Guide to Documenting Latino/Hispanic History & Culture in New York State
How to Use This Guide
People will bring to this guide different degrees of knowledge and experience, different perspectives, and different needs for information and guidance. Therefore, we urge you to look through the Table of Contents and go to the places that most interest you. Read the guide straight through if you want the full picture in the order we conceived it, or jump around, following your own logic, questions, and trains of thought.
A brief summary of the guide is also available. The summary provides you with a brief overview of the guide's main points.
This guide is intended for members of Latino/Hispanic communities from all cultural backgrounds and all walks of life and for people who work with or serve Hispanic communities. It is also for archivists, librarians, and other historical information specialists. Finally, it is for those who use records relating to Latino communities and want to ensure the survival of critical information. These groups all have important roles in identifying, preserving, and making historical information accessible in appropriate ways.
Most people who use this guide will be or represent either:
Creators of records People and organizations who are part of or involved with Hispanic communities and who generate records, some of which may be of historical value; such as:
- Hispanic organizations and other organizations related to Latino communities
- Latino activists and their opponents
- Latino legislators, their committees and their staffs
- State and local government agencies and other entities that serve or interact with Hispanic communities
- Latino businesses and businesses that deal with Hispanic populations
- Latino historians and other scholars
- Entities, public and private, that fund Latino endeavors
- Hispanic families and individuals
Custodians of records Archivists, librarians, and others who work with organizations such as archives, libraries, historical societies, community organizations, museums, and colleges and universities that collect historically valuable records and make them accessible to the public for research; such as:
- Records managers and archivists in
- State government
- Local government
- Colleges and universities
- Private and non-profit Hispanic organizations
- Corporations and businesses
- Public and university librarians
- Museums and historical societies
- Regional and local historians
Some readers will be users of records who need Latino documentation for their research and want to ensure the survival of critical information; such as:
- People engaged with Latino communities in:
- State government
- Local government
- Private and non-profit organizations
- Policy researchers and analysts
- Latino action and advocacy groups
- Historians and other scholars of Hispanic history, life, and culture
- Genealogists and family historians
- Artists and Writers
- Students and Teachers
Because the creators and custodians of records have different roles to play in the documentation process, some sections of the guide are addressed especially to one group or the other.
Most people and organizations that generate historically important records in their work or their private lives are unaware of their enduring value. They may feel they dont have the time or resources to deal adequately with even their current papers, much less archival records they dont use regularly. As a result, all across the state treasures of Latino history and culture are at risk.
- A woman has been a leader in the Puerto Rican community for decades in New York City. A founder of three community organizations over the years and an activist on many important issues, she has dozens of boxes of files in her apartment that would help document many organizations, issues, and key people that have shaped Puerto Rican history in New York. If she makes no arrangements for the records, what will happen to them when she is gone?
- A Latino cultural and service organization that has been a mainstay of the Hispanic community in an Upstate city is moving to a new office. They are reluctant to move all the boxes of papers from the early years that they no longer use. Those papers reveal much about the early history of the community its leaders, early organizations that have come and gone, and of course the organizations own history. But if they have nowhere else to put them, no way for them to be preserved and made accessible, they will probably throw them away.
- A woman whose parents were among the first Hispanics in an Upstate city has been documenting her family history all her life. Her father, too, has kept many photographs and papers of all kinds about the family and the community. Many were destroyed recently when their basement flooded during a storm. She is now anxious to find a safe repository for the rest of her collection, but she knows of no place in the area that collects Latino materials.
- An Hispanic chamber of commerce has records about most of the Hispanic businesses in the area over the past forty years. A new director has just been hired. He wants to clear out the storeroom that is cluttered with boxes of old papers no one uses anymore. One of the staff is concerned about the loss of the organizations history and information about many of its member businesses, some of which are now gone, but she doesnt know what to suggest. Where should those valuable records go?
- A health care facility serves several neighborhoods, one of which is a large Latino community. It has records that, without releasing names of individuals, would reveal important information about health issues in the Latino neighborhood. But it has no archives and no arrangement with a public archives, so periodically it throws away the records it no longer needs or is not required to keep. Another source of vital information is gone for ever.
