Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond (Pt. 1)

This exhibition was originally presented bilingually in Spanish and English at the Valentine in Richmond, Virginia, during July 27, 2017-May 28, 2018.To experience this online exhibition in either English or Spanish, please configure your browser setting to either language.

"Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond" logo (2017) by Laura JeffersonThe Valentine

Audio Collage

Christy’s Beauty Salon;
Sacred Heart Catholic Church;
Jaime Areizaga-Soto;
Rumba Rhythm & Percussion Workshop;
Jugando Bola (©2014 Jose Henriquez Jr.);
Afro Cuban Orisha Dance Workshop;
Octavio Vega;
“Nacimos Primogenitos” by Vei-Citlalin Bobadillia (2017);
Yanira Quintero;
Kevin Davis and Shakila Dotson;
Argentina Ortega;
Tanya González.

Unless otherwise noted, interviews by Laura Browder, Patricia Herrera and Wanda Hernández, 2016.

"Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond" installation view (2018) by Terry BrownThe Valentine

Our Stories

Alongside places like Southside’s Midlothian Turnpike, Mexican restaurants, Dominican salons and Central American markets populate shopping centers. On Sundays, Sacred Heart Catholic Church parishioners sing Spanish hymns, and on Mondays, Radio Poder 1380 AM promotes events like the ¿Qué Pasa? Festival and the Latino Leadership Institute.    

"Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond" installation view (2018) by Terry BrownThe Valentine

From 1990 to 2010, the American South had the fastest growing Latino population in the United States. Virginia’s Latino population alone grew 92 percent from 2000 to 2010. Richmond, along with other southern localities in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia is undergoing a dramatic demographic shift.  

"Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond" installation view (2018) by Terry BrownThe Valentine

Latinos are pioneering into the South—a region, with the exception of Florida, that has minimal history involving Latinos or their antecedents. As Latinos immigrate to Richmond, they establish permanent ties to their new home and transform its culture. Explore immigration, identity, language, education and community through the stories of diverse Richmond Latinos.

Bolivian music group at Latino FestThe Valentine

Note on

The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are often used interchangeably. "Hispanic" refers to people with origins in Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain. "Latino" describes people originating from Latin America, regardless of their native language. 

Christy’s Beauty Salon (2017) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine

This exhibition uses the term "Latino" because it more inclusively describes the backgrounds of individuals featured in the exhibition and is understood in English, Spanish and other Latin American language. However, it is important to understand that identity is a personal decision and more complex than a simple definition.  

United States Census Form (2010)The Valentine

The United States federal government coined the term "Hispanic" in the 1970s and first used it in the 1980 U. S. Census. More recently, U.S. residents originating from Latin America popularized the term "Latino," which was included with "Hispanic" in the 2010 Census.    Many Latinos do not identify with race but instead with nationalities. The U.S. Census Bureau is investigating alternative ways to collect racial data for Latinos in the 2020 Census by potentially including other terms like "Afro-Latino" under race and by listing nationalities under ethnicities. 

Hip-hop dance group at Latino FestThe Valentine

The following terms are also used to describe varying forms of Latinidad, the essence of being Latino.

Miss Hispanidad Virginia (2003/2004)The Valentine

 "Afro-Latino" describes Latinos of African descent in Latin America and in the United States."Boricua" is a term derived from the word, Boriken, which is how the native Taínos referred to what is now known as Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans use this term to connect to their indigenous heritage.

Chino Star Barbershop (2017) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine

"Chicano" gained popularity among Mexican Americans during the Modern Civil Rights Movement (1954–64) in the American Southwest. The term links Mexican Americans to their indigenous Aztec heritage. 

La Sabrosita Bakery staff (2017) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine

"Latinx," pronounced la-teen-ex, rejects gender binaries in the Spanish language. The term is mostly used in the United States by non-gender conforming individuals.

