Art Works Blog

Crossroads of Culture and Creativity: Exploring the National Hispanic Cultural Center

The National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a “hidden gem,” said Valerie Martínez, the center’s director of History and Literature. Located on a beautiful 20-acre campus, the center is dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and advancement of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities. The center, which is a division of the State of New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, hosts over 720 events and approximately 280,000 visitors each year.

According to Martínez, with whom we spoke by telephone, the center “brings about a community and a sense of belonging” for those who visit. “[I]t is a place where we can investigate and learn about the deep complexity about what it means to be American and Latino, Hispanic, and Native. Everybody is welcome here—our patrons and our visitors are really very diverse,” she elaborated.

The NHCC is using its first-ever grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support two separate activities around Latinx literature. The first is the National Latinx Writers Conference, which gives Latinx writers a dedicated space in which to engage in dialogue about their concerns and needs. The conference will also help to build a national network of advocates for Latinx literature, while also encouraging individual and collective wellbeing of the group. Martínez described the overall goal of the conference as providing a critical space for Latinx writers to validate their own and their peers’ voices, similar to the way the National Black Writers Conference and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop provide that environment to African-American and Asian-American writers, respectively.

“We sent out a survey and asked our writers ‘What do they want from this?’ Everyone but one who took the survey found this conference to be absolutely necessary,” said Martinez. “There are many Latinx writers who feel isolated across the country. They said over and over again, ‘We want a place where we can go to feel a sense of community among writers and we hope this program can achieve this.”

Another goal of the conference is to advocate for the publication of more Latinx writers. The Latinx diaspora is an ever-increasing community in the United States, with some estimates stating it will be the largest racial identity group in the United States by 2050, a year when the majority of the population will be identifying as “minority.” Martínez finds the size of the community is not balanced with the number of books that are published by that community. “We need to come together on the national level to support Latinx writers and push to publish their work,” she said.

The NHCC is also using its Arts Endowment grant to supporting readers as well as writers. The center’s Bilingual Children’s Book Festival—the first of its kind in the country—brings children of all cultures together to be in the company of books in a number of languages, including English, Spanish, and indigenous languages. This festival aims to help children reflect on their own cultural heritage and connect them meaningfully to others. Martínez explained, “There [are] not enough bilingual children’s books that are on par with how the population is changing, so… it is crucial to have bilingual book festivals for children. It is a way for them to see themselves in literature.” She mentioned that when children do not see themselves represented in literature it can create a sense that their culture is not important. Martinez noted, however, that there is a greater sense of identity and belonging among children when they do read books about their culture and she hears many children say this is an extremely important part of this festival.

“[T]oday, children’s books are taking on those complex conversations, including immigration…. It is just a field ripe for feeding our children what they need to learn and addressing those complex issues our children are being born into. They are born into and living in a culture with a lot of conflict and a lot of divisive rhetoric. A good children’s book [is] where that dialogue can happen,” Martinez said.

Martínez acknowledged the importance of support from the National Endowment for the Arts in making both of these complementary projects possible. “Federal grants demonstrate a dedication on the federal level to our Latinx community and to our Hispanic community and to our programs,” she said. “[This grant] shows us that you care and are both willing to support and care for our literary community.”


Add new comment