On the Record with Guillermo Arriaga and Liz Schultz


Hugh Newcomb

Liz Schultz (left), executive director of the Oberlin Heritage Center, and Guillermo Arriaga, president and director of the Museum of Hispanic and Latino Cultures of Lorain, have collaboratively curated an exhibition on Hispanic and Latino culture. that will be open to the public in Monroe House through September.

Interview by Julia Peterson, Arts and Culture Editor

Guillermo Arriaga is the President and Curator of the Museum of Hispanic and Latino Cultures of Lorain, the only Hispanic and Latino museum in Ohio. Currently a traveling museum, the MHLC preserves artifacts and hosts exhibits in communities throughout the state. Liz Schultz is the Executive Director of the Oberlin Heritage Center. Founded in 1903, the OHC preserves and shares Oberlin’s unique heritage with the community.

Throughout September, the OHC and the MHLC will host a collaborative exhibition in Monroe House, one of the OHC’s historical buildings, showcasing artifacts from 19 different countries that the MHLC represents. Visitors will be able to take guided tours in English or in English and Spanish, or can take a self-guided tour.

This week, Arriaga and Schultz spoke to the Review about the upcoming collaborative exhibition and Fiesta in la Biblioteca, a party the will be held on the 23rd of September.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the importance of heritage and history?

Guillermo Arriaga: I think it’s important to know where we come from in order to know where we’re going. … This is the world’s problem today — we don’t know the history of the past, and we’re repeating a lot of the worst things.

Liz Schultz: I always like to see history, heritage, and culture as something that you can learn from, especially for comparison. So many times, you are locked into what you’re doing because that’s what everyone else around you does, or that’s what you’ve always seen, but I always think it’s wonderful for people to step outside what they’re used to so they … appreciate diversity and new things, but also so they can understand themselves better.

GA: For the most part, when you talk about Hispanics or Latinos, you look at — “Well, they’re just one group of people.” But we represent almost 22 different Hispanic countries, and although some of them were colonized by the same ancient civilizations, they’re all different countries now. That’s what makes diversity so important — to know the richness of a specific country and see how it influences another country, or to notice the civilization that is still there intertwined into other cultures. And the United States is a melting pot of all of these cultures. We’re in there — all of these cultures. If they’re not already established here, they’re coming in, more and more.

What sort of work does the Museum of Hispanic and Latino Cultures of Lorain do?

GA: We are the only Hispanic museum in the whole state of Ohio … and we educate. That’s one of our main priorities. Our goal is to educate everyone — even Hispanics. We educate Hispanics because a lot of them don’t know about their culture. They’re [in] an assimilated country. … So we’re here to establish the past for the future of these people.

What should people expect from this September’s collaboration between your two museums?

LS: It’s going to be taking place within [Monroe House], the historic home at Oberlin, so it’s kind of a mixture of cultures in a way. It’s going to be art and artifacts from 19 different countries. People can come on a guided tour in English [or] English and Spanish, or walk through on their own, so I think that everyone is going to see something a little bit different. … I’m fascinated with the musical instruments scattered throughout. Other people, who are of Hispanic or Latino heritage, will probably gravitate towards the country that they might identify with, so I think … everyone is going to find something that they enjoy, or relate to, or want to learn more about.

What has the process of putting this exhibit together been like?

GA: An exhibit like this — you’re selective as to what you’re bringing out, and the atmosphere that you want to put out. … We have artifacts that are from all these different countries, and a variety [of them]. We have wooden things, brass things, pottery. We even have gourds in here. So [we’re showcasing] a variety of things which make up these cultures that we represent. But it’s about the unity and how it fits — and I think it does fit well in these rooms in Monroe House.

What are some of your favorite elements in this exhibition?

LS: I like the musical instruments. So I’ve looked up all the instruments and … I’ve been listening to more music. And the clothing that is on display is also just wonderful to see.

GA: One of the most wonderful things is the Argentinian gaucho man that we acquired a few years ago. And the expression on his face — hand-carved — to me is wonderful. Plus, [from] Peru, I like the gourds and how they carved them out.

LS: I also really like the Mexican kitchen. I’ve been watching videos about how to make hot chocolate and how [a] metate is used. Food is always very interesting to me.