Men’s shoes (ca. 1969)The Valentine

Roads to Richmond

Sixteenth-century Spanish settlers preceded the Latino community that formed in Richmond during the mid-20th century. More recent Latinos left their homelands for many reasons: to flee turmoil in their home countries; to reunite with family; and for job opportunities in fields such as education, construction, corporations, government, non-profits and health care. Richmond Latinos have taken many roads to the region, from traversing borderland deserts and bodies of water to traveling by car, plane and train. 

Juan Bautista de Segura (ca. 1571)The Valentine

Explorer Lucas Vásquez de Ayllon (1475–1526) is thought to have sailed the James River in 1524, forming the San Miguel de Guandape settlement in southeastern Virginia’s Tidewater region. Fever and conflict with Virginia Indians doomed the 600-person settlement, which included Spaniards and enslaved Africans. Survivors returned to Hispaniola by 1527.

Jesuit Juan Bautista de Segura (1529–1571) and Paquiquino, a Christian Powhatan Indian, founded the Axacan Mission near the Rappahannock River, east of Richmond, in 1570. Within a year, Paquiquino and local natives revolted, killing the Jesuits.

Cuban American Club of Richmond, Virginia membership list (ca. 1970–1996)The Valentine

Roads to Richmond: Cuba

Cubans steadily immigrated to the United States throughout the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Factors included Cuba’s close proximity and business ties to the U.S., as well as a desire to escape Cuba’s military dictator Fulgencio Batista (1901–1973). Cuban immigration increased in 1959 when communist dictator Fidel Castro (1926–2016) took power.

Pan American Airways ticket, Cuba to United States (1962)The Valentine

Dr. Luis Eljaiek, Jr., came to the U.S. with his family at the age of five. His father Luis Eljaiek, Sr. (1928-2015), an accountant at Guantanamo Bay, and his mother Nancy Lazara (1928-2009) feared life in Cuba under Fidel Castro. The family settled in Miami, Florida, in 1962 before moving in 1965 to Hopewell, Virginia, where Mr. Eljaiek, Sr. worked at Allied Chemical Corporation.

The Eljaieks were a part of the first-wave Cuban immigrants (1959–1962), known as the Golden Exiles. These mostly white, educated, anti-Castro individuals and their families worked mainly in the government, military and business sectors. Many people left Cuba through visa waiver programs supported by the U.S. Department of State and facilitated by non-government organizations.

Héctor “Coco” Barez (detail) (2017-03-07) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine

Roads to Richmond: Puerto Rico

When the United States won the Spanish-American War in 1898, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory. In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and legalized the authority of the U.S. Congress over Puerto Rico’s legislature, which has a large impact on the economic and social life of Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans have unrestricted migration into the U.S. and access to American education and job opportunities. However, Puerto Ricans residing on the island do not have representation in Congress and cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. In 2014, about 84,000 people left Puerto Rico for the continental U. S. due to the island’s ongoing financial crisis. Of those migrants, about 31,000 settled in the American South.

Rise of the American Nation (1982) by Lewis Paul Todd and Merle CurtiThe Valentine

The legacy of the former English-only policy, the James-Shafroth Act (1917) and Operation Bootstrap (1947), an incentive program to attract United States capital and industrialize Puerto Rico’s economy, is visible in Puerto Rico’s education, government and economy. Jaime Areizaga-Soto was taught U.S. history using this textbook and learned English in school while growing up in Puerto Rico.

Areizaga-Soto moved to the U.S. in 1987 to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He relocated to Richmond in 2014 to serve as Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Deputy Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs.

Puerto Rican driver’s license (2011)The Valentine

“For me, being Puerto Rican is very easy because I don't get flagged as being Hispanic.” –Suzanne Tomasini Muñiz

Suzanne Tomasini Muñiz was born in North Carolina and raised in Puerto Rico. She used this Puerto Rican driver’s license to move between the island and the continental United States before coming to Richmond in 2012 to work at Fortune 200 company Altria.

