By Published: Jan. 16, 2019

A collaborative, grassroots initiative is making hundreds of years of Latino history and culture in Colorado more visible and accessible.

Three CU Boulder seniors interning with the Latino History Project (LHP) are helping to document and preserve the past and making the historical information available online to the public and for use by teachers in their classrooms.

 Esmeralda Castillo-Cobian, Diana Bustamante-Aguilar, Marjorie McIntosh and Cecilia Donovan.)

Senior students and Distinguished Professor of History Emerita, from left to right, Esmeralda Castillo-Cobian, Diana Bustamante-Aguilar, Marjorie McIntosh and Cecilia Donovan

Diana Bustamante-Aguilar, who is studying history with minors in ethnic studies and Spanish, Esmeralda Castillo-Cobian, an ethnic studies major, and Cecilia Donovan, who is majoring in history are gathering information about Pueblo, Trinidad and Alamosa. All are future teachers. Bustamante-Aguilar and Castillo-Cobian will be student teaching this spring. Donovan is finishing her honors thesis in history. She will graduate in the spring and will work towards her master’s in education. All are future teachers pursuing their teacher licensure through the School of Education.

“I think it is important to write Latino people into history,” Castillo-Cobian said. “It is especially important in the world we live in where we receive a myriad of news, images and views about Latino people that are based on stereotypes and very skewed. 

“This project has allowed us the opportunity to, in a way, rewrite history, my people’s history, to serve as a counter story to the images we receive every day,” she said. “Even more powerful is the ability for teachers to present this work to their students.” 

The Latino History Project is a spinoff of the Boulder County Latino History Project (BCLHP), the original grassroots effort to record and share the under-told stories of Latinos in Boulder County. BCLHP was launched in 2013 with 15 interns and 85 community members gathering about 1,600 primary sources, including oral history interviews, family biographies and photos, newspaper material and quantitative information about schoolchildren, immigration and employment. 

The BCLHP created extensive online resources for teachers and runs training workshops on how to use them. Teachers have prepared 80 lesson plans for all ages and subject areas showing how material about Latinos can be used in the classroom. They are all available at the Boulder County Latino History website. BCLHP recently launched a new website with the Pueblo, Trinidad and the Alamosa resources.

“I think this kind of work is very important, especially (as) the daughter of immigrants because it can be alienating for students to not see themselves reflected in their curriculum,” Bustamante-Aguilar said. “It is important for students to know that people from their community made an impact in their town or in their state. It allows people to feel a sense of belonging and pride. As a history student, doing this project has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the kind of work I could be doing and how impactful it can be to people around me.”

Restoring Latino voices

Marjorie McIntosh, Distinguished Professor of History Emerita, is the leading light of the LHP’s work in southern Colorado. 

“For the members of the Latino community, there’s a real sense that their experiences are not fully represented in history books and what is taught in schools,” McIntosh said. “If we don’t make a deliberate effort now to record the voices of people, to hear their stories, to keep the photos and the newspaper articles about them, that history will be lost.”

The success of the BCLHP project led to inquiries from other areas in Colorado wanting to partner with them on a similar project. McIntosh talked with Latino leaders and organizations about collaborating on a community-based local history project. Starting in 2016, the Latino History Project was launched for Pueblo, Alamosa and Trinidad. The project involves gathering and preserving information from primary sources, creating databases of quantifiable primary sources and holding workshops for teachers, students and community members.

In addition to the three student interns, five CU Boulder faculty members have participated with the LHP project, as well as scores of pre-K-12 educators and students, policymakers and community leaders.

“For Latino students, it is a time to see themselves, their culture and their stories reflected in some way and therefore gain knowledge and power in knowing they are being represented,” Castillo-Cobian said. “Empowering Latino youth is critical in a time when most schools have a large Latino population.

“As a future educator, I strive to use the resources that this project has exposed me to in order to ensure I am an avenue by which all types of students can learn about Latino people and start to reshape how we value Latino people in our society,” she said.

Support for the LHP has come from a number of sources, including CU Boulder’s Office for Outreach and Engagement, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Bueno Center for Multicultural Education, foundations, family groups and individuals.

Going back centuries

In each city, McIntosh and the student interns work with members of the Latino community, and local museums and libraries to gather information about their history and heritage, and then post it to the LHP website. The materials are divided into several topics, such as veterans, children, women, civil rights activism and unions. 

Most written histories mention Latinos only in passing, and minimal credit has been given to the importance of their contributions to the economic development of those areas. Colorado has a rich and vibrant Latino heritage that goes back 100 years in Boulder and 200 to 400 years in the southern part of Colorado, said McIntosh, who also spearheaded the BCLHP. 

For Latino students, it’s easier to develop a positive identity and pride for their culture when they learn about the people who once lived and worked in their communities. 

Working on this project has opened Donovan’s eyes to what she didn’t see in school.

“I realized that I’d never processed that other people didn’t have their history represented in school,” said Donovan, a non-Latino. “Now I’m helping make those histories available to people, because it hadn’t previously been. If you don’t understand history, you can’t understand where society is going. If you don’t understand your roots, how can you make an educated decision about your future? We can’t let kids graduate without knowing where they came from. History is just so important.”

Response from the communities has been overwhelmingly positive. People find it empowering to make their voices heard and to see their heritage finally being made visible, honored and respected.

A two-day workshop is scheduled Feb. 8 and 15 for K-12 teacher in Pueblo. Donovan, Bustamante-Aguilar and Castillo-Cobian will present their work. They will also show teachers how the materials can be used in the classroom.

“Latinos have been an essential ingredient of Colorado’s history right from the beginning, but the sources are not very visible,” McIntosh said. “It’s important for the non-Latino students to know this history, too. We are a diverse state, and that’s one of the reasons we should feel good about our history.”