Tag Archives: Civil Rights

New acquisition! Rosalia Torres-Weiner part 1

Charlotte, North Carolina has been on our minds and in our hearts these past few days. In an act of community and resilience, it felt appropriate to celebrate both the city of Charlotte and Latino Heritage Month in the next few blog posts.

Thanks to the Latino Initiatives Pool, the Anacostia Community Museum was able to acquire new collections!   The Museum has acquired two pieces by Rosalia Torres-Weiner for the upcoming exhibition, Gateways, opening December 5, 2016.  Gateways explores the triumphs and struggles of Latino migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with Rosalia. She is a talented Mexican born and raised, Charlotte-based artivist (artist+activst). Her energy, creativity, thoughtfulness, and commitment to social justice and community stories pervade all aspects of her life and work.  I am excited for visitors to get a small glimpse of this in Gateways.

I am the curator, but the other (invaluable!) member of the Gateways team is research/curatorial assistant Elena C. Muñoz. On our trip to Charlotte last week, Elena sat down and spoke with Rosalia about her art in general, and our recent acquisitions in particular. As an art historian, Elena has a deep knowledge of this work. Below, please find Elena’s post about the first piece we will show: Uprising Against ICE. 


Elena interviewing Rosalia for an Artist Speak out component of Gateways
Elena interviewing Rosalia for an Artist Speak out component of Gateways Photo: Ariana A. Curtis


Many of Torres-Weiner’s pieces deal with the complexities of the United States immigration system as well as the injustices and dangers immigrants often face. Her latest series of ten large format paintings that depict both the contributions and struggles of Latino immigrants in the United States.  This painting is a reimagining of one of Diego Rivera’s Mexican Revolution masterworks, The Uprising (1931).

The Uprising by Diego Rivera, 1931
The Uprising by Diego Rivera, 1931

Torres-Weiner’s paintings are typically bright, colorful pieces. This particular piece is painted in blues and grays, alluding to the ICE of the title. For this painting, the artist has abandoned her usual style and has instead mimicked both the style and composition of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s The Uprising.


Collection of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Uprising Against ICE by Rosalia Torres-Weiner,  Collection of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 Like Rivera’s painting, Torres-Weiner’s piece features a crowded and compressed picture plane, with a family unit battling an authority figure at the forefront. Torres-Weiner has replaced Rivera’s soldier with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent in full SWAT gear, reaching with handcuffs towards a humbly dressed, unarmed immigrant family. Like Rivera’s female protagonist, Torres-Weiner has depicted a mother holding her swaddled child, arm outstretched to protect her family. Her husband protects their older daughter to the right of the canvas. The daughter, not present in the Rivera original, is yellow, the color of hope. The father creates a barrier between himself and the agent with a farming spade, reminding the viewer that immigrants perform much of the farm labor in the United States. To the left and behind the agent are more ICE agents and U.S. government officials in suits and ties. On the ground between the family and the primary agent is another figure and dollar bills, both trampled underfoot. Behind the immigrant family is a crowd of protesters, from which a “DREAM” sign can be seen, referring to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that failed to pass. In the background is a U.S. flag, a bright contrast to the icy blues and grays of the rest of the work.

In the 1990s, North Carolina led the U.S. in Latino population growth. The southeast U.S. is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, in overall population and Latino population. In January of 2016, there were several ICE raids throughout the Southeast, resulting in the detention of 121 people, most of whom are women and children. The relationship between law enforcement and North Carolina’s Latino population is strained and fraught with anxiety, especially for undocumented families.

Uprising Against ICE gives voice to this anxiety while also subverting it. Torres-Weiner reimagines a family being held together through their own power and through the support of the masses that revolt behind them.



