A brand new exhibition opened on February 8 in the Main Library Gallery. Building Our Own Community: 50 Years of the Latino Native American Cultural Center, Founded by Chicano and American Indian Students in 1971 was curated with care by Rachel Garza Carreón and Christopher Ortega. Their work honors the past, present, and future of the UI’s Latino Native American Cultural Center (LNACC) and the students who made it possible.
Rachel Garza Carreón is the Outreach & Research Librarian at the University of Iowa Libraries. She serves as the subject liaison for Classics, Philosophy, and Religious Studies, and is the UI Libraries liaison to the Latino Native American Cultural Center. Christopher Ortega is an Undergraduate Engagement Librarian at the University of Iowa Libraries. His mission is to support undergraduate success and make students feel welcome and empowered on campus and in the Libraries.
In this Q&A with the curators, they share more about their desire to celebrate the LNACC by creating an exhibit for the University of Iowa Libraries’ Main Library Gallery.
What inspired you to organize an exhibition about the LNACC?
Rachel: “I think many of us have heard the expression about a campus building being ‘the heart of the campus’. I had never felt that way about a building until the LNACC. For many it brings a sense of home to our lives. I want people to understand that the LNACC is not just a physical building. It stands for something because of its history. To me, it is home.”
Chris: “When I first came to work at the University of Iowa Libraries a year ago, I heard of the LNACC and became interested in learning more about it. I also wanted to learn more about the history of Latinxs here at the University of Iowa. When Rachel approached me with the opportunity to work on this exhibit and learn about both subjects, I was happy to say yes.”
Why is this exhibition so important, and what is the primary message you’d like visitors to come away with?
Rachel: “The LNACC exhibit tells the story of three individuals, Rusty Barceló, Ruth Pushetonequa, and Antonio Zavala, who put it on their shoulders to create a home on campus not only for them, but any other Latinx and Native American who happened to come to the UI. They could have easily put their heads down, because that’s a lot. Instead they said, ‘No, this isn’t right. We should do something about it.’ The courageous actions of these three people still affect the lives of students, staff, and faculty 50 years later. To me, this is a story that needs to be told and one that the University community should know about.”
Chris: “The history of the LNACC and the impact that Latinxs and Native Americans have had on this institution and this community are powerful stories that need to be told and need to be heard. I hope visitors come away from the exhibit better understanding the experiences of Latinx and Native American students past and present here at the University. I hope that increased understanding can also lead visitors to appreciate the necessity of spaces like the LNACC.”
What is a personal favorite item on display in the exhibition?
Rachel: “The wall depicting the original mural composed of images of students, staff, and faculty starting from the 70’s until now holds a place in my heart. I’ve envisioned the wall from the beginning stages of exhibit planning. The image is a powerful representation that the community served by the LNACC and the LNACC are one.”
Chris: “My two favorite items in the exhibit are the original mural, reconstructed with photos from various eras of the LNACC, and the poem ‘Carta de Iowa’ in the Newsletters section. The mural is great because it allows visitors to see an aspect of the LNACC that hasn’t been visible to this extent for over a decade now. I like the poem so much because it’s so heart-wrenchingly honest. It was left purposefully untranslated, and I hope it inspires visitors to ask fellow visitors about what it means and what it makes them feel.”
What has being involved at the LNACC meant to you?
Rachel: “I’ve seen students, staff and faculty come and go through the center for many years. I’ve seen Latinx and Native American students be upset, worried and angry as they prepare to protest the many injustices we face. I’ve also seen these same communities laugh, dance and celebrate our successes. Through it all I have always felt comfortable and safe at the LNACC. For me, having the LNACC reminds me that I wasn’t born here, I didn’t go to school here, but when I am in the LNACC I know that I belong here, too.”
Chris: “I truly appreciate the fact that there is a place on campus con personas que entienden some of the things you might feel here.”
Is there any key advice you’d give to new Latinx and Native American students on campus?
Rachel: “Visit the LNACC. Meet the students in the various groups. Don’t be afraid to go to social events and meet new people. The LNACC is a safe zone. Hopefully it will bring you a sense of home and familiarity as it has for so many students, faculty, and staff in the past.”
Chris: “Look for groups on campus that sound interesting or relevant to you and reach out to them. There are other people here that are going through things similar to those you’re going through, and most likely they’re in or around those groups as well.”