Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Memories of Migration: New Mexico, Part 8

Cultural Traditions

For her section of the exhibit Memories of Migration: Las Vegas, Exhibit Design Class student Gloria Lovato chose to investigate a local cultural tradition that turned out to have a long and fascinating migration story all its own. Combining research with consultation with a local master of the tradition, Beatrice Maestas Sandoval, and the Mora Valley Spinning Mill, Gloria created graphics panels that included photographs, text, and instructions for making the stitch, as well as a hands-on component, and small case small display of tools and supplies.

Colcha is a regional tradition in northern New Mexico that migrated with Spanish colonists in the 17th century, perhaps by crypto-Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Even by then the stitch had a long history in Asia and Europe. In Europe the embroiderers used silk cloth and thread, but in New Mexico it was adapted to the more humble materials at hand--cotton and wool. Oriental and European motifs influenced the first designs, but gradually local plants and animals were introduced. This once almost lost tradition is undergoing a revival. It preserves within it an important migration story. 

Memories of Migration: New Mexico, Part 7

The Exhibit Design Class students who prototyped the Memories of Migration project spent a lot of time discussing how to make the "memory gathering" experience interesting and relevant to diverse audiences, including children. When the students consulted their parents and grandparents about their childhoods, they often heard descriptions of reality far different from the idealized image of childhood reflected in museum collections and storybooks. 
Natasha Rudolph, who works part-time in the Las Vegas Carnegie Public Library, spearheaded a section of the exhibit that included graphics panels and a play area for children featuring multicultural storybooks about migration from a child's perspective, traditional toys and games of the type brought by settler children who traveled the Old Santa Fe Trail, and traditional schoolhouse supplies, such as a slate board and chalk. She consulted with the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Riders Memorial Collection and photographed artifacts from the collection for the graphics panel. 
Childhood: Like children all over the world, children growing up in Las Vegas were prepared for their gender roles and adult responsibilities from a very young age through their play and helping with chores. Boys play centered on sports and outdoor games, while girls play tended to center on homemaking skills and role-playing with dolls.

Education: During the settlement of the West it was the teachers who were the immigrants, sent into the new territories to prepare the populations that were already there for U.S. statehood and citizenship. When New Mexico became a U.S. Territory in 1846, educating children became an essential part of assimilation and the Americanization of the population. Teachers were brought in from outside the Territory because no system of public education or teacher training existed here yet. Prior to that time, children had been mostly educated at home and on the ranch, and the main language spoken was Spanish. Upper class Hispanics sent their sons to Mexico and St. Louis for education. Daughters continued to be educated at home. Among the first teachers to arrive in Las Vegas, in 1869, were the Sisters of Loretto, an order of nuns founded in Kentucky whose mission was to educate poor children on the Western frontier. Strict discipline was a hallmark of their schools. In 1893, New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University) was established to train teachers locally.

Memories of Migration: New Mexico, Part 6

Shortform video (e.g., videos under ten minutes in length) is becoming increasingly important for museums both in exhibits and on social media. The three videography students in the Exhibit Design Class working on the Memories of Migration project each chose their own topics. Nick Lormand, a dual major in biology from Colorado, chose to focus on the ecological uniqueness of Las Vegas and its surroundings and why it is such a good place for a town. The video by Andrew Shepard, a Navajo student from Shiprock, NM, focuses on the role of Las Vegas in a very dark episode in American history, the forced migration known as the Navajo Long Walk, the subject of a longer video he had recently produced for the Bosque Redondo Memorial during an AmeriCorps Cultural Technology internship. And in his video, Chris Killion, a student from Farmington, NM, explores the influx of settlers who came to farm the rich agricultural land surrounding Las Vegas and the environmental and economic forces that caused them to leave.     
A sense of place: The Las Vegas environment is rich in natural resources and scenic beauty. It was also a strategic location militarily and as a center for trade. Once you know that, it’s easy to understand why so many people were attracted to the area and why there was so much conflict over the opportunity to settle here—it’s always been a good place for a town.

