Category Archives: Benson Latin American Collection

A Visit to Eldorado: Archivists Attend the Annual Gathering of Quilombolas in Brazil’s Vale do Ribeira

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Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections and Senior Archivist at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, and Rachel E. Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist, attended the annual meeting of traditional Black communities in Eldorado, state of São Paulo, as guests of EAACONE, one of the Benson’s archival partners.

ONE OF THE PARTNERSHIPS that emerged from the LLILAS Benson Mellon-funded project “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Community” involved extensive collaboration with EAACONE, Equipe de Articulação e Assessoria às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira, located in Eldorado, Vale do Ribeira, São Paulo, Brazil. (EAACONE’s name translates as Team for Articulation and Assessment of Black Communities of Vale do Ribeira).  

A circle of women of various ages holds hands. They are wearing white blouses and multicolored floral skirts. A few of them wear straw hats.
Women from Quilombo Sapatu perform “Nha Muruca” at the Encontrão .

Digitized materials and metadata from the EAACONE archive are available in three languages on the Latin American Digital Initiatives Repository. LLILAS Benson’s collaboration consisted, in part, of training of EAACONE staff in digitization and metadata, as well as funding the purchase of equipment and the salaries of archival employees from the quilombola* community. Additional funds covered the creation of a traveling exhibition for the purpose of introducing schoolchildren and other community members to the archive and to the history of EAACONE and MOAB, the anti-dam movement with which it is associated. 

Three people stand in front of a chain link fence hung with vinyl posters, part of the traveling exhibition describing the EAACONE archive. On the left is a man, who is talking, in the middle, a woman whose t-shirt reads "Fight Like a Black Woman" (in Portuguese) and on the far right, another woman holds a yellow folder and is looking toward the man.
From left: Attorneys Fernando Prioste (Instituto Socioambiental, ISA) and Rafaela Santos (EAACONE) speak with Letícia de França (EAACONE).

EAACONE’s archive, titled Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira (Quilombos of Vale do Ribeira), consists of materials compiled from 25 years of EAACONE history and 35 years of MOAB (Movimento dos Ameaçados por Barragens, or Movement of Peoples Threatened by Dams), a grassroots movement protesting the construction of hydroelectric dams with negative impacts on the communities and environment of Vale do Ribeira. The dates of materials range from 1955 to the late 1990s. 

Several members of the LLILAS Benson archival team have visited Eldorado during the years of the collaboration. Most recently, Ryan Lynch (Benson Head of Special Collections and Senior Archivist) and Rachel E. Winston (Black Diaspora Archivist) visited Eldorado to attend the XXVIII Encontro das Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira (28th Meeting of Black Communities of Vale do Ribeira)—known as the Encontrão (Big Meetup)—on November 18, 2023. Documents from the EAACONE archives were on display on tables at the event, as were vinyl panels from a traveling exhibition about the archive and the history of the area’s Black communities. 

A table display shows old newspaper clippings, photo albums, notebooks, and papers. A Black woman reaches toward the table, placing items. Two other young Black people—a man and woman—stand near her. In the background, there is a counter labeled "Bar" where people in hair nets appear to be setting up food.
Tânia Moraes (foreground), Letícia de França, and Andrey Pupo set up a display table with EAACONE archival materials.

“Attending the Encontrão helped me contextualize the work that EAACONE does with quilombo communities,” said Lynch. “Watching residents of the different communities see themselves, or their friends and relatives, in the documents, was an invigorating reminder of the importance of our work as archivists and post-custodial partners. Many of the people in attendance had made history and continue to make history. Thanks to the Mellon grant, their story is available not only to themselves and their descendants but also to K–12 students, researchers, and activists in other independent Black communities in the Americas.” 

A large white vinyl sheet hangs from a chainlink fence. It is printed with information in Portuguese and photos from the EAACONE archive named Quilombos of Vale do Ribeira Collection. The photos and text are related to women's meetings. LLILAS Benson is cited at the bottom of the vinyl sheet as a sponsor.
EAACONE’s traveling exhibition, which draws on archival materials digitized in collaboration with LLILAS Benson, will be used in schools and at events. This panel describes women’s meetings and includes archival photographs.