The bilingual titles and U.S. and Puerto Rican flags on the license hint at the complicated relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.

The Lady of Caridad del Cobre (detail) (1976)The Valentine

Roads to Richmond: Central America

Civil war and genocide plagued Central America, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, from the 1960s through the mid-1990s. The civil wars were funded and supported by the United States and Soviet Union. Many Central Americans fleeing wartime violence entered the U.S. as undocumented political refugees. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act toughened immigration laws but also gave amnesty to about 2.7 million immigrants who entered the U.S. prior to 1982. In recent years, an increase in organized crime, along with constant poverty in the majority of Central America, have sustained a continuous influx of Central American immigrants into the United States.

Federico Xol at Jefferson Davis Highway and Chippenham Parkway (2017-01-28) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine

Federico Xol interview excerpt

Excerpt from May 14, 2016 interview with Wanda Hernández

Federico Xol [FX]: I am from Guatemala. I belong to an indigenous community of Maya descent. During the 36-year civil war, we were the ones who suffered the most. We were exploited, extrajudicially executed—many of our ancestors. Sadly, I did not meet my homeland because my parents took us out of there, fleeing for the north of the country. I grew up in a place called Petén. That’s where I grew up.

At four, five years old, right when I started to have an understanding, awareness, we went from one place to another. Right around six years old when we left exiled from a place, I cried there because I had animals, pigs and cows that we left behind. We left fleeing. And from there on I started to wake up to what was going on.

Wanda Hernández [WH]: And now Federico, can you tell us about—or would you like to tell us about your arrival to Richmond? From Guatemala to Richmond.

FX: Mmm… About my arrival? It’s a bit complicated. I came by land. I crossed Mexico within like—the first days were long walks. I walked almost the entire state of Chiapas because the state of Chiapas is full of immigration to control the influx of Central Americans. From there I arrived at a place called Arriaga and there I boarded the train. I caught the train. Like the whole world […] before when I was in my country I would see—“Ay, what could that be?” I never that I would also be a part of… I would be the actor in these events.

I boarded the train and with others agreed that we would tie ourselves on for safety. If we fell asleep we would not fall or we would hang.

WH: And you all jumped on top the train, or where on the train exactly?

FX: Eh, depends. In my case we were here, between the trains because we could tie ourselves. We would get lasso. There were others that would go on top but I was scared there.

WH: And how was it that you all jumped and were able to get between the trains? Was the train stopped, or…?

FX: Moving.

WH: Moving. And you all jumped—

FX: 25 miles…let’s say it was like 20-20 miles per hour to catch the train.

WH: Wow.

Octavio Vega: How? How?

FX: Yes. The truth is, the first day I said, “No never, and never. And how can it be, and how can it be?” When the hour arrived I said, “I’m going to do it.” When I could, I could do it in one try. Now I have to be more cautious.

There were still groups that talked all night to not fall sleep. But I fell asleep because I knew I was tied up. And others were hanging talking. And it is hard to live, live that journey that many of our Central American brothers go through. And the hardest thing was the assault in those tunnels in Coatzacoalcos at one in the morning. When in there, you couldn’t see a thing, just darkness.

WH: Still on the train or walking?

FX: On the train. I wanted to go up top. “No, get down.” He said, but his companion with a weapon in hand. I said, “Me, […]? I don’t have anything to defend myself or attack the criminal with.” We couldn’t because we were closed in. They took everything from us. Both men and women. They stuck hands in bras, everything. To some—thank God I was praying that they wouldn’t to me—I had money here. I had 50 pesos here. They pulled others pants down, everything. I said, “How awful.”

End of transcription.


This image shows where Federico Xol’s brother met him after his arrival to Richmond.

