According to Smithsonian Director Eduardo Diaz, El Movimiento is a must
“This history of the Chicano Movement is American history,” said the Director of the Smithsonian Latino Center Eduardo Diaz in a crowded café outside the Denver Art Museum. “Just like Latin Jazz is American music, just like Tejano music is American music…it’s as American as tacos.”
Chicano history in Colorado is Colorado’s history as well and the History Colorado Center is putting that on display this month in the exhibit El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement.
“I was really happy to see that History Colorado was doing the show,” Diaz said. “If you want to know a little bit more, if you want to go deeper, if you want to have more context about the place that you now call home, I think you need to see this show.”
At 64, Diaz is an expert in the history of the Chicano Movement. He has been active in his communities from El Paso to San Diego to Washington DC since he was an adolescent.
“Instead of playing little league baseball, I would go canvassing with my dad,” he said. “I’m 64 so if you do the math, you’ll know that in ‘68 I was 18 years old. The Chicano Movement began about that time.”
And it reverberated throughout the United States as Hispanics all over the country became immersed in the social movement that sought to end discrimination, secure rights and gain social and political power.
The History Colorado Center collaborated with community advisors across the state to create El Movimiento, but Diaz said an exhibit like it is well past due.
“This is something they should have been doing,” Diaz said of the History Colorado Center. “Their responsibility is to tell the history of Colorado; well this is the history of Colorado. The larger question is what does this mean for the future? What is that museum’s commitment to tell a more complete story of the history of the state…the good, the bad, the ugly, the undiscovered, everything? I think that you have to tip your hat to History Colorado for doing this show. It’s a powerful show, it packs a big punch and it’s a risky show for them. The test is going to be what the seriousness of effort is going to be going forward.”
Of course to go forward, it’s important to look back and Diaz added that knowing the history of how the Chicano Movement and the Latino Civil Rights Movement across the United States came to be is also of vital importance.
“What gave rise to the movement?” Diaz asked. “The Mexican-American War ends in 1848 that’s when the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed. It was the end of that war in which Mexican citizens who were living in Colorado all the sudden became America citizens. Ostensibly their rights were supposed to be protected by the treaty and they weren’t. You have the same issues that Native Americans suffered through land cessions, displacement and relegation to second-class status, racialization and stereotyping, and institutional racism. That’s what gives rise to the movement.”
Unfortunately, Diaz added, the art and history associated with that movement are relegated to smaller museums and galleries that the general public often overlooks.
“Some of these efforts are born out of the fact that this museum right here (Denver Art Museum) was willfully neglecting the Latino art experience,” Diaz said. “So Chicano art activists said, ‘the hell with it, we’re going to do our own thing.’ And I get that. That’s how you get a Museo de Las Americas. I don’t know that strategy is going to work any more.”
Which brings the conversation full circle and back to the present with an eye beholden to the future.
“For me the strategy would be advocate for this location to hire a Latino or Latina curator,” Diaz said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. Unless that happens, fundamentally there is not going to be institutional change.”
Until that time, however, El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement will shed a bright light on the seldom-told Chicano Movement in Colorado.
“I think the exhibit will make [visitors’] experience here in Colorado a richer one and one that they value more,” Diaz said. “As difficult as the subject matter may be they may even consider some of it irrelevant, the fact of the matter is, it happened and it does inform the current state of affairs.”
El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement is currently on display at the History Colorado Center. A companion exhibit Chicano will open on February 12 at Museo de Las Americas. For more information visit www.historycoloradocenter.org.