The LLILAS Benson collaboration was included in the event via the use of the LLILAS Benson logo on exhibition materials, and Lynch noted that it was also mentioned multiple times by speakers. He and Winston were introduced as VIPs at the beginning of the proceedings, and Lynch was invited by organizers to deliver a few impromptu remarks.  

“I look forward to exploring future partnerships that will allow us to continue to play a role in this important documentation and exchange of knowledge and experience,” he said. 

In a large cinderblock room with high ceilings, rows of Black, white, and mixed-race people sit in white plastic chairs facing the front. At front, a white man with dark hair, beard, and glasses, wearing a white shirt and dark pants, holds a microphone and speaks. There are numerous large posters hanging on the wall that talk about EAACONE, MOAB, and quilombola communities.
Benson Head of Collections / Senior Archivist Ryan Lynch shared greetings from LLILAS Benson and discussed the collaboration with EAACONE.

In her role as Black Diaspora Archivist, Winston has visited more than one post-custodial partner in Latin America. Both she and Lynch had visited Eldorado previously. “Reconnecting with EAACONE colleagues in person, and meeting more community members (documented and represented in the EAACONE collection) was incredible,” Winston said.

Three middle-aged Black men stand in a circle singing. The man on the right is playing a guitar. In the background, a banner hanging on the wall talks about MOAB, the historic anti-dam movement that has been a source of activism among quilombola communities in Vale do Ribeira.
From left: Noel Castelo, Rodrigo Marinho Rodrigues da Silva, and José Rodrigues da Silva sing after the conclusion of the Encontrão. The banner hanging on the wall talks about MOAB, the historic anti-dam movement that has been a source of activism among quilombola communities in Vale do Ribeira.

“Being a part of this project and partnership with EAACONE from the beginning to the end has been a highlight of my career at the Benson,” Winston adds. “When there, the importance of the work becomes more salient. EAACONE has been and continues to be an important fixture in the Vale do Ribeira. The impact of their work is amplified by our collaboration and by the work we do to preserve their archive. To see the EAACONE materials in the place of creation, used and viewed by the community members represented in them, and to be in community with that community, is a remarkable experience, and a reminder of the power of post-custodial archival praxis.” 

Large yellow letters placed on a green lawn spell out I Love Eldorado (in Portuguese). There is a fanciful outline of a bright red heart in the design. These letters are on a green lawn. The sky is wide an gray and cloudy in the background and above.
“I Love Eldorado” sign at the bus station in Eldorado.

*Quilombolas are Afro-descendant Brazilians who live in rural Black communities known as quilombos, which were originally established by enslaved people who fled enslavement to establish autonomous communities. There are 88 such communities in Vale do Ribeira, an area in the Brazilian states of São Paulo and neighboring Paraná. To read more about quilombolas in Vale do Ribeira, see Edward Shore, Brazilian Roças: A Legacy in Peril (2017) and The Quilombo Activists’ Archive (2019). 

Visita a Eldorado: Arquivistas da UT marcaram presença no Encontro Anual das Comunidades Negras Tradicionais do Vale do Ribeira

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Uma das parcerias resultantes do projeto “Criando uma Comunidade Arquivística Pós-Custodial Latino-Americana”, financiado pela LLILAS Benson Mellon, incluiu uma colaboração intensa com a EAACONE, Equipe de Articulação e Assessoria às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira, entidade localizada no município de Eldorado, Estado de São Paulo, no Brasil.  

Um círculo de mulheres negras de várias idades dança num espaço com paredes de bloco de concreto. A maioria delas usa blusa branca. Algumas usam chapéu de palha, outras, saias coloridas.
Mulheres e jovens de Quilombo Sapatu dançam “Nha Muruca” no Encontrão

O Repositório Latino-Americano de Iniciativas Digitais contém uma coleção de trabalhos digitalizados e metadados do acervo da EAACON, disponíveis em três idiomas. A colaboração LLILAS-Benson consistiu, em parte, de um programa de capacitação em digitalização e metadados para a equipe da EAACONE, assim como recursos financeiros para comprar equipamentos e pagar os salários dos colaboradores arquivistas da comunidade quilombola. Foram ainda disponibilizados recursos para cobrir a criação de uma exposição itinerante com a finalidade de apresentar para jovens estudantes de escolas e outros membros da comunidade não só o acervo completo como também a história da EAACONE e do MOAB.  

