Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond (Pt. 2)

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.

La Siesta sign (ca. 1982)The Valentine

Beyond Black and White

Latinos are from, or are descendants of, Latin America—a region of mixed ancestry anchored in modern-day North, Central and South America’s indigenous nations as well as Africa, Europe and Asia. Centuries of racial and ethnic mixing in Latin America have led to a more fluid understanding of race, ethnicity and identity than what is typically understood in the United States. Richmond Latinos are a multi-racial and multi-ethnic people breaking the city’s black and white racial binary. At the same time, they are developing their own understanding of what it means to be Latino. 

Claves (2011)The Valentine

Kevin LaMarr Jones, founder of dance group Claves Unidos, uses these claves, a percussion instrument, to connect to his African heritage through music and dance. Musicians hit claves together to create the clave rhythm, which is the foundation to most Afro-Latino music.

Jones traces his family lineage to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, where his family was divided between the United States and Cuba. This international network operated from the early-16th to the late-19th century and involved the Americas, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 50 percent of enslaved Africans went to Latin America. While international slave trade ended in 1807, domestic trade operated in the U.S. through the mid-19th century. Richmond became the nation’s second largest market for trading enslaved people.

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

Héctor “Coco” Barez interview excerpt

Excerpt from July 25, 2016 interview with Wanda Hernández

Héctor “Coco” Barez [HB]: The segregation issue here, for me, is a shock because in Puerto Rico we, in Puerto Rico we’re all mixed, you know. And here, here I’ve seen that there is mixing but everyone is always watching their back. Over there, over there it’s like, well over there everyone is Puerto Rican, you know. I don’t see the issue of race as a—I’m proud to be black, but because, because I’m black I’m not going to stop talking to you, or stop talking to someone from China, or stop talking to anybody. No because, I see you as a human being and I’m intrigued to know about your culture in Spanish.

Wanda Hernández [WH]: And have you had an experience in which someone is surprised that one, you know Spanish? Or, you know English?

HB: So many! Because that’s the issue, the black community they think I’m black, you know black. This is […], yes black. And when I come and say, “Hey! How you doin’?” and “What’s going on?” or “What’s up?” Or they see me talking to another person in Spanish they say, “Whoa! You talk Spanish? Where you from?” And I tell them, “Puerto Rico.” And, “Oh, wow! I thought you were black.” And I’m like, “But I am black.”


Exactly. So with, yes with—And it hasn’t only been with black people. It’s been with everyone. That question of language exists with everyone.

Transcription ends.

Existing American racial categories can cause many Afro-Latinos to feel like they must choose an African-American or Latino identity. Hector “Coco” Barez, who was born in Puerto Rico, explains that being black and Latino are not mutually exclusive. Barez moved to Richmond in 2010 to play with the salsa band Bio Ritmo. Barez has worked and learned from famous percussionists, including Héctor Calderón, and toured as the drummer for Latino hip-hop group Calle 13.

Carmen Williams (2017-02-19) by Steven CasanovaThe Valentine

Carmen Williams interview excerpt

Excerpt from May 15, 2016 group interview with Patricia Herrera and Wanda Hernández

Carmen Williams [CW]: And what I also faced was when they told me I was a “woman of color” or “people of color,” is what they call it. I said, “Why?” I couldn’t understand at first what—

Marcos: I don’t understand. What’s the difference? Latino, Hispanic—

Aida: […] Are you white? No, I’m Puerto Rican. You’re right.

CW: Because for me, I’m Peruvian. Why do they have to put us in these circumstances of Hispanic categories? Sincerely, it was a little difficult. It was difficult but now I understand. I understand because one—And also, when we began talking about women of color it was at an anti-racism training. So they said, “white women here and women of color here.” But it was my first training, I didn’t understand. And they said, “Carmen, come here.” Since I didn’t know I said, “No. They said women of color, people of color.” And I …[laughs]

Aida: My husband […] “You’re a woman.” […] “I’m a woman of color.” And he goes, “What? You’re whiter than me!”

CW: The funniest thing was that I didn’t understand them. I didn’t understand. And they said, since they called me, “Come with us.” But why? Then I ask the director, right, who is white, “Am I people of color or woman of color? [laughs]
And she said, she said, “If you identify.” But for me it was all new. So then I said, “Well, I have no choice but to go with what they assign me […]”. And it wasn’t because, in other words, because it was bad or because they were less than me. No, no, no because similarly I’m an immigrant, right. I am a mixture of Indian and Spanish, therefore it isn’t that. Simply the terminology, at that moment, I couldn’t understand why they separated us. Why are we separated, why? Color doesn’t matter if we’re all the same. Now I understand, because there’s racism and all of that. But it has been a journey that I have had to follow, right.