SHORT BIO of Elena C. Muñoz

Elena C. Munoz

Elena Muñoz received her MA in Art History from Rutgers University, and her BA in Art History from Fordham University. Her primary research interest is teasing out the African influences in Latin American and Latino art. She is also fascinated with the evolution and uses of Marian imagery in the Americas. In 2014, she was a recipient of the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies fellowship, working with the Teodoro Vidal Collection at the Lunder Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currently she is a research assistant at the Anacostia Community Museum, working on the upcoming exhibition Gateways, which examines Latino im/migration in the D.C. Metro Area, Baltimore, the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.


SHORT BIO of Rosalia Torres-Weiner

Rosalia Torres Weiner with Uprising against ICE
Rosalia Torres Weiner with Uprising against ICE

Rosalia Torres-Weiner is a self-taught artist-activist who has lived and worked in Charlotte since 1992. Born in Mexico City, Mexico, she came to the United States in 1985. After working in the hospitality industry, she gradually turned to a career as an artist. She initially worked as a flight attendant; after painting murals in her children’s rooms, her neighbors commissioned her to paint murals in their homes. She launched her company Home Art Designs in 2001, painting murals in residential as well as commercial properties. In 2010, she pivoted and began to focus primarily on using her art as activism for the Latino community. She started the Papalote Project, (the Kite Project) using art as therapy for local children who were suffering from the loss of a parent due to deportation. She continues to produce socially conscious and community-engaging work from her studios in Charlotte, NC.

Brown vs. Board of Education & its Latino connections

On this date in history 62 years ago today, the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS made school segregation unconstitutional.  This case transformed the lives not only of African-Americans, but was preceded and followed by justice for Black and Brown U.S. citizens around the world.  

Highlighting these connections takes nothing away from Black struggles for Civil Rights in the United States. On the contrary, the intent is to demonstrate that past, present, and future struggles for Civil Rights have never been for or by one group alone.


Mexican Segregation: Méndez et al vs. Westminster School District of Orange County California (1947)

Discrimination and segregation in the United States have never been strictly Black-White experiences. The discrimination against Mexican-Americans, especially on the west coast of the U.S. was rampant.

Image from WikiMedia Commons. Credit on website: National Civil Rights Museum Downtown Memphis, TN
Image from WikiMedia Commons. Credit on website: National Civil Rights Museum Downtown Memphis, TN

A case in California eight years before Brown set a necessary precedent for Brown vs the Board of Education: Méndez vs. Westminster .

In short, although no law legally segregated Mexican and Mexican American children (de jure), they were in fact segregated (de facto). In 1944, The Orange County school district told Gonzalo Méndez that his three children had to attend the “Mexican” school despite the fact that their lighter skinned cousins attended the white school.  Mendez and four other Mexican families took four Los Angeles-area school districts to court and won a class action lawsuit at the trial and appellate levels of the federal court system. (Click HERE to listen to Sylvia Méndez recall her experience as a child attending a Mexican School)

Understanding that legal decisions and civil rights transcend state, racial, and ethnic lines, Mendez’s counsel and support included: League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Jewish Congress, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Japanese American Citizens League.

When Thurgood Marshall represented Linda Brown in Brown vs. the Board of Education, he used  arguments from the Méndez case. The relevance — segregation based on color and origin — was clear.

That we are all individuals; that we are all human beings; that we are all connected together; and that we all have the same rights, the same freedom.” – Sylvia Mendez, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011

On September 14, 2007, in Santa Ana, California, issued 41-cent Mendez v. West­minster commemorative stamp designed by Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland
On September 14, 2007, in Santa Ana, California, issued 41-cent Mendez v. West­minster commemorative stamp designed by Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland


Brown vs the Board of Education reaches the Panama Canal Zone

We often think of U.S. law within the physical confines of the United States. But what about U.S. territories? Such was the case of the Panama Canal Zone.

The Panama Canal Zone was a U.S. territory from its creation in 1903 until the Panama Canal Treaties of 1977 mandated the Zone’s dissolution in 1979.  The United States was a racially segregated society. U.S. society at the time included the U.S. Panama Canal Zone, as the Zone was governed completely by U.S. laws. Segregation existed in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone.