Três pessoas conversam de pé na frente de uma cerca onde estão penduradas cartaz que falam sobre o acervo de EAACONE.
Advogados Fernando Prioste (Instituto Socioambiental, ISA) e Rafaela Santos (EAACONE) com Letícia de França (EAACONE

O acervo da EAACONE, intitulado Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira, consiste de trabalhos compilados durante os 25 anos de existência da EAACONE e os 35 anos de existência do MOAB (Movimento dos Ameaçados por Barragens). O MOAB é um movimento de base dedicado a protestar contra a construção de represas hidroelétricas com impactos negativos nas comunidades e no meio-ambiente do Vale do Ribeira. As peças do acervo são datadas de 1955 até o final da década de 1990.  

Diversos integrantes da equipe arquivística da LLILAS Benson visitaram Eldorado durante os anos dessa colaboração. As visitas mais recentes foram de Ryan Lynch (Chefe de Coleções Especiais e Arquivista Sênior) e Rachel E. Winston (Arquivista da Diáspora Negra) que participaram do XXVIII Encontro das Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira, também chamado de Encontrão, em 18 de novembro de 2023. Esse evento contou com trabalhos dos acervos da EAACONE exibidos em mesas, assim como painéis em vinil que integraram a exposição itinerante sobre acervos e história das comunidades negras da região.  

Uma mulher negra coloca materiais como páginas de jornal, álbuns de fotos, papeis e pastas sobre uma mesa. Junto com ela, outra mulher negra e um homem negro.
Tânia Morais, Letícia de França e Andrey Pupo organizam uma exibição de materiais do acervo de EAACONE

“Participar do Encontrão me ajudou a contextualizar o trabalho que a EAACONE realiza com as comunidades quilombolas”, relatou Ryan. “Observar os residentes das diversas comunidades, como eles se percebem e percebem seus amigos e parentes, tudo refletido nos documentos, foi uma reflexão regeneradora que me fez revalorizar a importância do nosso trabalho como arquivistas e entidades pós-custodiais parceiras. Muitos dos participantes do evento já haviam feito história e continuam fazendo história. Graças a essa grant da Mellon, a história dessa gente se torna disponível não apenas para eles mesmos e seus descendentes mas também para os jovens estudantes de ensino fundamental e médio, pesquisadores e ativistas em outras comunidades negras das Américas”.  

Um cartaz de vinil pendurado numa cerca. O texto fala sobre Encontros de Mulheres no acervo da EAACONE e mostra fotos tomadas nesses encontros. Em baixo, menciona o apoio de LLILAS Benson.
A exposição de EAACONE será utilizada em escolas e eventos especiais. Os materiais foram digitalizados em colaboração com LLILAS Benson no projeto Mellon.

A colaboração da LLILAS Benson foi incluída no evento por meio da utilização do logotipo LLILAS Benson nos materiais expositivos e Ryan observou que ela também foi mencionada diversas vezes pelos palestrantes. Ele e Rachel foram apresentados como VIPs na abertura dos trabalhos e Ryan foi convidado pelos organizadores para dizer algumas palavras a todos reunidos, o que ele fez de improviso.   

“Tenho uma ótima expectativa para explorarmos parcerias futuras que nos permitam continuar a desempenhar um papel significativo nessa documentação tão importante e nesse intercâmbio de conhecimentos e experiências”, observou ele.  

Muitas pessoas estão sentadas em filas e em cadeiras de plástico brancas, num auditório com paredes de bloco de concreto e teto alto. Na frente, um homem com barba e cabelo escuro, camisa branca e calça preta segura o microfone e fala às pessoas reunidas. Na parede tem vários cartaz que falam sobre EAACONE, MOAB e as comunidades quilombolas.
Arquivista Ryan Lynch compartilha saudações de LLILAS Benson e fala sobre a colaboração com EAACONE.

Como Arquivista para a Diáspora Negra, Rachel tem um histórico de visitas a entidades pós-custodiais parceiras na América Latina. Tanto ela quanto Ryan já haviam visitado Eldorado antes. “Essa reconexão com os colegas EAACONE ao vivo e agora a oportunidade de conhecer outros membros da comunidade (encontros documentados e representados na coleção EAACONE) foi incrível”, disse ela.

