Feliz mes de la herencia hispana! Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) celebrates the culture, life experiences, and contributions of Latino people in the United States. As part of Mead & Hunt’s continuing blog series on historically marginalized groups within the historic designation process, we want to highlight two current efforts to include more places associated with Hispanic heritage in the National Register of Historic Places.
The words “Latino/a/é/x” or “Hispanic” are inadequate to describe the multi-cultural and multi-national diversity of people who came from a Spanish speaking place or family. As the largest ethnic minority in the United States, “Hispanics” have a long but often overlooked history. As stated in the first blog in this series, only 8 percent of places listed on the National Register are associated with people of color, including Hispanics. Several recent studies, however, are underway to help correct this underrepresentation.
Mead & Hunt historians are currently working with the city of Denver, Colorado and the Nevada Department of Transportation to complete city and statewide Latino contexts, respectively. The historic contexts will provide valuable cultural summaries, including political, economic, religious, and social information, to better understand the key events, people, and places significant to Latino histories.
We are honored to have several Latino scholars partner with us on these projects. In Denver, we are working with Dr. Nicki Gonzales, Professor of Latino History at Regis University and the Colorado State Historian of History Colorado. Dr. Gonzales conducted the community outreach and engagement in partnership with the City and County of Denver Landmark Preservation staff and is helping with the development of the context. In addition, we are working with the I Am Denver storytelling project, which collected oral histories for a mini-documentary on the history of Latinos in Denver. This context study is an overview and framework to better understand the deep and rich history of Latinos in Denver. All of this resulted from simply asking people: “What places in Denver matter to you, and why?” It is the start of a process for Denver citizens to understand, celebrate, and preserve the unique and vibrant Latino and Chicano history of the city, and begin to identify more sites and historic cultural districts that should be landmarked for their contribution to Denver’s history.
University of Nevada Las Vegas history professor Dr. Raquél Casas and history graduate student Alejandra Herrera are part of our research and fieldwork team for the Nevada statewide context. We are also collaborating with Dr. Arijit Sen, an architect and vernacular architecture historian at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, to help develop effective public engagement strategies that go beyond traditional methods and hopefully result in more meaningful public input. The Nevada team is using a unique anthropological lens to ask the Latino communities what makes a place historic to them and how such places would look. Questions of a property’s age or its integrity of historic materials, for example, may not be as important to the Latino community as it is to outsider historians. By applying these filter shifts, scholars and academics do not solely decide what makes something “historic” or have “integrity.” Instead, by including the people whose history it is in these decisions, we are hopeful the study will be an effective tool to aid future agencies and researchers in identifying and listing Hispanic heritage locations throughout the state.