Manuel Sandoval, DC resident, recalled the separated spaces existed along both race (“Black” and “white”) as well as citizenship (“Panamanian” and “American”) in Panama during his interview.

I never experienced discrimination; however, in the Canal Zone there was clear discrimination — Panamanian Blacks went to one place, Black Americans went to another, and White Americans had their own thing. – Manuel Sandoval

Black Mosaic Exhibition Records, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution

After the landmark decision of Brown vs. the Board of education, citizenship, not race, became the primary source of inequity in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone. Black and white U.S. citizens integrated. This law only applied to U.S. citizens.  Zonians (the term for people living in the Canal Zone) of Panamanian or West Indian citizenship remained segregated from U.S. citizens in school and housing, with some exceptions, such as the Canal Zone College. Latin American schools and thus Spanish language instruction replaced U.S. based school with English language instruction for non-U.S. citizens. This language change was especially problematic for West Indian children from English speaking islands, as many did not speak Spanish at home.  Between 1960 and 1970, Panama had the largest number and percentage of Central American immigrants to the U.S.   The change in language of educational instruction in Canal Zone schools was certainly a factor.


Brown vs. Board of Education, Panama, and the Doll Tests

Although raised in New York, Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Dr. Clark was the first Black Ph.D. recipient from Columbia University, the first Black president of the American Psychological Association and the first tenured Black professor at the City University of New York.

Kenneth Bancroft Clark by Burton Phillip Silverman. Charcoal on paper (1982) Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Burton Silverman
Kenneth Bancroft Clark by Burton Phillip Silverman. Charcoal on paper (1982)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Burton Silverman

Dr. Clark is best known for his psychology experiments colloquially known as “doll tests.” He and his wife, Dr. Mamie Clark used four dolls, identical except for their color, to test kids’ racial perceptions. Children ages 3-7 were asked to identify the dolls and express preference. The majority of the children preferred the white doll, assigning positive characteristics to it and negative characteristics to the darker doll, deemed undesirable.

These tests were prominently cited in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas as evidence of the psychological effects of racial segregation on Black children’s self-esteem. It was one of the first times social science research was used in legal proceedings (Méndez vs. Westminster also drew on social science research). Less cited conclusions from the Drs. Clark’s “doll tests” included that racism is an inherently American institution and that school segregation also hindered the development of white children. Given the news that U.S. schools are re-segregating, these lessons are more important than ever.


More about the Washington D.C.’s connection to Panama, the Panama Canal Zone, and this story of Kenneth Bancroft Clark can be seen in the exhibition Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington DC in the Anacostia Community Museum Program Room. It is up indefinitely.

Latino-centered struggles for Civil Rights and Social Justice will be part of the upcoming exhibition Gateways. Opening December 2016,  Gateways explores the triumphs and struggles of Latino migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

The social construction of race, the “street” level reality of race

Dr. Nancy López, Co-founder and Director of the Institute for the Study of “Race” & Social Justice, housed in the RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, traveled to D.C. as a guest speaker for the Smithsonian.

Dr. Nancy Lopez speaking at the Smithsonian on February 19, 2015
Dr. Nancy Lopez speaking at the Smithsonian on February 19, 2015


Her talk, “What’s your “Street Race-Gender”? draws attention to the ways in which we can self-identify on forms versus how we are treated on the street based on how we look/how others see us and ties the racial and ethnic data compiled from the census data to its uses in Civil Rights legislation.

Dr. López proposes the concept of  “street race-gender” , meaning your race or gender as viewed on the street, as a practical and innovative use-inspired measure that can be used to monitor and enforce Civil Rights legislation and advance equity-based policy research and practice that has to potential to capture the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of urban communities in the U.S. and beyond.

I invite all that are thinking about interpretations of race, ethnicity, racial performance, self-representation, identity, and group identification to watch her powerful presentation below.