If these conditions persist and large parts of the Latino historical record are lost to the recycling bins and the dumpsters, the history that survives will be skewed and misleading. Will your organization and its contributions be remembered? Will the story of your family or your community become part of the written history of Hispanics in New York? Will people in the future be able to base their judgments, decisions, and actions on an accurate, balanced picture of Latino history in New York?
In How to Document Latino History & Culture you will see that devoting even a modest amount of time and resources to dealing with your records can bring significant benefits to your family, organization, or community and help preserve their contributions to the history of Hispanics in New York.
Collecting records pertaining to Hispanic history and culture can make sense and be good policy for many kinds of repositories, from a small Latino cultural organization or county historical society to large institutional libraries and archives. As you will see below in What to Document in Latino History and Culture, this topic is vast and varied, and the need for improved documentation is enormous. Because Latinos participate in every aspect of life (education, the arts, business, religion, to name a few), documentation in this area allows an Hispanic repository to develop relationships with many kinds of constituents in its community, selecting those that are most appropriate to its mission (see Organizational context matching mission and project. A non-Latino repository, such as a public library, may have the opportunity to serve and build new relationships with an important segment of its community. Here are a few ways different kinds of repositories might approach documenting Latino history and culture:
- A Latino social service and cultural organization that has been active in the community for many years realizes that preserving the history of its community should be one of its responsibilities. It obtains funding to create a Latino community archives as one of its programs. It hires a part-time archivist who works first to process and make accessible the organizations own archival records those that have enduring historical value. She then turns her attention to making the community aware of the archives and inviting families and other organizations to donate their materials. Within a few years, the archivist is a full-time staff member and the agencys archives is widely known as one of the best Hispanic community collections in the country.
- A public library serves a community with a significant Latino population, but few Latinos use the library, even though it has increased its Spanish language collection greatly in recent years. The librarys local history room focuses mostly on 19th and early 20th century history of its political and economic leaders. The library sees that if it could form a partnership with the main Latino community organization in town, they could perhaps jointly begin to document Latino history and culture. The collaboration goes ahead after much preparation. Over a period of years, the Latino community comes to trust and value the library as a part of its community, Hispanic leaders serve on the library board, Latinos use the full range of the librarys resources, the library has furthered its mission to serve the whole community and the local history room now holds a growing Hispanic collection that is used regularly by both community members and outside scholars.
- A university medical school library comes to understand that the Hispanic community served by its teaching hospital is not reflected in the holdings of its library or archives. Its service to the community and to its medical faculty and students would be enhanced by creating a Latino health collection. The new policy is adopted, and eventually, its archives collects not only the records generated by the universitys interactions with the Latino community; it also becomes a repository for the archival records of independent clinics and physicians in private practice who serve Latinos.
The possibilities for documentation projects in Latino history and culture are innumerable. Many organizations that are custodians of archival records will be able to find ways to both further their own collecting policies and missions and contribute to the historical record of Hispanic history and culture through documentation projects.
The State Archives believes that preserving a more complete and balanced historical record of Latino history and culture is extremely important, and we invite you to join us in this effort.
If you are interested in Latino/Hispanic communities and want their history to be preserved in the documentary record, then this guide is for you. As you will see, the challenge is enormous. No one organization or group can do it all, and it will take a long time, but everyone can do his or her part.
- The State Archives collects government records related to Latino populations and can help people in local government and the non-profit world through advice, technical assistance, and grant programs.
- People and organizations who generate or hold Latino/Hispanic records can pay attention to caring for them well. If they want their valuable papers, photographs, etc., to become part of the historical record, they can seek an appropriate, publicly accessible repository for them.
- Repositories, such as libraries, historical societies, museums, and other large organizations with archives, can integrate Hispanic history and culture into their collecting policies, seek out partnerships with records creators, both organizations and individuals, who have important documentation, and preserve and make accessible the records they collect.
- People who use records can make their concerns known to repositories, records creators, funders, and government officials and encourage greater support for this effort.
Ultimately, it comes down to individual people to you taking the initiative in whatever ways make sense to you in the context of your work and your life. We urge you to read through this guide and think about what it might mean for you.
Then be sure to ask for help or clarification. Contact the Archival Services staff at the State Archives. They will be happy to answer questions about the guide and help you think about possible documentation projects, grant programs, or other resources. (See the contact information.)