Looking to the Future with Latinos in Heritage Conservation
This Preservation Month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is celebrating People Saving Places, a national high-five to everyone doing the great work of preserving historic places—in ways big and small—and inspiring others to do the same. Throughout the month we are featuring various organizations and individuals who have been tirelessly doing the work of preservation, particularly in the last two and a half years. We wanted to provide space, a victory lap so to speak, for them to share their successes, challenges, and hopes for the future.
Founded in 2014 by a group of heritage practitioners, advocates, scholars, and students, Latinos in Heritage Conservation (LHC) was founded as a national network to support Latinx preservation efforts in the United States. As of 2021 the focus of the—until recently— all volunteer-run organization has been made up of "a diverse network of intergenerational advocates conserving Latinx sites and living cultures in the fabric of American society, affirming the value of our history in the hemispheric struggle for social justice."
In December 2021, the Mellon Foundation awarded the LHC a $750,000 grant that allowed them to hire their first executive director, Sehila Mota Casper. Casper, who is a historic preservationist and heritage conservationist—and previously a senior field officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation—started in her new role in May 2022. While she is the organization's first executive director, Casper is also one of the original founders of the organization, so to welcome her to her new role, we asked her a few questions about the recent success and future plans for Latinos in Heritage Conservation.
First of all, congratulations! How has the $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation impacted the LHC?
Thank you! We're thrilled about this new chapter! Over the past seven years, our work has been led by extremely dedicated and enthusiastic Board and Committee members. The grant from the Mellon Foundation allowed us to hire me as our first executive director, and we'll grow our office by hiring two more staff members early this summer. Our staff will advocate for the inclusion of Latinx heritage and equitable access to historic preservation at the local, state, and national levels. We’ll also be expanding our programmatic and educational content as we continue to grow our network and build a stronger movement.
As the new (and first) executive director, what is your vision for the organization?
I’m deeply committed to (re)building a preservation culture that is just and inclusive. Historically, Latinx heritage has been misunderstood and disproportionately preserved compared to other ethnic and cultural sites. We'll focus on elevating Latinx communities and push for fundamental transformation in how we as practitioners approach our work. LHC is creating tools to help empower communities throughout the country. We're currently working on our new project, the Abuelas Project, an online platform that will identify, collect, share and democratize histories about places that matter to Latinx communities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. We want to make historic preservation more accessible, giving individuals the information they need to make sure that their history is not lost.
The last two years have been challenging on a variety of different fronts, and yet preservationists continued to work to save the places. Is there a particular moment of victory that LHC would like to highlight from their advocacy and preservation work?
We’re committed to growing LHC’s impact by providing even more resources and opportunities for young people. Our internship program has been a critical part of our mission to support the next generation of Latinx leaders working to save our heritage. During quarantine and as part of our 2020 plan, we launched our internship program in the fall. Our first three interns contributed immensely to our organization, and in the next two years, we’re thrilled to welcome five more fellows to help support our advocacy and educational efforts.
Additionally, LHC is tremendously proud of our former Board member, Sara C. Bronin, for being nominated last year by President Joe Biden for the chairman position of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). We were honored to write a Letter of Support for this nomination and celebrated her last month when she joined us in Denver for our conference. This was a big preservation highlight for me during the pandemic.
You’re answering these questions right after the completion of Congreso your signature conference that is focused explicitly on Latinx Heritage Conservation. What is one thing that excited as you closed out the event?
This past month, we had our fourth biennial Latinx preservation conference, Congreso 2022, in Denver. Feeling the community rally for Latinx preservation as we were closing the event was a big moment. In the closing session, we announced that our next conference will take place in Miami, Florida, in 2024. It was welcomed with robust applause. The energy in the room was palpable, and you could feel the momentum for Latinx preservation.
What brings you hope in terms of the preservation of Latinx Heritage in the United States?
Our members and conference attendees are multi-generational, with nearly half being next-gen changemakers. During Congreso, we had numerous college groups join us from all over the country. They care about their history, communities, and environment and want to be a part of creating change to impact the world positively. The shift in dynamics in leadership roles within historic preservation organizationss and agencies also gives me hope for a more equitable movement.
During the conference, we had Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ), Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee; Sara C. Bronin, ACHP nominee; and David Vela, former Acting Director of the National Park Service, all in one room. Ken Salazar, U.S Ambassador to Mexico and former Secretary of the Interior, and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (NM) joined and addressed our attendees remotely. Seeing the breadth of leaders gives me hope that with new leadership, more Latinx and Indigenous communities will be protected and that we’ll expand the canon of historic preservation as we know it.
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