Esther Mares is a CLACS graduate who is now a Collections Assistant at the Tribute World Trade Center Visitor Center.
Esther graduated in January 2012 with an MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies with a concentration in museum studies. She landed a job in her field before she even completed her last semester.
Esther came to NY from Las Vegas, New Mexico, and where studied archaeology and Spanish at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She has also previously interned at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
At CLACS, her MA thesis investigated the Museum of the City of Las Vegas and its role in producing local culture and Hispanic narratives. While at CLACS she also interned at the Rubin Museum and the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY).
Mom and Dad, my research assistants and inspiration!
Since I’ve arrived in New Mexico four weeks ago, my topic has been continually shifting and evolving. I knew coming home to do my research might be challenging but I never anticipated how difficult the process would be. Not only am I faced with the daily distractions of a large and close family, but the pressure of writing about my own hometown continually hangs over me.
Las Vegas, the town I’m primarily focusing my research on, is historically one of the most influential towns in Northern New Mexico. It is also the town I call home, and my family has inhabited for over 125 years. Now, Las Vegas is an often forgotten town, its legacy swept away with the memories of the wild western frontier. Ever since I moved to the east coast I’m continually faced with the question “Where are you from?” People are continually surprised to learn that there is another Las Vegas about 700 miles east and more than 75 years older than the Strip. Furthermore, people are continually confused by my claims to be “Hispanic, or Latino” yet American.
A look down historic Bridge Street in Down Town Las Vegas
The culture of Northern New Mexico is unique in having little if any influence from recent immigrants, which many Americans associate Hispanics and Latinos with. But the cultural practices and lifeways of Northern New Mexicans aren’t based on any one race, yet a strong and old heritage passed down through generations. Growing up in a town modeled in Spanish Colonial style yet fueled by a true mix of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American traditions, I grew up with a strong sense of my cultural heritage but a lack of a term to define myself. As people ask me to explain this, I find myself struggling defend myself, and really trying to legitimize an entire culture that should be able to stand on its own. Why is it that this culture is lost to the rest of the world? The truth is that this culture is slowly being lost to itself. Talking to people from my hometown I’ve come to find a lack of interest in our history and traditions met with an increasing concern for the ways in which people are engaged in their own history. It is my belief that museums are a vital part of keeping people interested in their history as well as informing others. The National Museum of the American Indian features various Native American groups from New Mexico. If the proposed National Museum of the American Latino opens, this is where Northern New Mexicans can teach the world about their history while instilling pride in their decedents. Surprisingly, many people who work daily with projects to promote and preserve Las Vegas history and culture were unaware of the debate surrounding the National Museum of the American Latino or even its existence as an initiative. It is my hope that I can help to bridge this gap through my research and writing. In the coming week I will be interviewing several historians, activists, and community members to find out how they feel about preserving Northern New Mexico culture and identity through a national museum.
Posted by Esther Elyse Mares — MA Candidate in CLACS/Museum Studies atNYU
A few days after arriving in New Mexico, I sat down to talk with a local historian and later an archivist at the state’s oldest museum. Both the historian and archivist were pessimistic about the possibility of finding any support for my topic. Determined, I spent days in the archive pouring over historical documents of the museum’s history until I realized for myself that I was looking for a missing history even though I knew it wasn’t there. The overwhelming realization set in: my topic was too broad, too unclear, and I was very lost.
I decided to take a few days off to reorganize my thoughts in Las Vegas, NM with the comfort of family and familiarity. In a local restaurant I learned about an upcoming event, an “Academic Panel,” featuring New Mexican and Chicano legends, Reies Lopez Tijerina and Dolores Huerta. I attended the event in hopes of finding inspiration. The event was less academic and more so fanatic.
As I listened to speech after speech about Land Grants, the commodification of water, and the overwhelming loss of land, I noticed a reoccurring concern: the lack of knowledge of these histories among the youth in the state. This thought troubled me as I realized how little even I knew about the history of Land Grants and how the common Hispanic population of the state was affected. How could someone like me, who frequents museums in the state, took courses in New Mexico history in school, and is a member of a proud Hispanic family know so little about such a common and important history? Continue reading