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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere. And Latino studies too!

As a curator of Latino Studies at the Anacostia Community Museum, I am often asked where my work fits within the museum’s initiatives.  The answer is: EVERYWHERE. 

Here is one example.

One of the Smithsonian’s signature initiatives, Waterways, has its roots right here in the Urban Waterways project at the Anacostia Community Museum. Urban Waterways has made profound and multifarious connections (geographic, fresh/salt water, culture/science, nature/built environment, and many more).

Rowers compete during the Stonewall Regatta held Sunday June 3, 2012 at the Anacostia Community Boathouse and sponsored by DC Strokes Rowing Club. here they row under the Pennsylvania Avenue/John Phillips Bridge on the Anacostia River.  Reclaming the Edge Exhibition Records, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.  Photograph by Susana Raab

When I started at ACM, I was immediately tasked with planning a small exhibition. Reclaiming the Edge was in the main gallery and it sparked an idea: Bridging the Americas. My exhibition is not about the Panama Canal per se, but the history and culture of Panama, the migration patterns of Panamanians to the U.S., and the unique urban identity called “Zonians” have everything to do with the Canal. I am building an archival collection through photo documentation in D.C. and Panama and by conducting oral history interviews with Panamanian and Zonian D.C.area residents.  Bridging the Americas connects the Washington D.C. area to Panama, a country famous for its urban waterway. In the exhibition there will be a breakout section about the Panama Canal, a powerful geographic/cultural/commercial/political urban waterway. Moreover, it connects me to the current museum work.

Bridge of the Americas, Pacific side of the Panama Canal, August 2014.  Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

Various Smithsonian units have holdings that relate to the Panama Canal, such as photos of celebrity Canal visitors, political buttons, and of course, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which is located in Panama.
However, the framework of Urban Waterways is a new perspective on Panama and one with with global implications.

I had the opportunity to travel to Panama last month for the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal and to see the current Panama Canal expansion project.

100th anniversary of the Panama Canal sign, Gatun Observation Center, Panama. Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, August 2014. Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

Panama Canal expansion in progress, August 2014. Gatun Observation Center, Panama, Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

As water covers 75% of the earth, the waterways initiative has been a fluid connector (pun intended). I want to capitalize on my expertise and also build meaningful links to the existing work of the Museum.
So where does Latino Studies fit at Anacostia? EVERYWHERE!

Ariana A. Curtis, Ph.D.
Curator (Latino Studies)
Anacostia Community Museum

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