions Award. The award allowed Carr to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in Cali, the center of Black life and culture in the Pacific region, and build a small archival collection that includes print media, photographs, bottles of viche, artworks, and other materials.

The acquisition of these materials reinforces the Black Diaspora Archive’s mission to document Blackness in the Americas and reifies the presence of Black Colombian culture within the Benson Latin American Collection.

This exhibition was curated by Camille Carr (MA ’24) in collaboration with Benson Exhibitions Curator Veronica Valarino.

Campus Conservators Unite to Save Time

In the ever-evolving landscape of preservation efforts, collaboration and partnerships play a crucial role in safeguarding our cultural heritage. Recently, a remarkable project was undertaken at The University of Texas at Austin, demonstrating the power of teamwork and dedication in the preservation of historical artifacts. The effort focused on preserving a rare and fragile architectural drawing of a clock face designed by the renowned French-American architect and educator Paul Philippe Cret (1876-1945).

Cret, a distinguished architect whose legacy is deeply embedded in the annals of UT architectural history, left an indelible mark with his innovative designs. He devised the University’s 1933 Campus Master Plan and designed 20 campus buildings including the Main Building and UT Tower. Among his many creations, the clock face drawing stands out as a testament to his artistic prowess and technical brilliance, and also serves as a window into past collaborations. This drawing, used to communicate to contractors how to execute the design, was likely drawn in the office of Robert Leon White, supervising architect for the University of Texas, under Cret’s direction. Part of the University of Texas Buildings Collection in the Alexander Architectural Archives at the university, this drawing is a cherished piece that encapsulates the essence of an era.

At the heart of this preservation endeavor is the Campus Conservation Initiative, a collaborative partnership between the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas Libraries and other collections at the university. The CCI operates with a mission to safeguard and promote access the university’s cultural heritage treasures, approving specialized conservation treatment for items from the CCI partner collections in the Ransom Center’s conservation labs.

Preservation specialists from the Ransom Center and the Libraries filled a pivotal role in ensuring the longevity of the clock face drawing. Armed with expertise in archival management, preservation and conservation, these professionals meticulously assessed the condition of the fragile material and devised a comprehensive preservation plan. The treatment for the drawing included removing tape from previous repairs, mending tears, and stabilizing other fragile areas of the drawing.  The CCI conservator had to construct a way to safely house the drawing so that it can be viewed, as well. The work is ten feet tall by five feet wide, so the preservation housing was designed with a window to allow for display, while still protecting the item.

Preserving rare and fragile materials is not merely an act of safeguarding the past but also a commitment to providing global access to valuable historical resources. The efforts put forth by The University of Texas at Austin, through the Campus Conservation Initiative, guarantee that this architectural drawing, once at risk of deterioration, remains accessible to a global audience.

Beyond the immediate benefits of access, the preservation of rare materials ensures the sustainability of primary resource materials for future generations. By safeguarding artifacts like the clock face drawing, the Campus Conservation Initiative contributes to the educational and research pursuits of scholars, students, and enthusiasts for years to come.

The collaborative efforts showcased in the preservation of the clock face drawing exemplify the significance of partnerships in the realm of cultural heritage preservation. The work of the Campus Conservation Initiative affirms UT’s dedication to the past and commitment to the future, ensuring that rare and fragile materials continue to enrich our understanding of history and architecture.


Learn more about the Campus Conservation Initiative and the project to restore Cret’s clock drawing in this article at Alcalde.

Archive of Prominent Nicaraguan Writer and Political Figure Gioconda Belli Comes to Texas

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. 

A woman in her sixties with light brown wavy hair stands at a stone wall at a place where the wall separates. Her hands rest on the parts of the wall beside her on each side. She smiles at the camera. She is wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, black short-sleeved jacket and pants, and a bright red necklace made of two strands of large beads.
Gioconda Belli, photo by Daniel Mordzinski

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.

A faded newspaper page from La Prensa Literaria has the name Gioconda Belli at the top in large sans serif capital letters. The page contains various poems and other text. The legend "Poemas y prosemas" appears in large blue serif type in the middle of the page. Along the righthand side of the page there is a large black cartoon illustration of a Classic-age woman who holds a long sword in one hand and, aloft, the severed head of a man, blood dripping from it, in the other.
Newspaper clipping, “Poemas y prosemas,” published in La Prensa Literaria, 1970s. Benson Latin American Collection.

