Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Exhibit Reveals Influence of Latino Migration in Southeastern Connecticut

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Exhibit Reveals Influence of Latino Migration in Southeastern Connecticut

Article excerpt

Dnlike museums in Houston or Miami, which frequently show Latino artists, the Windham Textile and History Museum, located in Windham, Conn., in the southeastern corner of the state is not known as a major force in Hispanic art. But when Windham Textile and History Museum joined with Eastern Connecticut State University to present "The Latino Migration Exhibit," it put the spotlight on the Latino culture and its migration to and within the U.S. The show launched in spring 2013 and runs until early December.

Because Windham was once the site of major textile mills and poultry plants, it attracted scores of Latino workers, mostly from Puerto Rico in the mid-1950s. This show documents the cultural, religious, political and economic Ufe of Latino immigrants. It displays a story about why working class Latinos arrived in America.

Eastern Connecticut State College is a public college. Of its 5,440 students enrolled in the 2012-13 semester, 75 percent receive financial aid. Its student population is 74 percent White, 8 percent Hispanic, 6 percent African-American and 2 percent Asian-American. Its most popular majors are psychology, preeducation, business administration and communication.

The college and Windham Textile and History Museum are closely linked. Eastern Connecticut's president Elsa Núnez serves on the Museum Advisory Board, and the museum's executive director, Jamie Eves, is also an adjunct in the history department. Other professors have served on the museum's board and several Eastern Connecticut history majors have conducted research there to complete senior seminar papers. Students also have participated as interns, obtaining three credits for their involvement.

The impetus for the Latino Migration Exhibit sprang from the Windham Textile and History Museum's board. In 2011, it presented a show on Polish immigration, which drew a positive reaction from the museum-going community. The board decided it would offer an immigration show every two years and felt that highlighting the very active Latino community would be fitting. Anna Kirchmann, a museum board member and faculty member at Eastern Connecticut State, suggested Ricardo Pérez, a professor of sociology, anthropology and social work at Eastern Connecticut who specialized in migration, as guest curator.

Eastern Connecticut also played a critical role in sponsoring the Latino Migration Exhibit. Because the Windham museum has a limited budget, Elsa Núnez, president of Eastern Connecticut, stepped in and secured funding to ensure that the exhibit could proceed. In fact, the university furnished about 85 percent of the funding, provided equipment, and supplied video clips.

Spotlighting immigrants is fitting for Windham, explains Eves. "It's incredibly diverse. We counted 26 different ethnic groups in the town," he says.

Many Latinos have discovered the museum, often for the first time. "Previously they saw the museum as presenting Anglo work and celebrating the gilded age. Now they see how their history fits into the overall history of Wiilimantic (the area where the mills were located). They didn't think their ethnic group had been here long enough to be considered history," Eves says.

Yet Eves stresses that the exhibit revolves around Latino migration, not immigration and that distinction is noteworthy. Immigrants are people who moved to another country from a foreign land, but Puerto Ricans are Americans. "They were just moving to the U.S. or migrating. I moved to Windham from Maine; there's no difference," he says.

As you enter the exhibit, it begins with an overview of Latino migration to the region. All the captions and history are written in English and Spanish, making it a fully bilingual experience.

Much of the exhibit revolves around video clips, lasting five to seven minutes and focusing on four key areas: Latino migration, economic life, political involvement and religion. Pérez conducted many of the interviews included in the video and captions were composed by Jaime Gómez, a professor of communication at Eastern Connecticut. …

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