Monday, June 5, 2023

The new Latin Museum of the United States reduces Spain to the worst face of colonization

The exhibition ‘Present! A Latin History of the United States It is the first from an institution that won’t have its building in a decade

Detail of the painting 'de español y negra, mulata', on loan from the museo de américa

Detail of the painting ‘De español y negra, mulata’, on loan from the Museo de América

A small painting has traveled the 6,000 kilometers that separate Madrid from Washington to be hung in what is, from this June 15th, the first exhibition of what will be the National Latin American Museum in Washington. Among all the points of the union of shared heritage, and of Spanish participation in the North American Hispanic community, ‘De español y negra, mulata’, painted in late seventeenth century Mexico within the genre of ‘caste painting’, stands out. This genre was fashionable in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, family portraits that represented the fruit of relationships between whites, indigenous peoples, and Africans in which the population was classified in an orderly manner and according to origin. It was donated by the Museum of Spanish America.

In the seminal show ‘¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States museum managers wants to bring together, in summary, what they consider to be key concepts, moments, and biographies of the historical and cultural legacy of Latinos in the U.S. The Spanish presence is evidenced at two distinct points in that history: the legacy of colonization and slavery and war in Cuba. For the curator of the exhibition, Ranald Woodaman, the reason is “to show that colonization was not a benign process, but rather had to do, in line principle, with the exploitation of natural and human resources”. Woodaman explains that this new exhibit stems from a survey of visitors to the Museum of American History, who said they were unaware of anything from the colonial past other than the Anglo-Saxons.

At present, the National Museum of the Latino American is born in a small gallery of about 420 square meters inside the National Museum of American History, as it was recently authorized by the Capitol, in December 2020. The museum managers believe that this still takes time, a decade to have its construction, which at the moment is not known if it will be in the famous National Mall, a national park in a gigantic esplanade in the heart of Washington, flanked by the Capitol, the White House and the monuments to Lincoln and Jefferson. At the moment it already has a management team, which is also looking for funding for its construction and the acquisition of historical and artistic objects.

The director of the museum, Jorge Zamanillo, assures that it will reflect the Latino community understood as “a very different community, which are many different nationalities living here in the United States, with things in common such as culture, art, music and also the story of how we got here and the efforts to be independent.” When asked about the contribution of Spanish immigrants to the United States, Zamanillo says, “The museum is more about Latinos in the United States, the person who lives here… Like Latinos have lived here in the United States, what Latinos cultures have in common here in the United States, not outside the United States.

In 2020, amid a wave of racial protests over the police killing of George Floyd, protesters tore down and painted not only statues linked to colonial or slaver’s pasts, such as those of Christopher Columbus or the Conqueror Juan de Oñate but also of Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote. Asked about these cases, and the influence of authors like Cervantes in North American literature, Zamanillo says that in the next exhibitions, the museum will also try to dismantle the myths. “A museum can explain these connections and stories because there’s a lot of ignorance like if a person has a statue and because she’s Spanish she thinks she’s a bad person,” he says.

At present, the different waves of Latin American immigration to the United States feature prominently in this exhibit, including life on the border, the Cuban rafters crisis, and the Puerto Rican lifestyle in New York. Precious altarpieces are exhibited such as that of the Santo Niño de Atocha, painted in Santa Fe in the 19th century, as well as an original dress by the Venezuelan Carolina Herrera. The visitor even finds one of the rafts used to escape Cuba in the 1990s, which is notable for its small size. However, what attracted the most visitors was a gorgeous rumbero dress by Celia Cruz emblazoned with the Cuban flag.

Focus on slavery

Although the Spanish Empire participated little in the slave trade due to its limited presence in Africa, it was an indispensable customer of those who lived off it, especially Great Britain, and indeed, together with Brazil, was one of the last Atlantic powers to prohibit the slave trade, slavery as such, deeply rooted above all in Puerto Rico and Cuba. This is the reality reflected and highlighted in the exhibition ‘¡Presente! A Latin History of the United States.

This exhibit states that “Spanish colonization turned Spaniards and other European Catholics into a privileged minority in places where there was a majority of black, indigenous, and mestizo communities.” He adds that “it is perhaps impossible to establish how many millions of people died from the new diseases and traumas of colonization.”

The exhibition as such reflects in the section dedicated to the war in Cuba the exchange of one power for another, when “US imperialism” erupted, with “the taking of the Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba by of the USA”. He also refers to the Monroe Doctrine, by which Washington claimed the rest of the American continent as its territory of influence, with which it could interfere.

According to Eduardo Díaz, deputy director of the museum, this first exhibition “seeks to explain the profound contributions of our community in literally creating this country of the United States and impacting its national culture. The history we have in what is now called the United States is very long. So it made us make very difficult decisions. What is left? What’s not left? The good thing is that there will be other exhibitions before the new museum opens and we will be able to tell more.

For Díaz, this exhibition is “about the Latin American community, not the Latin American community, nor the Spanish community.” “We are 60 million people in this country with a long history and rich culture. So it’s about that experience, even though we have pieces from Spain,” he adds.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Desk
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