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Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos
Creating Cultural Citizenship and Identity
Jeniffer L. Guajardo
Figure 1. Guajardo boxing and labeling
museum artifacts.
Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos (Hispanic Cultural Center of San Marcos) was
founded in 2010 to give the Mexican American community a space to celebrate their culture and
venerate their heritage.1 The mission of non-profit Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos,
hereafter referred to as Centro Cultural, is to serve the community in “the preservation,
development, promotion, and celebration of the Hispanic arts, culture, heritage, and values”
( Centro Cultural seeks to fulfill this overall goal of cultivating and
protecting a Hispanic identity through a variety of community programs and involvement,
including museum participation and artistic expression. My report will discuss my experiences as
For the purposes of this paper, the term “Hispanic” will be used (as Centro Cultural does) referring to that which
is Mexican American, not necessarily including or excluding other Latin cultures.
an intern for Centro Cultural and the methods I observed by which the organization seeks to recreate a Hispanic identity—through community involvement and ownership.
Internship: Observing Outreach Strategies
I began my internship at Centro Cultural with the goal of learning and practicing museum
curatorial skills. However, over the course of my internship term, I was able to shadow some of
the central administrators and learned much about management and outreach strategies. My
duties, outside of museum arrangements and artifact management, were to assist with event
planning and advertising. Many of my tasks during my internship, both for the museum and for
events, dealt with linking Centro Cultural’s mission (of cultivating and protecting Hispanic
identity) to its audiences and their needs.
Centro Cultural: Cultivating and Protecting Ethnic Identity
Centro Cultural makes great efforts to unify the Hispanic community of San Marcos.
However, there are several challenges: what is Hispanic culture and identity and how can the
“Hispanic” community be encouraged to take up that identity, to gain ethnic pride? In this
regard, Centro Cultural’s efforts face some serious obstacles.
Current generation Hispanics can be Mexican “border-crossers” or sixth generation
Americans, fluent Spanish speakers or not, dark or fair skinned, among many other things.
Finding a shared common ground that encompasses all of these features becomes necessary for
organizations like Centro Cultural who seek to service a disparate community in which members
fall along continuums and may contradict “traditional” stereotypes. For Hispanics, common
ground is found in a history of marginalization.
William V. Flores and Rina Benmayor identify a predicament shared by Hispanics as
minorities within their social and government system—a sense of being nomadic and of not
belonging in the United States:
Latinos are outsiders in their own homeland. They are considered foreigners
and immigrants, even when they hold legal citizenship by birth… Even
[Latinos, that can] trace their ancestry and citizenship in the United States
back for many generations, often feel rejected as full and equal citizens.
This grim reality, however, has been met with response by minorities nationwide. A new
phenomenon, which Renato Rosaldo (1997) calls “cultural citizenship,” empowers those without
dominant group defenses and privileges.
Cultural Citizenship: Establishing a Difference, Demanding Equality
The term cultural citizenship refers to the actions a minority group takes to establish
social authority and rights within a wider, dominant-group context, in this case, America.
Rosaldo states an example of a Hispanic cultural unveiling in the Californian city of San Jose;
the unveiling the Quetzalcóatl statue was a form of “cultural expression to claim public rights
and recognition… [transforming the] voiceless vulnerable individual to full-fledged citizen”
(1997:36-37). Flores and Benmayor (1997) argue further that establishing cultural citizenship
positively affects how a group may view itself in contrast to negative, outside views. Gloria
Anzaldúa, who addresses this issue of identity, quotes Gershen Kaufman:
Identity is the essential core of who we are as individuals, the conscious
experience of the self inside. (1999:84)
For the participants and founders of Centro Cultural, there is an imperative quest for
attaining respect and equality in cultural difference (Silvestrini, 1999:39). The first step to this is
establishing cultural citizenship by encouraging pride in heritage—a form of creating a unified
identity for Mexican Americans of San Marcos, especially for those who feel disconnected from
their ethnic roots. The following paragraphs will describe how Centro Cultural employs two
tools, community involvement and ownership, to create an identity and, ultimately, cultural
Through participation and a sense of ownership (as created by providing narratives or
artifacts to the museum, for example), the people of the community are invited to share ideas,
experiences, and values that when put together construct a unified identity. One way to look at
this is by recognizing that the people are Centro Cultural. The center simply provides a location
for ethnic identity to be celebrated, valued, and respected—the people being served by Centro
Cultural do the majority of the work. They are both the audience and the providers of funding,
goals, and purpose to Centro Cultural.
