This blog is the place to exchange ideas, news, issues and thoughts about diversity and multiculturalism in museums. The Multicultural Initiatives Committee is a Texas Association of Museums Affinity Group.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Achieving Diversity Is Not Just a New American Trend!

Some people believe that this whole talk of diverisitymay be a new buzz in the American business and public sectors. Most of us have heard enough about affirmative action and diversity initiatives in our organizations, and we may even roll our eyes at the idea of "cultural competency" training and the like.

However, this is not just an American issue. It is not just a political issue. And most certainly is not just a "trendy" issue. It is a global issue that has been around for a very long time. To illustrate, the International Committee of Museums (ICOM) initiative that had its roots back to 1972 show how museums play a role in the international community in achieving equality, inclusion and democracy. I am quoting just a few of the statements from thier website. To read the entire document, follow the link above:

  • Increasing recognition that Cultural diversity is a historical and social reality at the local, regional, national and global levels and that museums should reflect the cultural diversity of the clientele constituencies. The cultural diversity of different nations is a rich inheritance of humanity that will endure as the central pillar for peace, harmony and cultural sustainability of the world. The promotion of this global inheritance through the processes of cultural pluralism is the responsibility of all societies. There is a fundamental need to acknowledge that all cultures and their manifestations are equally valid in a culturally democratic world.

  • Within this context museums in different parts of the world are exploring ways of relating to community cultural and economic development, the sense of place, identity and self-esteem of different people. Exploration of inclusive museology which has the capacity to address different contextual frameworks of cultural diversity including a multiplicity of interactions and cultural borders. These borders include race, ethnicity, colour, gender, class, age, physical ability, regions, location, language, faith, creed, economic status, sexual preference and so on.

  • Increasing awareness about the cultural needs of minorities, indigenous populations and 'societies in transition' who have experienced disempowerment through displacement, dispossession and the ravages of war. The particular concerns of minorities whose cultural self-esteem and hence well-being is at risk through a process of overt or covert marginalisation in mainstream societies are being addressed by museums in different parts of the world. There is an increasing demand to address the post-colonial position of transplanted populations, such as the descendants of slave trades and indentured labour practices, and their disadvantaged inheritance due to the practices of colonialism and imperialism through the promotion of cultural exchanges between root and diasporic cultures. The international museum community is also playing an active role in the reconstruction and development of institutions ravaged by recent developments in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.

Friday, 18 April 2008

What is your definition of diversity?

I was fortunate enough to take part in a fascinating conference call yesterday outlining an incredible survey of people who visit outdoor museums completed by Reach Advisors (follow their blog here for more information). I was struck not only by the depth and breadth of responses, but also by the insight they were able to gather.

Although there were many interesting conclusions from the research, a couple really "hit home" with the issue of diversity/multiculturalism: 1) 97% of the survey respondents were white/caucasian, and 2) young mothers voiced entirely different "needs" from the museum than older males.

So what is YOUR definition of diversity? Do we sometimes get stuck thinking about multiculturalism as merely being about race and ethnicity? Can we recognize that diversity actually encompasses the whole microcosm of differences that make us each unique?

Clearly the issue of diversity extends beyond color lines. The white moms mentioned above would not benefit from the same educational approach that the white men would, even though they are both white. Why? Because they are different "cultures." When we factor in life circumstances (sexual orientation, geography, age, socioeconomic status, religion), all of a sudden multiculturalism takes on many new facets! Not only are we black, white, hispanic, native american, etc....all of a sudden we are also young, old, gay, straight, citified, country bumpkins, Protestants, Jews, Catholics, ice cream get the picture.

So how are we to serve each and every one of these "segments" of society? Does this mean that we shouldn't take steps to reach individual audiences?

I don't entirely have the answer to this question. I know that I want EVERYONE'S history to be represented. I also know that I want the gay hispanic mother to be just as comfortable here as the white older man. I know that having bilingual (english/spanish) labels are important...but I also know that some concepts transcend language barriers.

And I know recognizing that each patron is an individual with his/her own set of values, interests, and motivation is a start.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

"What Was Once a Dream Is Now a Reality"

For Immediate Release: April 10, 2008

Contact: Steve Haro, 202.225.6235, 202.225.8355 (mobile) or
& Greg Buss, 213.483.1425 or


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The United States Senate today took up and passed S. 2739, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008. Contained within that bill was the Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of American Latino Act (H.R. 512/S.500), legislation which passed in the House of Representatives February 6, 2007. The bill now come back to the House for a procedural vote and then will head to the White House for President Bush's signature.

"The last few months have witnessed an incredible level of momentum and support for this endeavor," Representative Xavier Becerra (CA-31), H.R. 512's author, said. "What was once a dream is now a reality. It is my hope that we can get this to the president in short order so that we can immediately form the commission and subsequently move forward to complete our American cultural mosaic."

"I believe we must celebrate the diversity of our nation, and Latinos have been a significant part of American history. They have contributed to the arts, business, and served in our nation's military with distinction," Senator Salazar, S. 500's author, said. "This bill would take the first step in commemorating the rich contributions of the Latino community to American life. The end result will be a more enhanced experience for the 20 million visitors that come to our nation's capital to learn the full history of America."