Forced migration: Native American tribes already occupied the land when settlers from Mexico and later from the United States arrived. Oppression of Native American populations by the U.S. government was often brutal. At the hands of the U.S. military, Native American tribes suffered forced migrations and the establishment of the reservation system. Native languages and spiritual practices were suppressed. Other government programs aimed to “civilize” Indians. Passing through Las Vegas to and from Fort Union was one of four routes of the Navajo Long Walk, one of the most tragic episodes of all.

A sense of time: The story of migration involves people going as well as coming. The reasons why people leave and where they go to can be as important as why they come and from where. Las Vegas is located in a prime agricultural region, and people came from all over to farm and ranch. During the 1920s and 1930s, a major drought disrupted the agricultural way of life, and many people were forced to leave in search of greener pastures. The drought and concurrent economic downturn were important factors contributing to the town’s decline and leading to Las Vegas as it is today.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Memories of Migration: New Mexico Part 5


Here are some panels from the introductory section of the exhibition taken during installation. They include panels on acknowledgements, an introduction to the Memories of Migration project, a panel on the migration history of Las Vegas, and a panel about architecture and the layout of the town. 

Memories of Migration: New Mexico, Part 4

Putting Out the Welcome Mat
Exhibit Design Class students from New Mexico Highlands University's Center for Cultural Technology had a big challenge in prototyping the rural education and outreach component for Memories of Migration. One point made to them early on from our evaluator, Brian Crockett, was that banners on the outside of museums are the single most effective strategy for attracting visitors. This engendered an intense conversation about the lack of visibility of their venue, the Las Vegas Citizens' Committee for Historic Preservation (LVCCHP), even for people walking down the sidewalk, and what could be done about it.  The ideas that they came up with are replicable and adaptable for any venue.   
To create a feeling of welcome, the students designed banners and a sandwich board sign to attract passersby. 

They created an interactive house to display in the window of the storefront location. Much thought went into the design of the house to relate to the historic architecture of the town. From the sidewalk pedestrians saw silhouettes in the windows depicting family members in different rooms engaged in different activities. The windows lit up at night. The scenes were also visible from inside the exhibit, as seen here.

Also visible from outside and inside was a fingerpost sign. Instead of arrows pointing to destinations, the arrows pointed the way to exploring the migration theme: “Are you from here?”  “Where are you from?”  “How did you get here?” “Where is home?” “What did you bring with you?” What did you leave behind?”

The students were allowed to rearrange LVCCHP's existing exhibits, and maps were rehung with labels that tied them to the migration theme. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Memories of Migration: New Mexico, Part 3

From a cultural and historical perspective, Las Vegas, New Mexico, was a great place to prototype Memories of Migration. Today the community includes descendants of the founding families, Jewish merchants, and health seekers, as well as new arrivals—Hurricane Katrina refugees from New Orleans, “Dreamers” from Mexico who come to attend New Mexico Highlands University, artists, and retirees.
Originally settled by land grant families from Mexico in 1835, Las Vegas became a bustling stop on the Santa Fe Trail after New Mexico became a U.S. Territory in 1846. In 1879, the arrival of the railroad transformed the town into the largest city west of the Mississippi. In its heyday, Las Vegas boasted two opera houses, an electric trolley, and the Southwest’s first telephone system. Immigrants from all walks of life flooded into town—from the upper classes to low-lifes, including outlaws like Jesse James and Doc Holliday, who owned several Las Vegas businesses, including a dentist office.
Las Vegas became a major tourist destination, luring visitors with promises of spectacular scenery, hunting, fishing, and exotic cultures—a world away from industrialized life in the big city. A growing reputation for a healthy climate and healing hot springs gave rise to health resorts and sanitariums for tuberculosis sufferers and others.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many people migrated away from the once prosperous community. A new railroad line had bypassed the town. A major drought disrupted the agricultural way of life, and many people were forced to leave in search of greener pastures. The drought and economic downturn were important factors contributing to the town’s decline in importance and leading to the Las Vegas of today.