Upon beginning my internship, I was repeatedly told that Centro Cultural was more than
a museum; it is also a learning and growing cell of community involvement. Examples of this are
seen throughout Centro Cultural: the art painted by local Mexican American artists depicting
deep-rooted themes; the events organized by volunteer citizens; the artifacts donated by the
community; and the activities like ballet folklorico and myth story-telling, which re-invent, recreate, and re-teach Mexican American traditions to the people of San Marcos.
Community involvement is also facilitated by creating a sense of ownership for the
community through formal membership. There are two ways, specifically, that Centro Cultural
offers formal membership. The first type of membership is offered when a special donation is
made and has ranks from “Friend” to “Patron” of Centro Cultural. The second type of
membership is labeled “Amiga del Centro” (Friend of Centro), is exclusively for women, and
involves annual sponsorship for Centro Cultural. Although these women are not directly
compensated in return, The Amigas del Centro are a major funding and success component for
the center.
The museum constitutes another major component that fosters a sense of ownership for
the community. During my interviews with one of the founders, I found that there was no other
Hispanic center in San Marcos before Centro Cultural, no other place where Hispanics could
learn about themselves. The museum is thus a very important feature of Centro Cultural. Almost
all the museum artifacts are donated by local citizens who also offer their historical narratives
(histories, experiences, realizations). In this way, the Mexican American community holds claim
to all the knowledge found in the museum and is able to create a history and identity for itself (as
opposed to one created by an outsider). An example is a current display I set up focusing on the
creation of American GI Forum. The material was all gathered and put together by some
community volunteers, highlighting what they believed to be note-worthy successes by their
Hispanic predecessors.
Figure 2. Luera art depicts a blend of cultural and artistic
styles and themes.
Featured artists also facilitate the creation of a self-identity. Current artwork by Ignacio
Luera and Martin Rodriguez, for example, blend together Chicano, Mayan, and Aztec styles and
themes, resulting in a new, mixed version of Hispanic identity… one that, as I mentioned before,
encompasses (and commemorates) all features and natures of the Mexican American people. For
example, Figure 2 is “Indio” (Indian) by Luera and combines contemporary graffiti styles, such
as intense street art colors and letters, with traditional motifs—a warrior, the eagle, the man in
the sun. He has represented a version of Hispanic identity (ambiguous in form) as he has
perceived it being a Hispanic person in the United States. Now, everyone who sees this painting
may also choose to share in that identity Luera has re-invented, a “neo-Indio” identity, so to
Creating a unified identity is a step in achieving cultural citizenship in the United States.
Respecting one’s own cultural differences and claiming a social space in this country, as authors
like Flores and Benmayor note, allow for outsiders to not only accept, but also appreciate (or
learn to appreciate) diversity. Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos makes moves for Hispanic
cultural citizenship by encouraging pride in identity by allowing all types of participants to, in a
way, create and own that shared identity. I close with a quote from Gloria Anzaldúa, which I
believe sums up both the challenges and wonders in claiming the Mexican American identity:
Being Mexican is a state of soul… we do not mean citizens of Mexico, we do
not mean a national identity… The new [Mexican] copes by developing a
tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. [They learn] to be an
Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view. [They
learn] to juggle cultures… nothing rejected, nothing abandoned. (1999:84101)
Anzaldúa, Gloria
1999 Borderlands—La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos
N.d. Mission. Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos.,
accessed December 9, 2014.
Flores, William V. with Rina Benmayor
1997 Introduction. In Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights.
William V. Flores and Rina Benmayor, eds. Boston: Beacon Press.
Rosaldo, Renato
1997 Cultural Citizenship, Inequality, and Multiculturalism. In Latino Cultural
Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights. William V. Flores and Rina
Benmayor, eds. Pp. 27-38. Boston: Beacon Press.
Silvestrini, Blanca G.
1997 The World We Enter When Claiming Rights: Latinos and Their Quest for Culture.
In Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights. William V. Flores
and Rina Benmayor, eds. Pp. 39. Boston: Beacon Press.