During the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), citizens were forcefully recruited into the war, and the U.S.-funded Guatemalan Army targeted Mayas for mass killings and property destruction. Although the war ended in 1996, poverty and organized crime continue to lead people to emigrate. Poverty caused Maya descendent Federico Xol to immigrate to the United States in 2006, where he rode La Bestia, or “the beast,” a series of cargo trains used by several thousand Central Americans of all ages to travel to the Mexican-U.S. border. La Bestia starts at the Guatemalan-Mexican border and diverges to the borders of California, Arizona and Texas. Adults and unaccompanied minors riding La Bestia endanger their lives during the journey—from possibly falling off the train to extortion, rape and murder by organized groups along the route.

Colombo-American Association of Richmond membership list (detail) (1990)The Valentine

Roads to Richmond: Columbia

The first significant wave of Colombian migration to the United States occurred in the 1960s, mostly due to Colombia’s then-economic recession. However, violence and government instability drove Colombians to the U.S. at higher rates during the 1980s to 2000s. Initially settling in New York, New Jersey and Florida, many Colombians have had geographic mobility due to having generally higher levels of education and income, leading them to move away from established family networks in the Northeast and Florida.

Men’s shoes (ca. 1969)The Valentine

In 1969, Humberto Macaiza wore these shoes when he first stepped foot onto American soil. He emigrated from Colombia to New York City on a visa and initially worked in a textile factory. In 1973, Macaiza joined the U.S. Army and served until 1977. He permanently settled in Richmond in 1979, working as an Army contractor and retiring as a firefighter. In Richmond, Humberto Macaiza founded the Colombo-American Association in 1990 and is a long-time volunteer for Richmond’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Latino Leadership Institute certificate (2016-01)The Valentine

Roads to Richmond: Mexico

The United States annexed more than half of Mexico’s territory, along with its people, in what is today’s American Southwest after winning the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). Thereafter, Mexicans have consistently lived in and immigrated to the U.S., increasing during times of political or economic turmoil or change, including World War II (1939–1945), the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA (1994) and ongoing state corruption and drug cartel violence in Mexico. 

100 Mexican pesos (circa. 2000)The Valentine

In the early 2000s, at the age of 17, Agustín Bravo Acosta left his Purépecha indigenous community in Michoacán, Mexico, carrying these 100 Mexican pesos across the border into the United States. The North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), signed by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. in 1994, supported foreign investment and ownership in agriculture and manufacturing. NAFTA affected people like Bravo Acosta, who struggled to support his family through woodcraft artisanship and agricultural work because of big business competition. In search of economic stability, he immigrated to the United States.

Agustín Bravo Acosta works as a landscaper and is heavily involved at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Center. Bravo Acosta, whose native tongue is the Mexican indigenous language Purépecha, has learned Spanish and English at Sacred Heart. In 2016, he graduated from the Latino Leadership Institute, a bilingual program by Sacred Heart Center and the University of Richmond focused on teaching leadership qualities, small business skills, history and current events impacting Latinos nationally and locally. Bravo Acosta is now studying for his General Education Development Test.

Credits: Story

Exhibition Sponsors
Jackson Foundation
VCU Health
Bon Secours
Car Max

Thank you to the Fifth Third Bank and Bruce Gray for their support.

Wanda Hernández

Meg Hughes, Curator of Archives

Exhibition Committee
Agustín Bravo Acosta
Laura Browder, University of Richmond
Steven Casanova
Vaughn Garland
Tanya González, Sacred Heart Center
Patricia Herrera, University of Richmond
Meg Medina
Patricia Parks, Richmond Public Libraries
Michel Zajur, Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Custom Art Installations
Flatten Image
Vaughn Garland, sound engineering
Image 360-RVA
Jefferson Lara, logo design
Soledad Marambio, translation
Rick’s Custom Frame + Gallery
Uptown Color

Special Thanks

A million thanks to members of Richmond’s Latino community for opening up their homes and lives with interviewers Laura Browder, Patricia Herrera, Wanda Hernández and the city at large. The project’s 65 interviews will comprise a rich oral history collection available to future generations of scholars and students.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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