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.

Notes from FILUNI

Benson Director Melissa Guy recently attended La Feria Internacional del Libro de las Universitarias y los Universitarios 2023 (FILUNI), a transnational book fair and conference that was held at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City August 29-September 3.

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

https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/cultura/coleccion-nettie-lee-benson-joyas-latinoamericanas-en-eu/

“Los tesoros mexicanos en la Universidad de Texas en Austin,” El Economista  https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/arteseideas/Los-tesoros-mexicanos-en-la-Universidad-de-Texas-en-Austin-20230903-0047.html   

“Guarding Latin America’s Literary Treasures: An Interview with Melissa Guy,” Voices of Mexico

https://drive.google.com/file/d/16vbmG-2WCduB9z5WULAiA5qxnzdGDSgP/view

Papers of Celebrated Author, Poet, and Activist Jorge Argueta Come to the Benson

BY ANA A. RICO

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.

A smiling man with dark hair and mustache, black cowboy hat, red t-shirt illustrated with two Indigenous figures, faces the camera on the left side of the frame. In the background, a long avenue at the end of which is the U.S. Capitol.
Jorge Argueta in Washington, DC, ca. 2000. Photographer unknown.

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.

Two abstract multicolor drawings in crayon are side-by-side. Each one has a short handwritten poem scrawled next to the drawing.
Poems and artwork by Jorge Argueta, created shortly after arriving in the U.S., 1980s

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.

Colorful poster advertising performances of the opera Xochitl and the Flowers, libretto based on a book by José Argueta
Poster advertising performances Xochitl and the Flowers, an opera whose libretto is based on a book by Jorge Argueta

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.   

Colorful cover of the children's book Alfredito Flies Home. We see a boy from the back. He is wearing a red long-sleeved shirt and blue pants. He is in a yard with green grass, a fence, and there is a football on a small area of concrete near the grass. He is making airplane shape with arms. The title of the book is written on a luggage tag.
Children’s book by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Luis Garay, published in 2007

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.

This collection is an invaluable addition to the Benson. Its addition complements current collections such as the Carmen Lomas Garza Papers and Artworks, the Carmen Tafolla Papers, as well as the Benson’s Central American collections that feature Miguel Ángel Asturias, Ernesto Cardenal, and Pablo Antonio Cuadra.


Ana A. Rico is a master’s student at the School of Information and the Collection Development GRA at the Benson Latin American Collection.

Benson Exhibitions Focus on Chile

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.  

On a bright red background, white silhouettes outlined in black suggest people running or fighting. The words Battle for Chile appear in bold lettering on this poster advertising an exhibition.
Battle for Chile exhibition poster

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. 

Against a white background, the words "Walls That Speak" appear in bold black with the letters looking slightly worn. There is a large stenciled image of a soldier holding a rifle or bayonet at the end of which is a bloodied brain. This poster advertises an exhibition of stencil street art.
Walls That Speak exhibition poster featuring art by Pikoenelojo Stencil

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.

Benson Publishes Early-20th-Century Mexican American Newspapers Associated with Jovita Idar

By Ryan Lynch and Carla Alvarez

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. 

Learn about the Federico Idar and Idar Family Papers

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. 

Yellowed front page of a Spanish-language newspaper titled Evolución. There are various headlines relating to World War I, and one image.
Restored copy of “Evolución,” a daily paper published in Laredo, Texas Benson Latin American Collection Available online at https://collections.lib.utexas.edu/catalog/utblac:b17abce6-b75f-4e8b-80be-248f5d05f484

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).

Yellowed front page of the Spanish-language newspaper "El Progresso," dated October 29, 1914. Main headline refers to World War I and the march of the Germans. The page includes several black-and-white photographs related to news stories, including one of two women on horseback.
Issue of “El Progreso,” an independent daily newspaper published in Laredo by the Idar family. Benson Latin American Collection. The entire issue is available online at https://collections.lib.utexas.edu/catalog/utblac:fdca5830-7f96-459d-9ead-807cd14d0a57

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.

Yellowed close-up of the top half of a front page of the Spanish-language newspaper Evolución, dated Laredo, Texas, Sábado 26 de Octubre de 1918. A large vertical crease down the middle shows where the once-torn item has been restored.
This issue of the Spanish-language newspaper “Evolución” was restored by the UT Austin Campus Conservation Initiative. The large vertical crease down the middle shows where the once-torn item has been restored. Benson Latin American Collection.