Três homens negros cantam juntos num círculo. O homem do lado direita toca violão. Na parede dá pra ver um cartaz que fala sobre a MOAB, grupo histórico que defendeu o Vale do Ribeira contra projetos de barragens.
Da esquerda: Noel Castelo, Rodrigo Marinho Rodrigues da Silva e José Rodrigues da Silva cantam após o fechamento do Encontrão

“Fazer parte desse projeto e dessa parceria com a EAACONE do início até o fim tem sido um marco importante da minha carreira na Benson,” adicionou Winston. “O fato de estar fisicamente no local destaca a importância do trabalho e o valoriza mais ainda. A EAACONE tem sido desde o início e continua a ser parte importante do Vale do Ribeira.  O impacto do trabalho deles é amplificado pela nossa colaboração e pelo trabalho que nós fazemos para preservar seus acervos. Ver ao vivo as peças e trabalhos da EAACONE nos locais onde eles foram criados, utilizados e visualizados pelos membros da comunidade ali representados, e estar presente comunitariamente com eles e elas, é uma experiência marcante e nos faz re-avaliar o poder da práxis arquivística pós-custodial”. 

Grandes letras amarelas instaladas numa grama verde falam "Eu Amo Eldorado." Em vez da palavra "amo" tem um coração vermelho.
Fora da estação de ônibus, Eldorado.

Alberto Herrera Fernández Photograph Collection Unveiled

An intimate ceremony on April 29 marked the dedication of the Alberto Herrera Fernández Photograph Collection at the Benson Latin American Collection, honoring the life and work of the renowned Mexican photographer. The event, attended by family members, scholars and esteemed guests, served as a recognition of Herrera Fernandez’s impact in capturing the life and culture of Sonora, Mexico through his lens.

The event was largely organized by Blanca Cummins, daughter of Alberto Herrera Fernández and a current Tower Fellow, whose commitment to preserving her father’s legacy was evident throughout the event. Former state historian of Texas – and Cummins’ brother-in-law – Light Cummins described the significance of Herrera Fernández’s photographic legacy and provided historical context for the photographer’s  work.

The Alberto Herrera Fernández Photograph Collection, carefully maintained by Cummins’ sister until its transfer to the university, showcases not only the rugged beauty of the Sonoran Desert but also provides a glimpse into the lives of vaqueros and copper miners in Cananea, Sonora. Herrera Fernández’s lens documented the essence of artistic communities, daily life, religious leaders and governmental figures, painting a vivid portrait of the region.

The bulk of the collection is comprised of 60,000 photographic slides, prints, and negatives (~23 Linear feet). In addition to the photographic materials, the collection boasts a selection of ephemera, including exhibition write-ups, interviews, recognitions, and correspondence, offering invaluable insights into Herrera Fernández’s enduring legacy as a photographer. The breadth and depth of Herrera Fernández’s work provide a unique perspective on Sonora, filling a critical gap in the Benson’s holdings.

The dedication ceremony also recognized Blanca Cummins’s tireless efforts in digitizing selected images from the collection. Working diligently in the rare books reading room for months, Cummins meticulously preserved the original order of her father’s archive, ensuring its integrity and accessibility for future generations.

Megan Frisque, Director of the Tower Fellows program, also spoke to the value of the Fellows program, recognizing Cummins as an example of the sort of impact that the participants can have through its access to a world-class lifelong learning experience.

Libraries Raises Nearly $50,000 from 40 for Forty Campaign

It was a great year for the Libraries’ 40 Hours for the Forty Acres giving campaign. This year’s efforts centered around sustaining the Map & Geospatial Collections Explorer Fellowship – a vital initiative aimed at fostering innovative scholarship and leveraging the rich resources housed within the UT Libraries’ map and geospatial collections – and an endowment for the Digital Scholarship Program administered by the Benson Latin American Collection and the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.

The 40 Hours for the Forty Acres serves as a rallying point for the university community, bringing together alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents, and friends in a collective effort to bolster initiatives that resonate with their interests and goals for UT.

