Collecting the Stories of Rhode Island's Latino Community
Since 1991, Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA) has collected the stories, photos, and documents of the state’s Latino community to preserve their shared history and heritage. With support from the NEH, RILA has created the first publicly-accessible community archive on Latino history in Rhode Island. This archive is also creating opportunities for partnerships and projects across the state to interpret and celebrate the Latino community.
After many years collecting oral histories, an NEH Common Heritage grant helped RILA purchase equipment and host digitization events for community members to preserve their family photographs, personal papers, business documents, and objects. These materials were then used to create a visual complement to the oral history archive. Project Director Marta V. Martínez finds education about archival practices to be a key component of this work. While many people assume their stories or documents are not significant, these projects help to communicate to their community that they can serve as a means of passing on and linking their shared history and heritage.
Continued NEH support has allowed for more story collection and engagement opportunities for community members and community partnerships. RILA expanded its reach by training local preservation students in community-based story collection and archiving. One student, who was initially unsure of what was possible with her cultural preservation degree, found her experience with RILA transformative in learning for the first time how preservation could be used to serve her own community. And the excitement generated through RILA has cultivated partnerships with other community organizations. Dramatic readings and monologues based on the stories collected, traveling exhibitions, and public art are among the many projects that this ongoing effort has made way for to celebrate Rhode Island’s Latino heritage.