Research: Peoples, Groups, & Cultures

Summary of A Guide to Documenting Latino/Hispanic History and Culture in New York State

Welcome to this brief summary of A Guide to Documenting Latino/Hispanic History and Culture in New York State. We have tried to make the whole guide accessible and useful for people who have different degrees of experience with historical records and with Latino history and culture. But this is a large, varied topic, and the documentation of historical records is a complex undertaking. That size and complexity are reflected in the guide, so this brief version will give you an overview of the main points. The full version provides summaries of the documentation priorities, examples of various kinds of documentation projects, potential sources of assistance and funding, and a description of the methodology used to create the guide which is adaptable for regional documentation planning.

Download the complete guide PDF

Why it is important to document Hispanic history and culture

Hispanics will soon be the largest minority population in New York. Latino communities exist in every city and in towns and villages throughout the state. They have roots in diverse cultures and communities from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and they contribute enormously to the history and culture of New York State. Yet the historical record of Latinos in New York is very limited. One major and exemplary repository, the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College, documents Puerto Ricans in New York City, but only a handful of other repositories collect Latino materials. As a result, many Hispanic communities and important aspects of Latino history and life are absent altogether from the historical record. It is up to people who have or create records, particularly in Latino communities, and to those in libraries, archives, and other repositories who collect records, to do what they can to preserve the history of Latinos in New York. This guide can help you discover what role you might play in this process and offer guidance as to how to go about it.

Top of Page

Who this guide is for

The State Archives has prepared this guide mainly for three groups:

  • Records Creators — Hispanic communities and organizations, and others engaged with Hispanic communities often create records in the course of their work, and some have long-term historical value. A Latino organization or business, or an organization, business, or government active in a Latino community or serving the Hispanic population, may have letters, reports, files, photographs, and other materials that should be saved in an archives once the organization no longer needs them. Individuals and families may have correspondence, photographs, videotapes or film they no longer need at home that shows important parts of community history and cultural life.
  • Records Custodians — Historical records organizations collect historically valuable records and make them available to the public for research. If you are affiliated with a community cultural organization, historical society, museum, library, or archives, it may make sense for you to begin collecting records related to the Latino communities in your area. This collecting focus can be of great benefit to your organization and your community.
  • Users of Records, individuals who use historical records in the course of their lives and work, have an interest in preserving and making accessible the documentation of Latino/Hispanic History and Culture. Scholars, teachers, students, policy-makers, and community members are typical users of Latino documentation.

Top of Page

What we mean by Latino/Hispanic - What we mean by Documentation

  • Latino/Hispanic For the purposes of this guide Latino/Hispanic populations include migrants, immigrants, and descendents of people from Mexico, Central America, South America, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean who live in New York State. Also included are people from Brazil and Spain. The history and culture of Latino communities needs to be documented from the time they were established in New York to the present — and on into the future.
  • Documentation consists of valuable information found in "records," which may exist in a wide range of formats (paper, photographs and slides, motion picture film, audio- and videotape, computer disks and tape) typically collected by archival repositories. Records that have enduring value once they are no longer needed for their original purpose are known as "archival records." For example, the 20-year-old board minutes of a Latino organization are probably no longer needed to keep board members current, but they may document an important part of the community’s history. If so, they would be considered archival, and it may make sense for them to be in a publicly accessible archives.

Top of Page

What to document

It is impossible to document everything that might be interesting, and not everything is of equal historical importance. To help you determine what is most important to document, we offer here a set of criteria that a documentation topic should meet, a list of high priority subjects, or topic areas, and three themes that run through most of the subjects. These cirtieria, themes, and subjects will help you decide whether a particular topic would be a priority for documentation in a statewide, regional, or local context. Proposed documentation topics should meet one or more of the criteria for statewide significance AND address one or more of the themes or subjects.

Criteria for Statewide Significance -- Topic should meet one or more of these criteria.

  • Distinctive to New York, seminal, or precedent-setting
  • Significant impact in Latino communities statewide
  • Significant impact in several facets of Latino life and history
  • Illustrative of common experience throughout the community
  • Significant over a long time
  • Not already well documented


  • Language
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Roles of Women


  • Arts and Culture
  • Business
  • Education
  • Family and Community Life
  • Health and Community Welfare
  • Migration and Settlement
  • Occupation and Labor
  • Organizations and Leaders
  • Politics, Government and Law
  • Religion
  • Social Reform
  • Major Historical Events and Milestones

Top of Page

How to document Latino/Hispanic History and Culture

Documentation is a cooperative effort between the creators and custodians of records, each of whom has different roles to play.

Records Creators may want to take the following steps:

  • Improve the management of your current records, so that you can operate more efficiently, locate files you need more quickly, get rid of records you no longer need, and save office and storage space;
  • Identify records likely to be of enduring historical value, probably with the assistance of a qualified archivist;
  • Identify and develop a partnership with a repository to care for the historically valuable records you no longer need in your office. Or become a "records custodian" and create an accessible archives within your own organization.

Records Custodians may want to take the following steps:

  • Organizational context — mission, collecting policy, resources Determine whether collecting Latino history and culture fits your organization’s existing mission and collecting policy and what kinds of resources are needed and available. Change the collecting policy, even expand the mission, if necessary.
  • Find the creators of important records Identify the organizations, businesses, agencies, and governments in your field or service area that have made important contributions to Hispanic history and culture and whose documentation might enrich the historical record.
  • Design, obtain the resources for, and carry out a documentation project.

Top of Page

Regional and Local Documentation Planning

This guide is statewide in scope, and the criteria, subjects, and themes it lays out are based on statewide significance and impact. But it is also intended to stimulate and guide documentation planning at the regional and local levels. Some topics, events, or organizations that have not had a statewide impact may be very significant in a region or locality and should be represented in the documentary record. The methodology used to develop this guide is also adaptable to regional planning. The State Archives and the State Historical Records Advisory Board are interested in encouraging and supporting the development of regional and local documentation plans for Latino history and culture.

Top of Page

Documentation Planning Methodology

A central principle of the method used to develop this guide was the understanding that we would need input from throughout the state, from diverse Latino communities, and from all walks of life, particularly in determining the most important themes and subjects for documentation. This principle of community involvement should be applied in regional and local planning as well.

Where you can get help

This guide offers an introduction to the documentation of Hispanic history and culture, but it cannot answer every question you might have or lead you step by step through the process, partly because the steps won’t be the same in every situation. The staff at the State Archives is available and eager to help you make sense of this guide, think through documentation issues, plan documentation projects, and seek support for documentation efforts. At several places below we urge you to contact us, and Sources of Assistance and Funding describes other resources as well. Please do get in touch with us anytime.

New York State Archives
Archival Services
Cultural Education Center
Albany, New York 12230
Telephone: (518) 474-6926

Top of Page