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.
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.
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.
AUSTIN, Texas—The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archive of prominent Nicaraguan writer and activist Gioconda Belli.
The acclaimed author of nine novels, a memoir, two volumes of essays, nine poetry collections and four children’s books, Belli is the recipient of several major literary prizes over her decades-long career, including the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize for poetry (1978) and the Reina Sofía de Ibero-American Poetry Prize (2023).
Known for her feminist writing and erotic poetry, Belli has a broad international following, with works translated into at least 20 languages. The English translation of her memoir, The Country under My Skin, was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times book prize.
Belli was among the leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which defeated the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, and she worked in support of the Sandinista government until 1993. Amid her increasingly vocal criticism of the Daniel Ortega–Rosario Murillo regime, Belli was forcibly expelled, stripped of her citizenship and declared a traitor to her country in February 2023 along with 93 other Nicaraguans. This is her second exile.
In celebration of her archive’s arrival at the Benson Collection, Belli will visit the campus of The University of Texas at Austin from March 19-22, 2024, for a series of events, including a public lecture.
Belli discussed her work, the contents of her archive and her decision to entrust it to the Benson in an interview with Benson director Melissa Guy. Read the interview in Spanish here or in English translation.
“As a longtime admirer of her literary work and her activism, I am honored that Gioconda has entrusted the Benson with her collection,” Guy said. “We look forward to engaging students and faculty with the archive, and to welcoming Nicaragua’s greatest living poet to Austin in the near future.”
For more information: Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.
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
The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Jorge Tetl Argueta Pérez Papers. This collection captures the personal history of Argueta’s work as an award-winning children’s book author, poet, activist, organizer, cultural worker, teacher, and publisher. It includes manuscripts, books, journals, original artwork, correspondence, photographs, posters, and newspapers.
Jorge Argueta was born in El Salvador and is of Pipil-Nahua descent. In the early 1980s, he immigrated to San Francisco during the Salvadoran Civil War. This experience influenced his early poetry, before he began writing children’s books. He is currently the Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, California, and is active in both San Mateo County and the Mission District community of San Francisco.
Known as a performer and event organizer, Argueta works to promote multicultural children’s literature through events such as reading series, poetry festivals, and street fairs. He has held positions in notable San Francisco organizations, such as the de Young Museum of San Francisco, where he was a Poet-in-Residence for the Poets in the Galleries Program. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of Acción Latina and a curator of the Mixed Poetry Series. He is an editor at Luna’s Press Books and is co-owner of Luna’s Press Bookstore in San Francisco.
His impact does not stop in California, however. He established a children’s library, La Biblioteca de los Sueños, in 2016. A lifelong dream of his, the library now stands in Santo Domingo de Guzmán, his hometown. He also started The International Children’s Poetry Festival in Manyula, El Salvador, which has occurred every November since 2010. Argueta’s dedication to children’s literacy and literature has had a tremendous impact on both of his communities.
Argueta’s work is recognized nationally and internationally. He has received the Américas Book Award, NAPPA Golden Award, Lee Bennett Hopkins Award, and Salinas de Alba Award, and his books are featured in the likes of the USBBY Outstanding International Books List, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. He continues his commitment to spreading multicultural children’s literature through classroom visits, earning the gratitude of young readers across the country and much thank-you correspondence from his visits. Although he is a prominent figure in bilingual children’s books, he also aims to reach older audiences through poetry and a memoir published in 2017.
Two upcoming exhibitions at the Benson Latin American Collection will focus on Chile in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the violent coup that overthrew the government of democratically elected president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.
In addition, a LLILAS Benson special event, “Chile 50 Years after the Military Coup: Testimonies and Remembrances,” taking place Tuesday, September 12, features a panel of Chileans, some of whom lived through the 1973 coup, moderated by Professor of History Joshua Frens-String. The event and the exhibitions are free and open to the public.
A second public event, organized by LLILAS Benson and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, is titled “Before and After Chile 1973: Recovering a More Just Future.” It will take place in the Benson’s 2nd floor conference room on Thursday, October 19, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Battle for Chile: Cold War, Coup, and the Court of Public Opinion
From September 11, 2023, through April 30, 2024, the Hartness Reading Room Gallery at the Benson Latin American Collection will host an exhibition that focuses on Chilean politics and activism in the late 1960s through the mid-1980s.
Centered on Chilean and non-Chilean individuals and entities trying to influence public and international opinion, Battle for Chile shows the country as one center of an international clash between capitalism and socialism. It focuses in particular on the high-stakes fight for international opinion as the post-coup regime continued to commit unspeakable atrocities under the guise of fighting global communism.
