In our conversation with the marketing and communications director at History Colorado, Shadia Lemus, we learned why it’s probably time for Hispanic Heritage Month to adopt a new name and how we can celebrate Colorado’s Hispanic and Latino heritage year-round.
1. Tell us about yourself. How did you make your way to History Colorado?
I’m a second-generation Mexican-American Latina originally from Northern California and lived there until I moved to Colorado Springs when I was 12 years old. Now, I’ve lived in Colorado for 30 years, spending the last 17 years in marketing and communication. I eventually found my way to the arts and culture field, earning a highly competitive position at the Denver Art Museum. While there, I was fortunate to work on diverse and interesting exhibitions, including the wildly popular “Star Wars and the Power of Costume” and one of their most highly attended fashion exhibitions, “Dior: From Paris to the World.” The number of opportunities and jobs in the arts and culture field are fairly limited, so when I saw the opening at History Colorado, the intriguing opportunity to focus on statewide work drew me in.
2. Can you share more about History Colorado and your role there?
History Colorado consists of eight museums across the state, including the state of Colorado’s Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. We foster a culture of understanding, preserve the physical, cultural and emotional places important to our communities, and share the diverse history that makes Colorado special. I lead a team of dynamic marketing and communications professionals in Denver and Pueblo who communicate and coordinate projects and exhibits statewide. Of course, one of my main goals is to help ensure that people of all diverse backgrounds see themselves reflected in our state’s history when they walk through the doors of one of our museums or access content digitally.
3. What does National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrate?
Well, first things first, History Colorado is one of the first organizations to adopt the change from Hispanic Heritage Month to Latino Heritage Month. We made the decision to change this month’s commemoration to Latino Heritage Month as the term “Hispanic” pertains to Spanish-speaking countries and is often seen as Eurocentric. “Latino” is more all-encompassing of individuals and regions of Latin America, making it more inclusive of those living in the U.S. and our beautiful state of Colorado.
With this in mind, Latino Heritage Month celebrates all things Hispanic, Latino, Hispano, Chicano and Latinx. Everything from where you’re from, the language, history, culture, and achievements and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States. It’s a celebration of these diverse people and something History Colorado strives to do all year.
4. What might people not know about Hispanic and Latino heritage in Colorado?
People who are moving to Colorado or who may not be familiar with our history are surprised to learn that Colorado was Mexico before it was Colorado or even the United States. Many southern Colorado families have been there for generations and have a storied history of what it’s like to live in that area.
At the El Pueblo History Museum in Pueblo, the “Borderlands of Southern Colorado” exhibition showcases how the Arkansas River in Colorado (or Rio Nepesta) once shaped the border between the United States and Mexico. A focal piece is a display of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the 1848 treaty that ended the Mexican-American War. The treaty ended the border dispute conflict and moved the political border between the United States and Mexico from the Arkansas River to the Rio Grande. However, it did not shift the language, indigenous and geological borders already taking shape. In moving this border, the treaty impacted the lives of families who still consider southern Colorado home. A reproduction of three pages of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo is still on view in the exhibition at the El Pueblo History Museum.
5. How can Coloradans celebrate Latino Heritage Month? How can we celebrate Hispanic heritage all year long?
Another key distinction we’ve made at History Colorado is creating a dedicated resource for Latino History & Heritage, available all year round. This is a content shift that I proposed to our executive director, and I’m delighted to share that additional pages spotlighting more diverse voices and histories will soon follow throughout the next year.
Additionally, Latino heritage and history are everywhere. Take a look around—you’ll see it in textile goods, public art and cuisine. We want to make culture and history accessible for all Coloradans to see. I encourage everyone to be open to diverse narratives and perspectives. There’s power in conversation and knowledge. Take the time to visit with your neighbors, support Latino businesses and spend time at cultural institutions. Culture and heritage are not something we should consider occasionally—they’re woven into our daily lives.
6. How do you personally celebrate Colorado’s rich and diverse Hispanic heritage?
I celebrate my Latina heritage every day. It’s a part of my life, my roots and part of my core values. My first language is Spanish, and I learned English as a child. Kids are often the generational and cultural bridge in bilingual families. I was that bond for grandparents as I was growing up—as I often went with them to the store or doctor’s appointments to help connect those languages and cultures. Whenever I’m out in public, I never hesitate to speak in Spanish, even though I’ve always been mistaken as being Asian, so people find it surprising when I switch languages. It’s really all about being kind and serving my community.
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