Guide to Documenting Latino/Hispanic History & Culture in New York State
What to Document in Latino/Hispanic History
During the course of meetings and conversations with members of Latino communities statewide, three themes emerged as important dimensions of many of the subject areas identified for documentation. The themes did not often surface as subjects for documentation themselves, but they were acknowledged as important facets of Latino history and experience that need to be reflected in the historical record.
The Spanish language is perhaps the central characteristic of Hispanic culture that is shared across nearly all Latino communities in New York and the nation. It can be a powerful bond reinforcing shared Latino identity and a tool for the preservation, expression, and creation of cultural traditions. Spanish speakers are scarce among the general population and within many organizations and institutions that interact with Hispanic communities. Therefore, language can be a tremendous barrier to success, and even survival, for immigrants who do not yet speak English well. Furthermore, in this country where bilingualism in general is rare, the persistence of a "foreign" language in a community is sometimes greeted with suspicion or hostility. (Spanish was a native language in much of this country before English was, so it is not truly a foreign language.) Language is thus a vital dimension of most subject areas considered for documentation in this guide.
Just as language is a pervasive issue in Latino experience, it is also a critical issue for documentation. Identifying, collecting, and making accessible a more complete and balanced historical record of Latino history and experience in New York is fundamentally a bilingual project that must result in a bilingual product. To date, the pool of people skilled in documentation who also know English and Spanish well is too small; this is a challenge that cannot be met overnight, but it needs to be addressed now.
Race and ethnicity are complex, powerful, emotionally charged phenomena in American life and are woven into the history of New Yorks Latino communities. They can serve as unifying forces within communities, hallmarks of cultural identity and expression, and they can be experienced as valued elements of our diverse society. They can also be triggers of suspicion, fear, hostility, discrimination, and violence. Consciousness and behavior related to race and ethnicity form part of the background and sometimes the foreground of many of the subjects in Latino history recommended for documentation.
There will presumably come a time when the contributions of women to history will not require special mention or emphasis in a guide such as this. It will be taken for granted that their roles and individual contributions are essential and should be evaluated for their historical significance with no less weight than are those of men. For the time being, however, it is deemed important by many of the participants in dialogue surrounding this guide, both women and men, that special care be taken to ensure that womens participation in Latino history and experience be equitably reflected in the documentary record.