Reports and telegrams from the George Lister Papers show U.S. government concern over Salvador Allende’s candidacies and eventual election as well as an account of the coup in process. Sepa, an anti-Allende publication, declares his presidency illegitimate and seems to call for a military overthrow. Material distributed by the Pinochet regime and aimed at international audiences promotes reports of economic progress. Chilean and non-Chilean activists in the post-coup era work to share news of human rights violations. Anti-Pinochet and pro-Allende activists accuse the United States and other governments and corporations of creating the conditions leading to the coup or even supporting it. Transnational socialist organizations, often based in Cuba, capitalize on atrocities to build support for their cause through captivating posters and publications.
Battle for Chile is an opportunity to see some of the Benson’s extensive collection of political ephemera and rare magazines as well as selections from archival collections.
— D Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections & Senior Archivist, Benson Latin American Collection
Walls That Speak: Street Art and Activism in Chile
On October 18, 2019, demonstrations erupted in the streets of Chile’s capital Santiago in reaction to an increase in subway fares, along with concerns about the cost of living and social inequality. Massive protests spread across the nation, some peaceful and some devolving into vandalism. Protesters demanded the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera. This social uprising is now recognized as the most significant in the country since the end of its dictatorship almost three decades ago.
Chilean street artists emerged as participants and instigators, utilizing city walls as a canvas to express demands of the movement as well as document intergenerational trauma connected to Augusto Pinochet’s 1973–1990 dictatorship. Their artwork soon became visible on social media and served as a supportive backdrop for the Chilean demonstrators. Among those artists was Maurice Huenún, aka Pikoenelojo Stencil, who, like his peers, provided a visual narration of the protestors’ grievances and hopes for the future. His stencils explore themes of social justice, human rights, environmental concerns, political corruption, inequality, gender, anti-establishment sentiments, and reflections on local or global events.
Walls That Speak: Street Art and Activism in Chile,a fall 2023 exhibition at the Benson Latin American Collection, highlights a recent acquisition of Pikoenelojo Stencil’s work, showcasing 12 original stencil artworks crafted by this prominent Chilean street artist. The works address topics such as criticism of Piñera’s policies, privatization, international corporations, the Pinochet dictatorship, systemic police repression, criticism of Christian dogma, among other topics. The collection provides a powerful visual narrative of the violent events that occurred in October 2019 while shedding light on the enduring legacy of Chile’s painful dictatorial past.
— Veronica Valarino, Curator of Exhibitions, Benson Latin American Collection
If you go . . .
The exhibitions at the Benson Latin American Collection are free and open to the public during library hours, which are Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Benson is located at 2300 Red River Street.
On Monday, August 14, the U.S. Mint released a quarter commemorating Mexican American journalist and activist Jovita Idar (b. Laredo, 1885–d. San Antonio, 1946) as part of its American Women Quarters program. In conjunction with this release, the Benson Latin American Collection recently published three issues of two newspapers that are associated with Idar. Together, these publications represent some of the earliest examples of Mexican American journalism.
The newly published items include two extremely rare issues of Evolución, a newspaper founded by Idar in 1916 and published until 1920. These issues document international and regional events such as the Mexican Revolution and World War I, as well as local topics such as containment of the flu outbreak in Nuevo Laredo and regional union organizing. There is also a single issue of El Progreso, a Laredo-based newspaper operated by the Idar family.
The Benson has received several requests for material related to Idar during the COVID shutdown and in recent months. In 2020, a cell phone snapshot of the October 26, 1918, issue of Evolución appeared in an episode about Jovita Idar on the PBS show Unladylike. Aware of the significance of these newspapers, Benson Special Collections staff sent them for conservation treatment and digitization as soon as possible.
El Progreso is at the heart of a story about Jovita Idar standing up to the Texas Rangers, who wanted to shut down her family’s paper. According to an oral history with descendant Aquilino Idar and his wife Guadalupe, when the Texas Rangers showed up at the El Progreso print shop, Jovita stood at the door and refused entry. The Rangers left but returned early the next morning and used hammers to destroy the press (oral history held by UT San Antonio Special Collections).
The two issues of Evolución recently received conservation treatment as part of the UT Austin Campus Conservation Initiative (CCI). The program, backed by Provost Sharon Wood, allows paper conservator Rachel Mochon to treat items from the Benson and other campus entities, including the Harry Ransom Center, the Briscoe Center for American History, and the Blanton Museum of Art.
Other Benson items that have received treatment include a sixteenth-century land claim produced by an Indigenous community in Mexico, one of the first dictionaries of an Indigenous language published in the Americas, and a scrapbook from a Brazilian mining operation.
