Over the years, the Boulder Museum has carefully showcased the area’s history. With time capsule-style exhibits, curators capture unparalleled detail to create exhibits that serve to teach, move and inspire.
In February, “Voces Vivas” opened its doors. Anchored by real-life stories and heirlooms, the extensive collection also features works of art in various media by members of the Latin American community.
“A love letter to the Latino communities of Boulder and surrounding areas is exactly what this heartfelt, community-crafted exhibit is all about,” said Lori Preston, Executive Director of the Museum of Boulder.
The organizers worked exclusively with community members to bring their stories and messages to the fore. They called for artists to submit a variety of work and held focus groups to create items that will highlight family legacies.
“Museum staff have done their best to overshadow the voices, aesthetics and desires of the community,” said Emily Zinn, curator at the Museum of Boulder. “Central to this effort was the hiring of one of the original members of the Boulder County Latino History Project Advisory Board, Linda Arroyo-Holmstrom, to lead community outreach and two student curators from the Department of Ethnic Studies from the University of Colorado, Jacqueline Mora Manzo and Betsabet Samarripa. ”
The end result is a vast treasure trove of Latino culture. From seasoned artefacts – direct portals to the past – to new and original works with great significance, the layered exhibition is utterly educational as it is visually moving.
Visitors can revel in sports memorabilia from historians Gabe Lopez and his wife Jody L. Lopez. The couple wrote a book, “From Sugar to Diamonds: Spanish/Mexican Baseball 1925-1969: Stories of the Greeley Grays and the Teams Who Dared to Challenge Them” in 2009.
Worn catcher’s mitts, chest protectors and baseballs from Latino teams fill the tills.
Lopez’s bats from his younger Little League days are part of the collection, along with gear belonging to the men in his family. The Lopezes also handcrafted an intricate model of the Spanish Colony – a small village north of Greeley – which Gabe’s great-grandfather, Ynez Lopez, helped found in the 1920s.
About 45 families lived in the Spanish colony and built their own adobe houses on the land. Residents worked in the sugar beet factory and hit home runs at a nearby baseball diamond they had built.
Additionally, the couple also designed a model of the sugar beet field, a replica of the plot where many Mexicans and Hispanics worked tirelessly, keeping local agriculture alive.
But this slice of history is not without its darkness.
At the time, racism was rampant and some business owners would not allow members of the Spanish Colony to shop or dine at their establishments.
“For me, the process led to a unique type of historical storytelling,” Zinn said. “Linda (Arroyo-Holmstrom) says this is an exhibit with heart, and I really agree. This community has endured and persevered through so much adversity and done so with passion and love. he exhibition manages to contain both truths simultaneously – the difficulties and the joy.It was only possible to convey this spirit because the community came together to lead the exhibition.
One of the highlights of the varied collection is a large Mayan-style temple with plenty of compartments for storing precious items.
“The pyramid is both an ofrenda and a space for community leaders who organized our focus groups to display their own artifacts representing their families,” Zinn said.
The shrine is intentionally left open so visitors can add to the evolving artwork with their own objects that tell stories or act as keepsakes for lost loved ones.
There is also a section of the exhibit that closely mirrors the living room and kitchen of Abelina Muñoz, Justine Vigil-Tapia’s grandmother. The space features the Matriarch’s Rosary and visitors are encouraged to relax on the furniture and soak up the essence of ‘Abuela’s Cocina y Sala’.
“Sometimes people spend an hour sitting on the couch in ‘Abuela’s Casa’ sharing their own family stories with the friends and loved ones they visit,” Zinn said. “There has been a lot of erasing of these stories. We cannot understand our community without learning these stories.
While the warmth of the space evokes a sense of family togetherness and shared meals, visitors will also experience the time when Grandmother Muñoz hid in her home – the lights off – as the Ku Klux Klan wandered through the streets.
“We wanted to bring a specific story to life in a way that would transport visitors to a time and place and make it very personal,” Zinn said.
Among the eye-catching artwork is the work of Denver-based artist David Martinez, a designer known for his colorful paintings of sugar skulls.
“The theme of the exhibition is very close to what I try to create with my paintings,” Martinez said. “I use my art to share my culture with people from all walks of life – to share its beauty, passion and traditions. With my art, I hope to teach, connect and inspire. The best part of being included in this exhibition is to add my voice to this beautiful and powerful living collection.
Martinez pays homage to iconic artist Frida Kahlo in her piece “Porque soy Mexicana”.
His two other paintings in the exhibition, “Justin” and “Soldado”, pay homage to Justin Verdeja, a Mexican-American soldier from California who was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado.
Verdeja died in June 2007 – aged 20 – after being hit by insurgent small arms fire in Baghdad.
“Justin’s mom asked me to paint his portrait and sent me about 30 pictures of him,” Martinez said. “I love painting Day of the Dead images, but painting that of a young man with so much life to live was difficult. Painting his portrait allowed me to pay homage to such a selfless young man with such a beautiful soul. My only hope was to be able to do him justice.
“Voces Vivas” continues to draw crowds eager to learn more.
“It has been indescribably gratifying to see visitors and collaborators share their family stories, represented in the exhibit, with the guests they have brought with them,” said Zinn. “People stand at the wall honoring Latino military veterans from Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont and point to their friends and family members and tell stories about them.”
The exhibit artfully offers an intimate look into the lineage of community members and, in some cases, provides a platform for untold narratives.
“Museums realize that communities can tell their own stories,” said Linda Arroyo-Holmstrom, senior community curator at Voces Vivas. “The authenticity and sincerity of what is meaningful and relevant is exhibited. It’s an amazing collaboration of storytelling by historic Latino families, community members, and the Boulder Museum.
The exhibition runs until February 26, 2023, allowing organizers to hopefully create a series of activities that keep the conversation going.
“We want to spread the word, that the museum invites the Latino community in particular to create the events, workshops and experiences over the next year,” Preston said.
Preston sees the space as accommodating everything from musical performances to family gatherings and would be honored to see some of these events take shape in the coming months.
“This exhibit reminds us of the proud roots, traditions, culture and language of Boulder County’s Latin American community,” Arroyo-Holmstrom said. “It recognizes the sacrifices that have been made by generations before us for a better life for future generations.”
The Boulder Museum is open daily, except Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8-$10.
“A unique Boulder County story is in sight, one that has long been overlooked,” Arroyo-Holmstrom said. “It’s an interactive experience that is engaging, informative and reflects a beautifully rich community with enduring resilience.”