This year’s campaign resulted in nearly $30,000 raised in support of the Map & Geospatial Collections Explorer Fellowship, which has been instrumental in advancing research and facilitating academic exploration. These funds will play a pivotal role in sustaining and expanding the scope of the award, ensuring that it continues to serve as a catalyst for groundbreaking research and scholarly inquiry.

Since its inception, the Map & Geospatial Collections Explorer Fellowship has provided invaluable support to UT scholars, offering financial assistance and resources to support their explorations into diverse fields. Through the Fellowship, recipients have been empowered to delve into projects ranging from mapping rising sea levels on the Texas coast to creating artistic spatial visualizations of biodiversity in Hawaii. The impact of these projects extends far beyond the university campus, contributing to advancements in various disciplines and enriching our collective understanding of the world.

The second campaign raised just over $20,000 towards the creation of an endowment for the Digital Scholarship Program administered by the Benson Latin American Collection and the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. The LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Program aims to advance Latin American Studies through the ethical application of digital tools in the realm of translation, accessibility, language preservation, and more. The funds raised during this campaign get LLILAS Benson one giant step closer to funding their Digital Scholarship Program in perpetuity, through the creation of an endowed fund.

The Libraries extends its sincerest thanks to all who contributed to the success of this year’s campaign. Your generosity has not only provided vital support for the Map & Geospatial Collections Explorer Fellowship and the Digital Scholarship Program, but has also reaffirmed the importance of investing in initiatives that advance knowledge and scholarship.

These annual campaigns continue to bring exciting, crowd-funded support to the UT Libraries and its various endeavors, collections, and programs. We look forward to sharing the successes of the programs supported during this year’s 40 Hours for the Forty Acres.


To make an additional contribution to either of the campaign efforts, visit:

MGCE Fellowship – https://give.utexas.edu?menu=OGPLCMP&solicit=TA1

LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship – https://give.utexas.edu?menu=OGPLLBDS&solicit=TA1

Little Joe Has a Big Night at the Benson

The 22nd annual ¡A Viva Voz! celebration at the Benson Latin American Collection on April 4 was a compelling homage to Latino arts and culture, spotlighting the legendary José María de León Hernández, affectionately known as Little Joe.

Developed by former Benson Director Ann Hartness, ¡A Viva Voz! has long served as a platform to showcase the rich Mexican American/U.S. Latino heritage, fostering community engagement and celebrating cultural vibrancy.

This year’s event paid tribute to Little Joe, an American music legend who has garnered five Grammy awards and was honored with the prestigious 2023 National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In an interview conducted by US Latina/o Studies Librarian Maribel Falcón, Little Joe discussed his biography, “¡No Llore, Chingón!,” which provides a poignant narrative of his life journey, weaving tales of resilience and triumph amid the struggles faced by Mexican-American communities in Texas.

Born to immigrant parents who fled Mexico during the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution, Hernández and his family initially worked as farm laborers in Texas, confronting hardships and poverty. However, his passion for music ignited at a young age, and he embarked on a musical career that would transcend borders and genres.

Reflecting on his early days performing in meager venues and overcoming challenges, Little Joe addressed the hurdles of limited radio exposure for Spanish-language music, recounting pivotal moments such as the success of his album “Por Un Amor”(1964) and the trials of a grueling tour. His shared experiences of touring internationally, including a memorable trip to Japan, underscored his deep appreciation for cultural exchange and diversity.

Yet, beyond the melodies, Little Joe’s legacy carries a profound message of empowerment and advocacy. Throughout the evening, Little Joe conveyed a powerful message of resilience and solidarity, urging the audience to confront racism and injustice through activism and civic engagement.

As he performed an impromptu song encouraging accountability and participation in the democratic process, he encouraged all to embrace their heritage, amplify their voices, and stand united in the pursuit of a brighter tomorrow.


Watch the event:

An Evening with Gioconda Belli

Renowned Nicaraguan writer and political figure, Gioconda Belli, spoke to a captivated crowd of over 120 attendees at a March 20 event hosted by the Benson Latin American Collection. The occasion served not only as a platform for Belli to share her remarkable journey but also to celebrate the acquisition of her archive by the Benson Latin American Collection.