When I arrived in San Marcos Zacatepec in rural Oaxaca, it was dark outside. A kind Chatino-speaking woman cooked me food: chicken soup with homemade tortillas. Dr. Anthony Woodbury from the UT Department of Linguistics and I had been traveling since early that morning, first arriving in Mexico City from Austin and then Puerto Escondido after a several-hour layover. We had to take a bus for several more hours to get to San Marcos Zacatepec, a town in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains and the first I would visit during my trek. This was the setting for the community outreach and research work I would be undertaking during spring break.
The Chatino-speaking region of Oaxaca is breathtakingly beautiful. All three communities that I visited are nestled in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range. Zacatepec is at the lowest altitude of all the Chatino-speaking communities that I visited, so it can get fairly hot during the day. However, San Juan Quiahije, another Chatino community, is several thousand feet higher up the mountain—cooler during the day and quite cold at night.
I am a dual-degree master’s student in Latin American Studies and Information Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, working to become an academic librarian with a subject specialty in Latin American and Indigenous Studies. I had come to Oaxaca with a clear goal in mind: to teach several workshops on archival access and navigation for the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), a digital archive at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Dr. Susan Kung, AILLA’s coordinator, invited me to take part in a project with Dr. Emiliana Cruz, professor of anthropology at CIESAS–Mexico, and Dr. Anthony Woodbury, professor of linguistics at UT Austin. As part of the project, I spent my spring break in three Chatino-speaking villages: San Marcos Zacatepec, San Juan Quiahije, and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. Several local language activists and teachers in the community wanted to be able to use the materials in AILLA to learn Chatino and listen to oral histories and stories in the language.
I agreed to go without hesitation, thrilled to participate in a project that brings together archivists, academics, and Indigenous community members around cultural materials represented in AILLA’s collections. I had hoped that, by getting access to these materials, Indigenous communities might be able to use them for projects related to the revitalization of their language and traditional cultural practices.
The Chatino Language Documentation Project is the subject of this 2015 article in Life & Letters magazine, which features reflections from several linguist researchers.
I soon learned that each town experienced different issues regarding their fluency in the Chatino language and ability to access AILLA. The vast majority of the population speaks a variant of Eastern Chatino, a language represented by several collections in the archive. San Marcos Zacatepec, however, differed significantly from the other two towns: For one, it is a very small village with poor internet access. Secondly, most of the community members no longer speak Chatino. There are only about 300 speakers left in the town and all of them are elderly. In contrast, the language proficiency is strong in both San Juan Quiahije and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. While the primary issue in Zacatepec was access to the internet, there did appear to be a connection between a lack of ability to speak Chatino and the teachers having less interest in accessing the archive to find materials to use with schoolchildren.
Community Workshops & the Technology Gap
In total, I taught five workshops on how to access and navigate AILLA in various spaces for different audiences: one small-group workshop at a community member’s house and another at a middle school in San Marcos Zacatepec; one each at a middle and a high school in San Juan Quiahije; and a final one at a public library in San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. Two of the workshops were conducted by myself and the other three were conducted with Dr. Cruz.
Each workshop had its own dynamic. For the first workshop we conducted in San Marcos Zacatepec, we played a game during which an older speaker would say a word in Spanish and the children had to say the word in Chatino. Some of the kids actually knew more Chatino than I thought they did, but it still felt like older members of the community were more invested in what was happening than the children were. In addition, without an internet connection or access to a space for our projector, it was not possible to demonstrate the use of the archive.
The second workshop in San Marcos Zacatepec was held at a private home with a small group of people. This session included Christian, a ten-year-old who brought his Chatino de Panixtlahuaca writing workbooks with him. Everyone was serious about learning how to use the archive and engaged throughout the session. I even saw one person making a PowerPoint with AILLA instructions as I walked the group through how to register for an account and navigate the Chatino language collections.
Unexpectedly, the experience gave me insight on how to effectively organize workshops that connect communities to information resources, a key skill for any academic librarian. Although Dr. Cruz was with me at the middle school in San Juan Quiahije, I taught the workshop at the high school there by myself. This meant coordinating a session with around 40 high school students by myself. This was the first time I had taught a workshop to such a large group of people. It was challenging and I was a little nervous, but the experience was exactly what I needed to become a better information professional.
One issue that became glaringly clear was that technological requirements can be a huge barrier to access for rural Global South communities. In the middle school in San Marcos Zacatepec, there was no internet, so we were not able to actively demonstrate the archive. Although San Juan Quiahije and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca had much better internet, we still experienced technological problems. For example, in San Juan Quiahije, we quickly found out that a majority of the middle school students did not have email addresses, so we had to spend part of the workshop teaching them how to make Gmail accounts. At the high school in San Juan Quiahije, there were issues with power outlets not working. I learned that archivists need to be prepared for anything, be creative, and really reflect on the sort of technology that a community might have access to.
