During the Spring 2014 semester, I interned at Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, or Centro as it is locally known. My role was to conduct research, document artifacts, organize documents, and to put together exhibits and keep them organized. This report will discuss Centro’s history, the museum and the community, and a few roles I had as the intern.
Before Centro was Centro, it was Southside Elementary School. Southside Elementary was also known as the “Mexican” school and Bonham Elementary. The Hispanic neighborhoods were located, in comparison to African American and Anglo neighborhoods, around the river or east of I 35. Southside was situated in the middle of the Mexican barrios or neighborhoods and was quite accessible to the families living there. Many of the Hispanic children that lived in San Marcos attended the school because of its location and the fact that it was a Hispanic school.
By the spring of 2009 Southside, or Bonham, no longer served as a school and was a vacant building. A woman named Ofelia Vasquez Philo, a highly active community member and former student of Southside, had always wanted a place that would give back to the community and would be able to tell a story of the Hispanic culture in San Marcos. With the help of several other prominent members of the San Marcos community, they formed a committee to put Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos into action. In 2010, they were able to lease Southside from San Marcos CISD with the help of donations from the Texas Educational Foundation and a former Mayor. It would only be fitting to have a building house something that would have meaning to the community. Ofelia Vasquez Philo’s was finally able to have a place that would show future generations the triumphs and struggles of Hispanics through the years.
Centro’s mission statement is “to serve as a community beacon for the preservation, development, promotion and celebration of the Hispanic arts, culture, heritage and values.” When walking into Centro, the mission is evident from the decorations in the front lobby to the artifacts in the museum. Whichever part of the building you walk through, a story is told, whether through the artifacts or the children attending one of the classes offered. Since Centro is very community centered, the museum is driven to represent the community.
The goal of the museum is accordingly to tell the narrative of Hispanic San Marcos through the artifacts, and so is set up in a way to aid in the narrative. The artifacts are grouped together by certain activities or events. For example, on the west side of the museum the artifacts are grouped by domestic/home living. The artifacts in that group are items that are used around the home. On the north wall there is a case full of artifacts that are grouped together because they are religious items. Having the artifacts separated by their use or their meaning helps convey the story.
One of the biggest questions I encountered with the artifacts was, “whose voice are we going to represent?” As a community museum, there is a fine line that is walked between trying to represent the community and trying to represent the committee. It was during the process of inventorying that I came across some interesting and unanticipated issues of what “community” means in a community museum.
Being a community museum whose artifacts come from the community, the possibility always exists that the owner will want it back. Because we have not yet had a chance to go through and add documentation to all the artifacts, it is possible for the original owner to take back the artifact. That can be challenging, because if the artifact is part of the museum, it is part of the story being told. If you take away the artifact, you may be taking away a piece of the story.
On the other hand, there is the problem of people donating items thinking they are museum-worthy items. As with most community museums, the people in the community want to contribute what they can to the museum. That contribution can come in a variety of forms, such as pictures, items, and oral histories. It is something somebody thinks is important enough to aid in the narrative of the museum. I was a part of the museum committee and I was able to witness firsthand the struggle in trying to pick which artifacts were to become permanent, which ones were going to become accessory items and which ones we were considering returning to the owner. I found out first hand that certain community members could have an influence on exhibits or artifacts. A plaque containing a picture of a teacher who taught at Southside was dropped off at the museum. The family that donated the plaque thought it should have been a part of the museum, because there was a picture of a teacher who had once taught at Southside. The museum committee had not had a chance to accept it into the museum or reject it, but because the family that dropped it off played a major role in the community, one of the members added it to the museum without committee review. I did not get a chance to research who the teacher in the picture was because the family actually ended up asking for the item back.
Interning at Centro was very rewarding for me. I did not really know how much of an influence Hispanic culture had in San Marcos, because I always figured San Antonio had the majority of it. I think the most rewarding part for me was interacting with members of the community. I really enjoyed getting to know some of the people that worked at Centro and would come to visit Centro. I loved hearing people’s background stories and family history.
After graduation, I hope to find a job that deals with cultures or even any museum work. After interning with Centro, I have a better appreciation for smaller, local museums. I definitely would not mind getting involved with smaller museums and trying to get them to rise from the ground up.