Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos (Hispanic Cultural Center of San Marcos) was founded in 2010 to give the Mexican American community a space to celebrate their culture and venerate their heritage. The mission of non-profit Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, hereafter referred to as Centro Cultural, is to serve the community in “the preservation, development, promotion, and celebration of the Hispanic arts, culture, heritage, and values” (sanmarcoscentro.org). Centro Cultural seeks to fulfill this overall goal of cultivating and protecting a Hispanic identity through a variety of community programs and involvement, including museum participation and artistic expression.
I began my internship at Centro Cultural with the goal of learning and practicing museum curatorial skills. However, over the course of my internship term, I was able to shadow some of the central administrators and learned much about management and outreach strategies. My duties, outside of museum arrangements and artifact management, were to assist with event planning and advertising. Many of my tasks during my internship, both for the museum and for events, dealt with linking Centro Cultural’s mission (of cultivating and protecting Hispanic identity) to its audiences and their needs.
For the participants and founders of Centro Cultural, there is an imperative quest for attaining respect and equality in cultural difference (Silvestrini, 1999:39). The first step to this is establishing cultural citizenship by encouraging pride in heritage—a form of creating a unified identity for Mexican Americans of San Marcos, especially for those who feel disconnected from their ethnic roots. The following paragraphs will describe how Centro Cultural employs two tools, community involvement and ownership, to create an identity and, ultimately, cultural citizenship.
Through participation and a sense of ownership (as created by providing narratives or artifacts to the museum, for example), the people of the community are invited to share ideas, experiences, and values that when put together construct a unified identity. One way to look at this is by recognizing that the people are Centro Cultural. The center simply provides a location for ethnic identity to be celebrated, valued, and respected—the people being served by Centro Cultural do the majority of the work. They are both the audience and the providers of funding, goals, and purpose to Centro Cultural.
Upon beginning my internship, I was repeatedly told that Centro Cultural was more than a museum; it is also a learning and growing cell of community involvement. Examples of this are seen throughout Centro Cultural: the art painted by local Mexican American artists depicting deep-rooted themes; the events organized by volunteer citizens; the artifacts donated by the community; and the activities like ballet folklorico and myth story-telling, which re-invent, re-create, and re-teach Mexican American traditions to the people of San Marcos.
Community involvement is also facilitated by creating a sense of ownership for the community through formal membership. There are two ways, specifically, that Centro Cultural offers formal membership. The first type of membership is offered when a special donation is made and has ranks from “Friend” to “Patron” of Centro Cultural. The second type of membership is labeled “Amiga del Centro” (Friend of Centro), is exclusively for women, and involves annual sponsorship for Centro Cultural. Although these women are not directly compensated in return, The Amigas del Centro are a major funding and success component for the center.
The museum constitutes another major component that fosters a sense of ownership for the community. During my interviews with one of the founders, I found that there was no other Hispanic center in San Marcos before Centro Cultural, no other place where Hispanics could learn about themselves. The museum is thus a very important feature of Centro Cultural. Almost all the museum artifacts are donated by local citizens who also offer their historical narratives (histories, experiences, realizations). In this way, the Mexican American community holds claim to all the knowledge found in the museum and is able to create a history and identity for itself (as opposed to one created by an outsider). An example is a current display I set up focusing on the creation of American GI Forum. The material was all gathered and put together by some community volunteers, highlighting what they believed to be note-worthy successes by their Hispanic predecessors.
Featured artists also facilitate the creation of a self-identity. Current artwork by Ignacio Luera and Martin Rodriguez, for example, blend together Chicano, Mayan, and Aztec styles and themes, resulting in a new, mixed version of Hispanic identity… one that, as I mentioned before, encompasses (and commemorates) all features and natures of the Mexican American people. For example, Figure 1 is “Indio” (Indian) by Luera and combines contemporary graffiti styles, such as intense street art colors and letters, with traditional motifs—a warrior, the eagle, the man in the sun. He has represented a version of Hispanic identity (ambiguous in form) as he has perceived it being a Hispanic person in the United States. Now, everyone who sees this painting may also choose to share in that identity Luera has re-invented, a “neo-Indio” identity, so to speak.
Creating a unified identity is a step in achieving cultural citizenship in the United States. Respecting one’s own cultural differences and claiming a social space in this country, as authors like Flores and Benmayor note, allow for outsiders to not only accept, but also appreciate (or learn to appreciate) diversity. Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos makes moves for Hispanic cultural citizenship by encouraging pride in identity by allowing all types of participants to, in a way, create and own that shared identity
- Flores, William V. with Rina Benmayor, 1997 Introduction. In Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights. William V. Flores and Rina Benmayor, eds. Boston: Beacon Press
- Silvestrini, Blanca G.1997 The World We Enter When Claiming Rights: Latinos and Their Quest for Culture. In Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights. William V. Flores and Rina Benmayor, eds. Pp. 39. Boston: Beacon Press.