Since 1950, millions of Latinos have immigrated to the US, among them artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and scholars who indelibly remixed our culture. Explore the lives of a few of these fascinating change-makers with the Smithsonian Latino Center.Less
“Exile is a deep sorrow that forces you to learn a culture...It is like being born again, but as an adult.” –Adela Vázquez, 2011. Adela Vázquez is a Cuban trans AIDS/HIV activist. Vázquez left Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. In 1992, after settling in San Francisco, Vázquez won the Miss Gay Latina pageant. Volunteering with fellow trans women battling AIDS inspired years of activism. She joined Proyecto Contra SIDA Por Vida, a Latina/o HIV-prevention organization in the Mission District.
In April 1980, Cuban president Fidel Castro gave Cubans permission to flee to the United States from Mariel port. Some 125,000 journeyed by boat to Miami, Florida. “Marielitos” were more racially and socially diverse than earlier waves of Cuban immigrants. In this May 1980 file photo, refugees from Cuba stand on the deck of their boat as they arrive at a rainy Key West, Fla. In the Mariel Boatlift, more than 100,000 Cubans fled the island by sea in the space of just six months.
“I left because in Panama...I had no...espacio politico...political space. Racism was rampant both in Panama and the former Canal Zone.” –Dr. Carlos E. Russell, 2012. Russell was a newspaper editor, playwright, professor, and ambassador. His grandparents were West Indian immigrants to Panama. In 1955, he migrated to Chicago. As a Black civil rights activist in Panama and the US, in 1969, he co-founded Black Solidarity Day in New York City, spotlighting the systematic oppression of Black people.
“Casa ...[does] 'Chicano and Latino theater.' It is a political theater [that]...gives voice to...those...rendered invisible. We refuse to be invisible.” –Josefina López, 2016. López is a formerly undocumented Chicana playwright. Her family immigrated from Mexico when she was 5, settling in Los Angeles. Her career took off when she was a teenager. Her best-known work is the play/film Real Women Have Curves (2002). In 2000, she founded Casa 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights, where she grew up.
“I had to leave my country...I could not return...therefore...I find that [in my works] people are flying. Without a home, without a country.” –Naul Ojeda, 1995. Ojeda was an award-winning Uruguayan printmaker. In the 1970s, amid growing political turmoil, he began his life in exile, living in several countries before settling in Washington, DC. Ojeda described his relationship to his distinctive woodblock prints as a "dialogue” between the wood and him. His works are in museums across the US.
“Hamalali Wayunagu means “Voices of Our Ancestors”...we sing the voices of our ancestors.” –Luz F. Soliz, 2010. Soliz-Ramos is a Garifuna dancer, instructor, and choreographer. Born in Trujillo Colón, Honduras, she joined her parents in the US at fifteen. Soliz holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dance and Dance Education. She has dedicated her career to sharing Garifuna dance, history, and language. In 1992, she founded what is now called the Wabafu Garifuna Dance Theater in New York City.
"Over the course of four days, the children of Tornillo produced 400 pieces of art...We don't know who they were...We don't know where they went. Today thousands of children are held in detention camps across the United States, and we must never forget them." -Dr. Yolanda Leyva, 2019. Listen to Dr. Leyva and Dr. David Romo, historians and curators for UTEP's Centennial Museum exhibition UnCaged Art, discuss art by detained immigrant children at the West Texas detention center of Tornillo.
"Immigration detention is, by definition, not supposed to be criminal, however folks in a detention facility are pretty much in a prison. It starts with being treated like a criminal for the sole purpose of coming to this country to seek protection from violence." -Hector Ruiz, 2021. Follow the Find out more link to listen to Ruiz, an attorney for the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, talk about the realities and challenges immigrants face when crossing the southern border.
The Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History will be the first Smithsonian Latino Center national gallery dedicated to Latino history and culture. Created in 1997, the Smithsonian Latino Center collaborates throughout the Smithsonian and beyond to promote a national dialogue on the role of museums and cultural centers in advancing Latino-community cultural development. The five children of Dr. C. David Molina collectively donated $10 million to support the gallery.