The Need for Continuity
Despite the numerous technological problems, this project provides us with a positive example of how archives can engage with communities whose materials are represented in AILLA’s collections. As I reflected on my experience, I realized that this cannot be the end of our relationship with the Chatino-speaking community. Rather, to ensure that these efforts are successful, this should be seen as the beginning of many more projects along these lines. The experience vindicated my belief that communities whose materials are represented in archives must have access to them, and that we should do whatever we can to facilitate that access.
LLILAS Benson is a proponent of projects that emphasize horizontal relationships with the communities and organizations represented in its archives and collections. As such, LLILAS Benson’s digital resources and digital initiatives hold a great deal of promise for future collaboration of this kind.
Eden Ewing is a dual-degree master’s student at LLILAS and the iSchool.
The 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.
The Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin has made a significant oral history archive featuring voices of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas and Northern Mexico available online through the Libraries’ Collections Portal.
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley history professor Manuel F. Medrano launched the Los del Valle Oral History Project in 1993 with the goal of collecting and preserving historical memories in the Rio Grande Valley, a region that has been historically underrepresented in archival and published research. Many of the original interviews were broadcast in edited form on local public access television. The collection of nearly 300 videos was transferred to the Benson Latin American Collection in 2015.
“By making the Los del Valle Oral History Project fully available online, the Benson highlights the immense intellectual and cultural contributions of the people of the lower Rio Grande Valley to the state of Texas,” says John Morán González, J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of American and English Literature and former director of the university’s Center for Mexican American Studies. “Scholars, students, and the general public now have access to key figures and ideas that will surely enrich our understanding of this unique borderlands region.”
Los del Valle (Spanish for “those of the Valley”) is a term used to describe Mexican Americans who live in the rural South Texas, especially those in Hidalgo, Starr and Cameron Counties. These predominantly Mexican American communities, some of which predate the modern border between Mexico and the United States, represent a vibrant culture along this historically fluid border. Interviewees come from both sides of the modern border, and include writers Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Carmen Tafolla and Oscar Cásares; scholar and folklorist Américo Paredes; educator Juliet Garcia; artist Carmen Lomas Garza; and accordionist Narciso Martínez. Other subjects include shrimp boat workers, Charro Days participants, World War II veterans and filmmaker Gregory Nava. These interviews cover a wide range of topics, from the early days of settlement in the region to the Chicano Movement and beyond.
“Professor Manuel Medrano and his team have gifted us with an important resource that helps us understand the history of the Rio Grande Valley. By doing so, it places the RGV in the context of Texas and, more broadly, the U.S.,” says Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, director of the Voces Oral History Center and the Center for Mexican American Studies.
“Oral history is key in documenting the perspective of the Latino community—too few Latinos/as will leave diaries, letters, and other records to a publicly accessible archive,” says Rivas-Rodriguez. “But even in the case of people like Américo Paredes, who did in fact leave his papers at the Benson, oral history provides context that would otherwise be unattainable.”
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is proud to host the 21st Annual ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of U.S. Latino/a/x Culture, featuring a conversation with Chicana/Tejana artist Santa Barraza.
A native of Kingsville, Texas, Santa Barraza is a contemporary artist and founder of Barraza Fine Art, LLC, a gallery and studio committed to furthering the appreciation of the visual arts in the borderlands and among isolated, rural populations.
Barraza’s artwork is in the permanent collections of museums in Texas, California, and Maine; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; France; Germany; and Spain. Most recently, her work is on view in the art museums of Denver, Albuquerque, and San Antonio as part of Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche; the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin for Chicano/a Art, Movimiento y Más en Austen, Tejas, 1960s–1980s; and for the Art in Embassies exhibition organized in Mexico City by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar.
The ¡A Viva Voz! event also marks the opening of the exhibition Legacies of Nepantla: Artists Affirming Identity and Existence, curated by Maribel Falcón, the Benson’s U.S. Latina/o/x Studies Librarian. The exhibition showcases work that is part of the Benson’s archival holdings. It will be on view in the Benson’s Ann Hartness Reading Room through mid-August 2023.
“The exhibition showcases work from women whose myriad identities include Chicana, Native American, Tejana, and Latina, in addition to mothers, sisters, organizers, artists, activists, teachers, and students,” said Falcón. “Many of the featured artists are established as leaders in their communities and recognized as pillars of the Chicano/a art world, such as Santa Barraza, Carmen Lomas Garza, Patssi Valdez, Yreina D. Cervántez, Ester Hernandez, Irene Pérez, and Alma López.”
Due to an event at the Moody Center, parking is limited. We encourage attendees to use alternative forms of transportation. City of Austin street parking is available on Dean Keaton and on Red River north of Clyde Littlefield.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Susanna Sharpe.
Image: Cihuateteo con Coyolxauhqui y La Guadalupana, Santa Barraza, 1996