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.

Yellowed front page of a Spanish-language newspaper titled Evolución. A large crease down the center shows where the torn page was restored by the UT Austin Campus Conservation Initiative.
Front page of Evolución, recently restored by the UT Austin Campus Conservation Initiative. Benson Latin American Collection. Available online at https://collections.lib.utexas.edu/catalog/utblac:46cf1f06-cf99-4a87-9aa0-f67128a77855

Related Resources

AILLA Road Trip: Teaching about the Indigenous Language Archive in Rural Oaxaca

BY EDEN EWING

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.

A sweeping line of mountains brownish-green, clouds of white, blue, and gray, with blue sky in the distance.
Although it wasn’t as lush as San Marcos Zacatepec, there was a beautiful view of the mountains from my balcony in San Juan Quiahije.

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.

A pale-gray wall is in the foreground. Painted on the wall is a simple rainbow with dark-gray clouds at each end. On either side of the rainbow, small blocks of different colors are painted, each with a word next to it in black lettering. In the background there is a red brick building with black wrought-iron gates in an archway. A few people are also visible in the background.
San Miguel Panixtlahuaca has educational murals in the center of town. This one shows a rainbow with the names of different colors in Chatino.

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.

A boy looks at a cell phone. To his right, the author stands, pointing at something on the phone's screen. In the background there are visible two men, trees, and part of a red house.
I taught Christian how to look at the AILLA collections of many different languages across Latin America.

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.

Exterior wall of a building with a brightly painted mural on one part. The mural shows a scene with fruits, vegetables, and trees on green land, with darker-green mountains in the background and a blue sky beyond it. Objects on the mural have white numbers painted near them. Below the painting there is a list of numbers with words, painted in black. Each word is the Chatino term for its corresponding image in the painting.
Murals with the names of fruits and vegetables were on the walls at the Chatino Culture Museum in San Miguel Panixtlahuaca.

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.


Related Links

Making Books and Tools Speak Chatino: Interview with Hilaria Cruz*

How Languages Get Writing Systems: An Interview with Hilaria Cruz

* Dr. Hilaria Cruz a Chatino-speaking linguist, is the sister of Dr. Emiliana Cruz and a UT Austin alumna.

Libraries Partners in Exhibition Celebrating Black Classicists

The University of Texas Libraries is collaborating with other local heritage institutions to highlight the contributions of Black historians to the study of antiquity.

“Black Classicists in Texas” is a free public exhibition, celebrating the life and work of classicists of color in Austin and Central Texas. In 1900, Reuben Shannon Lovinggood, the Chair of the Greek and Latin Department at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, made an impassioned argument against those who minimized the value of liberal education, especially Classics, for Black people. In the same year, Lovinggood became the first president of Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University), and a pillar of the Austin Black community.

But he was not the only one.

The exhibition tells the story of Central Texas’ early educators of color and their passion for the study of antiquity. Explore images, archival materials, interviews, and current scholarship to find out more about Lovinggood, L.C. Anderson, H.T. Kealing and their vibrant community of scholars, students and public intellectuals. Learn about Classics and its place in historic debates on Black self-determination, and find out more about classical education in Austin today.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas Libraries, the Black Diaspora Archive at the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, the Downs-Jones Library at Huston-Tillotson University, and the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.Visit the three exhibition sites at the Benson Collection at the University of Texas at Austin, Huston-Tillotson University, and the Carver Museum.

For more information on the exhibitions, including a self-guided tour and additional resources, visit the Black Classicists in Texas website at https://bcatx.org/.

“Black Classicists in Texas” will be on view through December 22, 2023.


Over the past year, Adriana Cásarez, U.S. Studies and African Studies Librarian, played a key role in coordinating the “Black Classicists in Texas” exhibition project, and worked in partnership with Libraries’ colleagues Rachel E. Winston, Dr. D Ryan Lynch, Dr. Lorraine J. Haricombe, Shiela Winchester, Mary Rader, and Aaron Choate.

Casarez was interviewed about the exhibit on the Texas Standard, which you can listen to here.

The Missing Link: Peer Learning for Linked Data

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.

Workshop Outcomes

Goals achieved:

  • 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
Infographic of workshop outcomes

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.