Monday, November 15, 2010

Nueva York: An Exhibit

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this npr story about a museum exhibit that traces Hispanic influences on the city of New York since the 1600's. The exhibition is titled 'Nueva York' and is being put on display at El Museo del Barrio where it was put together partly with the assistance of the New York Historical Society. The following quote taken from the show highlights an important aspect of the 'Nueva York' display, “The exhibition doesn't just look back, it has this prediction for the future: Get ready America, you're gonna be a Spanish speaking nation before the end of the 21st century.” The rest of the interview gives very broad and general tidbits such as: 1. 'Hispanics' have become the largest minority in the U.S. 2. Immigration from Latin America has been underrated. 3. Contrary to popular belief, the first Hispanic came from 'Hispañola' in 1613.

Of course, I thought that all these small facts were interesting and amusing. But, what can we really make of this exhibition and especially the way that npr chooses to broadcast it? What struck me most was the interchangeable use of 'Latino' and 'Hispanic' to refer to immigration from the general area around/below the United States. This would probably include, Central and Latin America, Mexico and a bunch of islands here and there. The lack of precision while referring to 'Hispanic' immigration from 'Hispañola' serves to homogenize a large group of people both linguistically and spatially. Where exactly is this place called 'Hispañola'? I have no idea! It very well could be Spain.

This exhibition does two things: First, it looks at America's Hispanic past. 2. It also predicts the future. In doing so, 'Nueva York' looks at 'Hispanic'/'Latino' immigration on a linear time scale, in terms of past, present and future. In its attempt to make 'Latino' visible, the exhibit overwhelmingly dehistoriczes 'Latinos' from their own distinct pasts. Yes, this exhibition is an informative one. However, I noticed that its exposition just plays on the same old stereotypes we encounter while talking/reading about 'latinos' and 'hispanics'. These two categories are ambiguous and meaningless primarily because they do not represent much...except maybe, a vast generalization for a large group of people who at this current moment, are the center of a lot of political stigma. I realize that I haven't seen this exhibition myself, but its discussion on npr suggests that it draws on several controlling images of Latinos. One of the most common ways of grouping all Latinos together is by referring to 'their' supposedly universal language: Spanish. Furthermore, the prediction that United States will be a Spanish speaking country is definitely interesting because we don't really get any reactions from such a bold statement. I mean, is it something to fear? Does this mean the U.S. will be majority Latino? What significance does this prediction have anyway, other than spreading fear in the hearts of conservative 'WASP's in charge of immigration reform? One may argue, that a conglomeration of different 'Latinos' in the U.S. will lead to more political activism, visibility and political candidates who pay attention to their 'Latino' constituency.

Check the story out:

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