Latino shares vision of cultural center

New vision is coming to National Hispanic Cultural Center — a.k.a. ‘la resolana’
By David Alire Garcia, New Mexico Independent, 7/6/09

Estevan Rael-Galvez PhotoDr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez won’t officially move into his new Barelas office as the next executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) until July 25.

But in an interview for this past weekend’s New Mexico In Focus, Rael-Gálvez gave a preview of his vision for the Albuquerque-based campus — and plenty of historical and cultural insight to boot.

“We are in the process of becoming a people,” Rael-Gálvez, the New Mexico state historian since 2001, said of Hispanics today. “We are not static pieces.”

Rael-Gálvez will replace Eduardo Díaz, who left the NHCC last December to become director of the Smithsonian Latino Center in Washington, D.C.

During a tour of the NHCC campus,Rael-Gálvez said he sees the center — with its museum, research center, education building and state-of-the-art performing arts center — contributing to a culture with “a living presence,” examining “a changing landscape, dealing with contemporary issues.”

Rael-Gálvez’s own biography speaks to that changing landscape. The son of a Costilla and Questa farmer/rancher who is “still out there to this day irrigating the alfalfas and herding sheep,” he opted for a career rooted the library versus the land.

From northern Taos County, he went on to the University of California-Berkeley for undergraduate studies, and then the University of Michigan for graduate studies. At Michigan, his doctoral thesis focused on New Mexico’s colonial and territorial history, particularly Native American slavery during that time.

“In many ways I was a bad farmer. That’s what brought me to this point,” Rael-Gálvez said with a laugh.

The 15-minute video above begins in the center’s torreón, or watch tower, and the epic fresco being painted inside by Santa Fe artist Frederico Vigil.

Calling it “a magnificent work in progress,” Rael-Gálvez added that the sweeping story of Hispanic history and culture as told through a chaotic mix of brightly colored images – millennia in the making — “gives up glimpses and pieces of that history.”

Rael-Gálvez quoted Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano to sharpen the point:

Identity is no museum piece sitting stock still under a piece of glass. It is instead the astonishing synthesis of the contradictions of everyday life.

He added, “And even though this will be a museum piece, I think it points to all of those contractions. We are Africa, we are Native America, we are all these migrations, the science, the development. We are all of these things all at once.”
A small portion of the NHCC's torreon fresco by artist Federico Vigil, expected to be finished later this year.

A small portion of the NHCC's torreon fresco by artist Federico Vigil, expected to be finished later this year.

The massive fresco, eight years in the making, includes provocative glimpses of European, African and Asian connections, as well as distinctly American images, like the feathered serpent of the ancient city of Teotihuacan.

According to the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the center, roughly 125,000 people passed through the NHCC doors last year.

And in the years ahead, the soon-to-be former state historian revealed that he would like to see the NHCC develop an art institute, even a policy institute.

Those are ambitious goals for a center that Rael-Gálvez compared to a resolana, or the sunny room in a house where ideas are born.

“This place is an amazing resolana,” he said near the end of the interview. “It’s where wisdom can gather. It’s where knowledge and performance and creativity can gather.”

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