Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond (Pt. 4)

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.

Mortar and pestle (ca. 1950)The Valentine


An increasing number of Richmonders celebrate quinceañeras as much as sweet 16s, play salsa on Saturday mornings and regularly enjoy traditional Latin American foods. As the Latino diaspora across the United States grows, Latinos in Richmond seek ways to connect to their heritage and to preserve family history and tradition through music, food and other cultural forms. 

Oriza (2013) by Bio RitmoThe Valentine

Bio Ritmo practices and performances collage, 2017, Courtesy of Bio Ritmo

Bio Ritmo is an innovative salsa band founded in Richmond in 1997. Their unique style and sound is grounded in Puerto Rico’s blend of African, Taíno and Spanish culture, also present in their cover art. This album cover depicts el vejigante, the masked folkloric character shown with a long face, exterior teeth and horn-like crown. Similar to the pioneers of salsa in 1970s New York, the band members draw upon their own identities and experiences to continue experimenting with Bio Ritmo’s sound.

Rodrigues family framed photograph and cross (ca. 1904)The Valentine

This family photograph features Virginia Secretary of Administration (2014–2018) Nancy Rodrigues’s grandmother and father Albina and Albino Rodrigues in Brazil in 1904. Her grandmother is wearing the gold cross framed next to the photograph. With each new family member’s birth, a new link was added to the cross’s chain. The chain has now been split into bracelets and remains in the family. The inherited gift is a source of strength and inspiration for the Honorable Rodrigues to continue her public service advocating for Latinos and women throughout Virginia.

Mortar and pestle (ca. 1950)The Valentine

In 1970, Elsa Smith moved to rural Illinois from Peru at the age of 18. She has lived the majority of her life in American rural and southern localities before settling in Midlothian, Virginia, in 1983. In 2001, Smith helped to found the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Elsa Smith holds onto memories from Peru through household items such as this mortar and pestle, which her late mother used to make tallarines verdes, a Peruvian basil sauce.

Crown and Doll (ca. 2008)The Valentine

Karina Figueroa was born in Richmond and is of Salvadoran descent. In 2008, Figueroa celebrated her quinceañera or “Sweet 15.” The quinceañera is a Latin American custom now celebrated throughout the United States to commemorate the beginning of a girl’s transition into womanhood. Quinceañeras usually wear a ball gown and a crown and receive their “last doll,” which usually resembles the quinceañera’s attire.

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

Political Engagement

Across the nation, Latinos are increasingly involved in American government, from grassroots efforts to the U. S. Supreme Court. The following highlights the past 100 years of Latino involvement (1917–2017) in the American political system and issues impacting Latinos at national, state and local levels. 

Rodrigues family framed photograph (detail) (1904)The Valentine


The Jones Shafroth Act gives Puerto Ricans restricted citizenship several years after Puerto Rico became a United States territory in 1898. Similarly, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 relinquished Mexican territory (today’s American Southwest) to the United States. The U. S. recognized Mexicans living in the newly annexed territory as citizens but gave them second-class status.  Like in Puerto Rico, the Southwest enforced an English-only policy, but also used poll taxes, physical intimidation and financial retributions to deny Mexican Americans the right to vote (1848–1975).     

Rodrigues Cross (detail) (1904)The Valentine


During the Great Depression (1929–1939), the federal government deports millions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, who are perceived to be taking scarce U.S. jobs.

Silabario Hispano Americano (1948) by Adrián Dufflocq GaldamesThe Valentine


The Bracero program (1942–1964) is enacted, allowing Mexican nationals to take temporary agricultural work in the United States. In 1946, the Mendez family of California wins the U.S. Court of Appeals case Mendez v. Westminster, ending segregation in California. Similar arguments are later used in the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which integrates schools nationwide. In 1947, Operation Bootstrap, a program that attempts to industrialize Puerto Rico’s economy, is initiated to meet U.S. labor and supply demands. The industrialization of Puerto Rico’s economy persists through the industrial development incentive acts. 

Rolling pin, Pitcher and Mixer Paddle (2009)The Valentine


The U.S. government enforces Operation Wetback (1954–1958), an effort to deport undocumented workers. 

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


During the Civil Rights Movement (1954–1964), many Latinos start to organize throughout the nation. In 1962, Dolores Huerta and César Chávez found the United Farm Workers to fight for laborer rights. During the mid-1960s, a group of Chicano activists form the Brown Berets to advocate for education reform and community service and against police brutality. In 1969, young Puerto Ricans in Chicago establish the Young Lords, a group dedicated to the self-determination of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. The 1969 Stonewall riots (New York, N.Y.), which spurred the modern LGBTQ movement, was started by two transwomen of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent. 

Men’s shoes (ca. 1969)The Valentine


In 1974, Congress passes the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, which offers bilingual education in public schools. In 1975, the Voting Rights Act was expanded to include bilingual election material where language minorities, such as Spanish heritage, American Indians, Asian American and Alaska natives, made up more than five percent of the population. In 1978, Russian-born Emmy Shafer leads the campaign for an English-only Miami-Dade County, Florida. Although the county passed and English-only policy in 1980, it was later repealed in 1993. 

AHAR Cap (1994) by Port & CompanyThe Valentine


President Ronald Reagan signs the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, which toughens immigration law and border security, but also grants amnesty to millions of immigrants who arrived in the 1970s and 1980s.

Virginia General Assembly Hearing (2017) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine


Twenty-nine Latino and Latino-supportive organizations form the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO) to lobby state legislatures. 

El Sol newspaper (1994)The Valentine


Governor Mark Warner appoints the Virginia Latino Advisory Committee to advocate for Latinos and advise on issues impacting Latino constituents. The committee becomes a permanent board in 2005. Jeffrey Frederick becomes the first Latino elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Governor Warner signs a law preventing undocumented migrants from obtaining driver’s licenses, prompted by two of the September 11 terrorists receiving their licenses from Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

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


Richmond’s Hispanic Liaison Office opens to connect the Latino community to city agencies and resources.

United States Census Form (detail) (2010)The Valentine


Immigrant rights protests take place across the nation, seeking a pathway to legal permanent status. 

Lectionary (ca. 1990)The Valentine


Sonia Sotomayor becomes the first Latina appointed to the U. S. Supreme Court. 

Bolivian music group at Latino FestThe Valentine


In Richmond, Virginia, Huguenot High School students protest discrimination against Latino students and advocate for interpretation services. 

Graduation Stole (detail) by Midwest Global Group, Inc.The Valentine


Nancy Rodrigues becomes the first Latina to serve in the Virginia Governor’s Cabinet. Virginia qualifies Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients for in-state tuition; previously they were required to pay international tuition rates.

La Sabrosita Bakery staff (2017) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine


The largest number of Latinos to date is elected to the U. S. Congress, with 29 to the House of Representatives and three to the Senate.

Virginia General Assembly Hearing (2017) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine


During the 2016 presidential election, 65 percent of Latino voters supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. However, views on the economy, international relations, immigration and social issues differ within the Latino electorate, making them a key population for political candidates. In January 2017, New Virginia Majority organized residents to lobby and participate in public hearings at the Virginia General Assembly for undocumented immigrants and voting rights among other issues. The photograph used in this interactive timeline depicts Latino Virginians at a hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee, which ultimately voted against a bill that would have allowed driver’s licenses to be issued to undocumented residents. 

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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