Creating and Protecting the Patchwork Identity of the United States: Museums and Immigration

Immigration.

That single word can inspire long rants about jobs, taxes, drugs, illegal activity, etc. Historically, immigration has been a hot topic in the United States as different ethnicities and cultures arrived in the country. From the Irish being shunned to current battles over illegal immigration, each group has struggled to find a place and become part of the American identity.

Museums, historic sites, and National/State Parks have quickly become places of refuge for immigrants to the United States and their supporters. Many museums have taken it upon themselves to protect the cultural roots of immigrants and celebrate the diversity and traditions that immigrants brought and continue to share with the American Identity.

Recently, the Smithsonian American Art Museum created a special exhibit highlighting the culture of Latino Americans. The pieces depict the unique architecture of the ancient people of Central America, the colors and patterns used in textiles, and paintings and photographs that capture the dual identities of these artists. Even though three out of the five artists featured were born in the United States and not immigrants, they felt the need to represent their heritage and culture and show how it fits into their identity as a citizen of the United States. (http://americanart.si.edu/education/pdf/mixing_cultures.pdf)

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience created the Immigration and Civil Rights Network for museums and historic sites in 2008 to encourage the continued representation of immigration histories and contributions to America. They continue to advocate the necessity of recognizing the rights of immigrants as they come to this country and making sure they recognize their place within it.  The goal is to create opportunities “for safe, open dialogue on immigration accessible in every community.” (http://www.sitesofconscience.org/2013/09/national-dialogues-on-immigration/)

Immigration is an important part of the American identity. Even those who can trace their ancestry back to the first settlers must acknowledge the fact that those people were immigrants to this country. Immigration has created a rich and diverse culture within the United States. Museums must continue to be advocates for preserving and celebrating those differences, which will allow recent immigrants and the descendants of immigrants to recognize their place and take pride in what they have to offer.

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