Memories of Migration: New Mexico, Part 2

Exhibit Design Class

To create a Memories of Migration model for rural education and outreach, an Exhibit Design Class at New Mexico Highlands University was enlisted to prototype concepts. The community partner was the Las Vegas Citizens' Committee for Historic Preservation (LVCCHP). The students were media arts majors specializing in graphic design, photography, videography, and physical computing. The majority of the students in the class were Las Vegas  natives descended from some of the town’s founding families, who wanted to make sure that their work would have appeal to their relatives and friends. Their enthusiasm was also grounded in their pride in the community and desire to share that pride with visitors. For the students who came from other places, the project provided new ways to connect to the community that they live in but don’t really know.
The class divided into teams, and each team assumed responsibility for one or more aspects of the project. Exhibit Design Class members included: Ashley Arellanes, Kendra Alderete, Mario Griego, Christopher Killion, Nickolas Lormand, Gloria Lovato, Mariam A. Perez, Jacobo Rael, Natasha Rudolph, and Andrew Shepard. The instructor was Mimi Roberts, Director for Media Projects, New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, with design assistance from AmeriCorps Cultural Technology intern Eli Menchaca. Martha McCaffrey, LVCCHP board member and retired school librarian, advised  the students with research and served as liaison to LVCCHP.

Funding and In-Kind Contributions
In addition to the grant from NewMexico Humanities Council, support has come from LVCCHP thanks to a private donation, the Susan and Conrad De Jong Fund/Santa Fe Community Foundation, the New Mexico Makerstate Initiative of the NewMexico State Library, and  the AmeriCorps Cultural Technology Internship Program.

The Theme: Migration
Currently, the theme of migration is receiving a lot of attention from cultural institutions because the flood of people moving from one place to another has created a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. According to the most recent figures from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 60 million people, about half of whom are children, have been dislocated from their homes by conflict, persecution, and economic hardship—more than at any other time in human history. This is placing an immense burden not only on the refugees themselves but also on the communities and countries absorbing them.
In New Mexico, several museums are participating in the National Dialogues on Immigration, a consortium of leading history museums and cultural centers across the country presenting local public dialogues on immigration, including (Ex)Change at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, and in Santa Fe the New Mexico HistoryMuseum (Routes and Routes) and Museum of International Folk Art (Imagining Home). The resources for all the program models are downloadable here

Humanities Scholarship
Most of the research for Memories of Migration: Las Vegas involved consulting with family and community members. In addition, the class included guest lectures from four nationally recognized humanities practitioners: Jon Voss (Historypin); Candace Kanes (Maine Memory Network); Meredith Davidson (New Mexico History Museum); and Estevan Rael-Galvez (former New Mexico State Historian).
A mid-point presentation by the students provided the opportunity for feedback from Professor Jon Hunner, interim director of the New Mexico History Museum at the time, as well as community historians and LVCCHP board members. Finally, a field trip to Santa Fe to see the exhibits Unsettled Landscapes at SITE Santa Fe and Between Two Worlds at the Museum of International Folk Art provided the students with the opportunity to see how others had dealt with related themes in museum exhibits.

Memories of Migration: New Mexico, Part 1

Memories of Migration is a three-year national demonstration “memory gathering” project funded by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to a group of library partners and the interactive map website Historypin. The project is designed for libraries that serve new immigrant communities, to help them build local cultural heritage collections related to their changing demographics, and to encourage community dialogue and ease tensions between old timers and newcomers.

Thanks to an invitation from Jon Voss, Historypin's Director for Strategic Partnerships, New Mexico was invited to participate in the project. Jon reached out to the Center for Cultural Technology, a program of the Department of Media Arts & Technology at New Mexico Highlands University and the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, to develop a model for rural education and outreach. 

Last fall, an Exhibit Design Class created the prototype based on the university’s hometown of Las Vegas, New Mexico, about 60 miles from Santa Fe. The community partner was the Las Vegas Citizens’ Committee for Historic Preservation (LVCCHP), a local non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of Las Vegas. It’s storefront museum also serves as a Santa Fe Trail Interpretative Center, highlighting Las Vegas as an important hub along one of the nation’s major migration routes. LVCCHP was the venue and fiscal agent for the project. In addition LVCCHP served as the primary research resource. The students created a multimedia exhibit and profile on Historypin. 

The students' prototype will now be adapted for travel around New Mexico to public and tribal libraries holding “memory gathering” events, bringing to life local stories of migration and immigration. Over the next few years, stories from Las Vegas and other rural communities in New Mexico will be documented on a profile on Historypin and connected to stories from other communities across the nation to tell the collective story of the American migration and immigration experience.