H.R. 512 sets up a 23 member commission charged with producing three things: one, a national conference to bring stakeholders, experts, policymakers and other interested parties together to discuss the museum's viability; two, a fundraising plan to create an extensive public-private partnership; and three, a report to Congress detailing a recommended plan of action on how to move forward with taking the museum from concept to reality. All of this will happen within 24 months of H.R. 512 being signed into law.

"Today's vote would never have occurred were it not for a bipartisan group of champions who all agreed that this was a worthwhile effort," Rep. Becerra said. "To the 24 bipartisan cosponsors of S.500, the Senate version of H.R. 512: thank you for support and your fortitude. To Senators Harry Reid, Jeff Bingaman, Mel Martinez and Pete Dominici: thank you for the 11th hour advocacy that ensured this bill's passage.

"Leaders, corporations, and several great non-profit groups have done tremendous work to educate our congressional leaders and the public about this effort and deserve both recognition and thanks. Some of these groups include the Museum of the American Latino Advisory Board Committee, the Central American Resource Center, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Hispanic Education Coalition, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, the Mexican Heritage Corporation, the National Council of La Raza, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, the Southwest Voter Registration & Education Project, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the William C. Velasquez Institute, and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

"And most importantly, to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senators Ken Salazar of Colorado and Bob Menendez of New Jersey: this effort would be nowhere if not for your passion and your dogged drive to see to it that this bill became law in this congress."

Click here to learn more about H.R. 512.


About The Commission
Commission to Study the Feasibility of a

National Latino Museum (H.R. 2134)

The Commission would be comprised of 23 members appointed as follows:
· 7 members appointed by the President;
· 3 voting and 1 non-voting members appointed by the Speaker;
· 3 voting and 1 non-voting members appointed by the House Minority Leader;
· 3 voting and 1 non-voting appointed by the Senate Majority Leader; and
· 3 voting and 1 non-voting appointed by the Senate Minority Leader.

The Commission will have 18 months to produce:
· A national conference within 9 months of being formed;
· A fundraising plan
· A report that will determine the following issues:

The availability and cost of collections to be acquired and housed in the Museum.
The impact of the Museum on regional Hispanic-and Latino-related museums.
Possible Locations for Museum in Washington, D.C. and its environs, to be considered in consultation with the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts
Whether the Museum should be located within the Smithsonian Institution.
The governance and organizational structure from which the Museum should operate.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Latino Museum Studies Program

This is a great opportunity for up and coming Latino museum professionals!

The Latino Museum Studies Program is organized by the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC). It was established in 1994 to increase the representation, documentation, knowledge and interpretation of Latino art, culture, and history. The program includes a two-week seminar designed to provide participants with the tools to enhance their leadership, research, and creative skills through a series of lectures, workshops and practical experiences at the Smithsonian Institution, as well as other research facilities within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Each year fifteen mid-career museum professionals and graduate students are selected from a nationwide pool of applicants. Participation is free and includes the cost of round-trip travel to Washington, D.C. and housing accommodations for the duration of the four-week program.

Crossing Borders; Telling Lives: Fresh Ways to Create Dialog about Immigration in a Museum Context

The title of this blog entry comes from a session I attended last week at the TAM Annual Meeting in Galveston. I went both because I was interested in the topic, and because I had heard Linda Ho Peche speak at the Texas Association of Museum Educator's workshop in January. Just as when I had heard her before, she was fantastic.

I was really struck, however, by Kristine Navarro's passionate commentary on her research with survivors from the Bracero Program. Navarro is the Director of the Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas--El Paso. In conjunction with George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, the National Museum of American History, the University of Texas at El Paso, and Brown University, the Institute of Oral History has launched the Bracero Oral History Project to conduct interviews with former braceros. To date they have collected hundreds of interviews as well as photographs and historical material documenting the history of the Bracero Program.

I was speechless, not only because I had never heard of braceros, but also because of the sad stories surrounding this program. Like so many historical happenings, the truth has been buried. Fortunately, historians like Ms. Navarro work tirelessly to make sure that these stories see the light of day--and that these people's histories are not forgotten.

I know that I won't soon forget the braceros.

Other links of interest:
Public Law 45 of 1943
Case Study from American University
Handbook of Texas Online
Photos from California
Bracero Timeline

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Forgotten History

Recently, there has been news about the lack of diversity in the Texas public school curriculum. To me, this implies that many of our Texas children may never get the chance to learn about their own identity and culture. They will never swell with pride when they read the literature of their ancestors, or hear about the historical figures that looked just like them and played a role in building this great state.

We can view this as a golden opportunity for museums. Museums now have the responsibility of enlightening these children where formal education doesn't. We can show them that their ancestors and themselves are indeed part of the American experience.

Recently IMLS launched and effort to preserve America's diverse heritage.

This project highlights the fact that museums preserve more than priceless works of art or artifacts related to well-known historical figures. While these are indeed important, America's heritage consists of collections stored in hundreds and hundreds of local museums. Our children and communities will be much for the better if these artifacts - whether they be family photographs, scrapbooks, quilts, letters, furniture- are preserved, and perhaps more importantly, exhibited and interpreted. Please look through the link above and see how your museum may benefit from this initiative.