The Manitos Digital Community Archive is an ongoing initiative to develop a community-based digital archive focused on the rural Indo-Hispano villages of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Natives of this region—who often call themselves manitos and manitas from the Spanish hermano—are a population whose ancestors include both Native Americans and Spanish/Mexican settlers who arrived in the region in 1598. In 2020, the project faced the dual challenges of COVID-19 and a gap in the funding cycle. An NEH CARES grant provided the financial means for the project to continue its story-gathering and community engagement work.
“We’re always striving to make the archives useful and meaningful for people....The NEH allowed us to deepen that work.”
–Estevan Rael-Gálvez, project director
New Mexico Highlands University students talk about the work they did for the Manitos Digital Community Archive cuadernos project
After initial planning in 2017 and 2018, the Manitos project began in 2019 with in-person outreach to culture bearers—librarians, small museum curators, community center staff and others—with the goal of creating a network throughout the region committed to the project’s goals. When the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to such gatherings, NEH funding allowed the Manitos archive to maintain and deepen those relationships. “The pandemic relief grant helped us continue to engage and support our partners and kept them engaged in the project,” said project director Estevan Rael-Gálvez in 2021. Thanks to an innovative partnership with the New Mexico Humanities Council, community partners built digital skills from home through a series of remote training sessions.
The NEH also supported the development of new projects that responded directly to the pandemic. Chief among these was an effort to collect stories: contemporary ones about how people were navigating the COVID-19 health crisis as well as historical ones about the 1918 flu pandemic. The project team organized some of these stories into a series of digital cuadernos, or journals, which were designed by Media Arts students from New Mexico Highlands University. Each cuaderno focused on a different aspect of life under the pandemic—for example, the challenges of pregnancy and new motherhood under stay-at-home orders. “We’re always striving to make the archives useful and meaningful for people,” Rael-Gálvez said. “The NEH allowed us to deepen that work.”