Born in Managua, Belli grew up amidst the political upheaval of the Somoza dictatorship. Educated both in Nicaragua and abroad, she studied in Europe and the United States before initially pursuing a career in advertising, later shifting her focus to revolutionary politics.

In 1970, Belli joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a leftist guerrilla organization opposing the Somoza regime, where she served as a clandestine courier, transported weapons, and travelled around Europe and Latin America obtaining resources and raising awareness of the Sandinista struggle.

Belli’s literary works artfully merge fiction and autobiography, drawing from her experiences as a revolutionary and a woman. Themes of love, desire, politics, and social change permeate her writing, notably exemplified in her renowned novel “The Inhabited Woman” (La mujer habitada, 1988).

Belli’s talk at the Benson delved into her experiences as a Sandinista and how these pivotal moments, intertwined with her personal life, have shaped her identity as a writer. The event provided Belli an opportunity to reflect on the preservation of her legacy at the Benson, and the importance of maintaining a historical accounting.

Attendees were treated to a recital of her poetry during her talk, and her compelling narrative resonated deeply with the audience, sparking thoughtful questions during the Q&A session that followed with director of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) Adela Pineda.

Despite being exiled by the government of Daniel Ortega in 2022, Belli remains actively engaged in social and political advocacy, championing women’s rights and democratic reforms in Nicaragua and beyond. Continuously writing and participating in public discourse, she uses her platform to amplify marginalized voices and advocate for social justice.

The event not only served as a tribute to Gioconda Belli’s contributions to literature and politics but also highlighted the importance of preserving her legacy through the acquisition of her archive by the Benson Latin American Collection.

Read an interview with Gioconda Belli by Benson Director Melissa Guy, which appeared in a recent edition of Portal.

Exploring Black History Month

As we celebrate Black History Month taking time to honor the invaluable contributions of Black and African American individuals to history, culture, and society, it’s an opportunity to highlight the wealth of resources available for delving deeper into Black/African American history and heritage available through the University of Texas Libraries. While we celebrate the contributions of African Americans throughout the year, this month offers a chance to delve into a collection of resources that amplify the voices, struggles, triumphs, and contributions of Black individuals throughout history.

The Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) at the Benson Latin American Collection is dedicated to documenting the experiences of people of African descent globally. From historical documents to oral histories, the BDA offers a comprehensive look into the complexities and nuances of Black life, spanning continents and centuries. This invaluable resource serves as a testament to the resilience and resilience of Black communities across the diaspora.

For those navigating the vast landscape of African American studies, the African American Studies Research Guide offered by the Libraries is an essential resource. Curated by subject specialists, this guide provides a curated selection of databases, journals, primary sources, and other materials tailored to the study of African American history, culture, and society, offering a roadmap for exploration and discovery.

1935 map of Austin, Texas, with redline demarcations. Online PCL Maps Collection.

The Libraries has collected historical newspapers in print format for more than 100 years, including unique holdings of African American newspapers in the microform collections, as well as online African American (and African) newspapers. The development of resources on U.S. and Southern History have been funded since 1914 by the Littlefield Fund for Southern History including the addition of significant selections related to African American history, from antebellum days to the civil rights movement of the sixties. The Libraries provides access to the Papers of the NAACP, records of the Black Freedom Struggle and other primary sources online. And plantation records are available online and on microfilm, supplemented by original documents in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History (notably the Natchez Trace Collection). Also, see the featured collection, “African American History and Culture in Texas,” for a curated selection of resources on the Black experience in the Lone Star State.

The Black Queer Studies Collection features over 1,000 unique holdings in the area of African and African Diasporic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies. Books and media from the collection are held by various library branches, including the Perry-Castañeda Library, the Benson Latin American Collection, the Fine Arts Library as well as digital materials.

Resources available from the Libraries (Perry-Castaneda Library and Benson Latin American Collection) are just the tip of the iceberg on campus, though, augmented by the collections of the Harry Ransom Center, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the LBJ Presidential Library, along with a significant collection of African American art housed at the Blanton Museum of Art.

Black History Month reminds us to not only reflect on the past but also commit to amplifying Black voices as the integral part of our shared experience. Through the resources offered by the Libraries, users are empowered to engage with history in all its complexity, gaining a deeper understanding of the struggles and triumphs that have shaped our world.

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.

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