A weekend of panel discussions and workshops promises to show locals how to document and save important information about their communities.

Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies (CENTRO) is sponsoring a three-day weekend of community archiving that will show participants the power and importance of safeguarding everyday histories. 

The “Preserving Our Heritage: A weekend of community archiving at CENTRO” symposium will be held at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work auditorium (2180 3rd Ave., Manhattan) from Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, through Saturday, Nov. 11. 

The event will start with a virtual keynote featuring CENTRO’s new director, Dr. Yomaira Figueroa-Vásquez, and Joy Bivins, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in a conversation moderated by University of Connecticut Professor Briona Jones. The three women will talk about what archiving entails, why it is important for individual families, and what it can mean for the larger community. 

On Friday, Nov. 10, participants can listen in on several discussions about archiving, copyrighting materials, and preserving artworks with representatives from the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Whitney Museum of American Art, En Foco, Volunteers Lawyers for the Arts, and more. 

Saturday, Nov. 11, will allow participants to begin learning how to archive and digitize papers, photographs, or letters with the assistance of CENTRO Archives staff and members of the heritage preservation group, XFR Collective.

“In the case of this event, what we’re looking to do is to bring the archival practice back to the people, instead of just holding that near and dear to our chest,” said Cristina Fontánez Rodríguez, CENTRO’s archival collections manager. “To give people more agency and to demystify the process of archiving, [because] it can be very overwhelming, we put together a program that was meant not for academics and not for other archivists or people in the information field, but more for people who have their own collections that they want to archive, or they want to start documenting.”

The symposium is free and open to the public. Those interested in taking part can register for in person or virtual attendance on CENTRO’s webpage. The event is part of CENTRO’s celebration of Puerto Rican Heritage Month, which is this November, but the panels and workshop are open to people from all communities. 

Fontánez Rodríguez noted that, “for a very, very long time, there has been a prescriptive idea of what is historically important, which, in turn, shapes what ends up in archives and publications and films and documentaries, et cetera, and that’s usually the stories of white, straight men. 

“Now we’re looking at this new model––and not just here, but for a long time in the archives community, we’ve been looking at this model that kind of wants to reframe that thinking of what is historically valuable.” 

Items like photographs, meeting minutes from local groups, documentation concerning neighborhood projects, local artwork, and unpublished materials can be important for archives. “But it’s very subjective,” Fontánez Rodríguez said. “Archives are not neutral and people are not neutral entities, so what we wanted to take back to the community in terms of a message is that your story is important, beyond you. For example, when we talk about family papers: a photograph of your family on a vacation that you took or during a day in the park, you may think they’re only valuable to you because they have sentimental value. But in reality, that is documentation of a family––of what a family can look like, of the type of fashions of the time period, of what a space looked like, of what the inside of a home looked like. And that has a lot of different tentacles into different kinds of fields, from art to interior design to sociology. 

“With this event at CENTRO, we’re trying to communicate [that] your family stories or your personal story is not just about you, but it’s about your space and time in society.”

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