GA: We always get asked the question, “Are these things real?” Yes. You can go to these countries today and see 99 percent of these things being used in everyday life.

How do you think that this community setting in Oberlin has impacted what you’ve done for the exhibition, and how do you think that the exhibition being here might have an impact on the community?

GA: Well, we’re hoping that [people] are going to see what’s going on in the world — if we just look, accept, and see that we’re the same — yet we’re different in what we bring to the table. Acceptance is a very big part of the world that we live in. … Look and see that [these nineteen countries we represent] are here to stay. We’re not going away. They’re still in existence and have been for thousands of years.

LS: As the Heritage Center, we recognize, we interpret a lot of Civil War history and early history, and this can seem like more recent history in some ways, but it also goes way back. Doing this exhibit is a good way for us to say, “We need to understand this better and start preserving it for future generations.” This is a part of our history now that we need to look at and be talking with people [about] and documenting as well. [This exhibit] was a good reason to look in a new direction and say, “How can we preserve this for future generations, in collaboration?”

What is Fiesta in la Biblioteca going to be all about?

GA: It’s going to be about introducing the city of Oberlin to the different foods that our culture has. … It’s about giving [people] a little flavor on their palate about these countries. Because most people [think about] Hispanic food as “Mexican.” … It’s about giving [people] an authentic taste of these cultures. They’re not just clothing, wood carvings, and textiles. We want that added feature [of the food].

LS: I think it’s good to have something to draw the community together and introduce people to new people. We have the art and artifacts here, but those personal connections are very important as well.

GA: We can’t very well be socializing while giving the tours, because we have a job to do. A lot of times, with our exhibits, people want to sit there and talk to you one-on-one while you have an exhibit going on, but you have a lot of people that hopefully will be coming and seeing these things. And when we do the Fiesta, we hope they all come back and say, “Oh, I was very impressed with this table or these artifacts, and we’d like to see more.”

One of the questions on the sign by the comment cards in the Monroe House was asking, “Did this remind you of anything?” What was the inspiration for asking that?

LS: That’s kind of an open-ended question so that people who have heritage or who have emigrated from some of these countries can say, “Oh, we have this in our kitchen,” or, “My grandmother had this.” For other people, who may not come from that heritage, they can say “I’ve seen this here,” or “I’ve always wanted to try that.” Hopefully it’s a question where everyone can find how they relate to the artifacts here.

Is there something that you wish everyone knew about this exhibition?

GA: Look, we’re bringing different cultures into a specific “still time” — [Monroe House], a building that is from a period. And we’re still able to exhibit other things in there that don’t pertain to that surrounding, but still make it inviting for people to come into. We’re hoping that we can do other things with Liz down the road. We have so much in our collection, and the public hasn’t seen most of it. … I think this [exhibition] is unique in the way that the past and now are working together, hand in hand. Museums don’t have to just stay put, locked in time. This is something different.

After this exhibition, what are your respective museums doing next?

GA: We have several [events] already planned. On the third of October, we’re doing toys from Hispanic countries at the public library in south Lorain. … Then we’re [exhibiting] at the Lorain Historical Society for a whole week, which will be a totally different exhibit from what we’ve got here. And then we’re going to be doing another [exhibit] … it’s called “African Influence on the Hispanic Cultures.”

Is there anything you would like to add?

LS: I think [it’s so important] to get people involved. Both of us are small non-profits, so if students have an interest in this kind of history or getting experience with museums, … we both have plenty of volunteer opportunities for people to be involved.

GA: A lot of research is involved.

LS: I hope people get the idea too that museums aren’t just stalled in time. We’re always doing this research, always trying new things and meeting new people. In order to be a good museum, you have to be trying new things and seeing what else you need to be doing now, with that long-term view of what will be needed in the future.

GA: Liz has given us the opportunity to exhibit in a way we didn’t even think about. Hopefully this will encourage other museums that are house-museums to say, “Hey, they did that over there in Oberlin. We can do that over here, in our town.” We’re hoping for that. That’s what we’re hoping to get out of this [collaboration], besides educating the people … that are going to come in here.