Transcription ends.

Latinos are sometimes unaware of American racial categories. Born in Peru, Carmen Williams moved to Chesterfield, Virginia, in 1991 with her family. While at a workplace training in Richmond, she was labeled a woman of color for the first time. Initially not sure where she fit in culturally, over time Williams accepted being labeled a woman of color to acknowledge the history of race in the United States and work toward equality. Carmen Williams works at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She is an advocate for victims of domestic violence and for immigrant rights.

La Siesta sign (ca. 1982)The Valentine

The “Siesta Man” was created as part of the signage for La Siesta, Richmond’s first Mexican restaurant opened by the Zajur family in 1972. The Spanish word siesta means a midday break and a time where families gather for a meal before returning to work. The “Siesta Man” is a well-known symbol associated with Mexican folkloric art. Although the Zajurs intended the signage to represent a Mexican tradition, the “Siesta Man” can also connote a negative stereotype of Latino laborers being lazy.

Prior to La Siesta, the Zajurs, who immigrated to Richmond in 1959, owned various restaurants, including Michel’s Lunch. Formerly located at 308 E. Broad Street, Michel’s Lunch (1960–1970) was one of the city’s first restaurants to welcome customers of all backgrounds.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass manuscript and books in English and Spanish (2013) by Meg MedinaThe Valentine

"I started to write and the voice that was there was my family’s voice. It was my voice. It was me wrestling on issues of identity—of Latina identity… my feminism… all the different ways that I identify." –Meg Medina

This award-winning novel by Richmond-based author Meg Medina is centered on a young Latina coming to terms with her identity amid academic and social pressures at school, home and work. Ms. Medina, born in Virginia to Cuban refugees and raised in New York, moved to Richmond in 1998 with her family.

Silabario Hispano Americano (1948) by Adrián Dufflocq GaldamesThe Valentine


More than 100 languages are spoken in Latin America, including indigenous dialects, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and Caribbean English. Language brings people together but can also create barriers. Latinos in Richmond are often pulled in different directions as they learn new languages and preserve native tongues. 

Soccer ball used by AHAR Soccer Team (1994)The Valentine

In 1999, La Asociación de Hispano Americanos de Richmond (AHAR) established a soccer team to teach English to Latino students aged four to 10. Co-founders Juan and Andrea Chávez emigrated from El Salvador to Richmond in the late 1970s and 80s. They recognized the need to reinforce English outside of the classroom and unite the growing Richmond Latino population. AHAR became the first organization focused on serving Richmond’s pan-Latino community.

Women’s flamenco dress (ca. 1976) by Unknown Colombian seamstressThe Valentine

Prior to founding the Latin Ballet of Virginia in 1997, Ana Inés King visited schools throughout the Richmond area teaching English as a second language through dance while wearing her mother’s red flamenco dress. Inspired by her daughter Melody, who had a difficult time adjusting to language and cultural differences when the family immigrated to Richmond from Colombia, King aimed to instill confidence, cultural pride and knowledge of English and Spanish through the Latin Ballet of Virginia. The organization now enrolls approximately 400 students in dance classes and educational programs.

Silabario Hispano Americano (1948) by Adrián Dufflocq GaldamesThe Valentine

The Silabario Hispano Americano is a Spanish-language activity book that Evelyn Trigueros gave to her daughter Cynthia Reyes to learn how to read and write in Spanish alongside her grandmother Maria Trigueros. Evelyn Trigueros brought this book from El Salvador to Los Angeles, California, where she immigrated in the late 1970s with her mother and sister. Cynthia Reyes, who lives in Richmond, now uses this book to teach her two children Spanish and to preserve the family’s native tongue.

Hispanic College Institute t-shirt (2010)The Valentine


Latino students in Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond City public schools represent an increasingly significant portion of the population, which is causing teachers and administration to adapt to new kinds of backgrounds and life experiences. Nationally, the Latino high school dropout rate has decreased from 33 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2014. Additionally, 35 percent of Latinos ages 18–24 are enrolled in two- or four-year colleges. Educational success requires interconnected support systems  to overcome a student’s learning, personal and legal obstacles. 

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

“When I walked across the stage to receive my stole, my dad yelled out, ‘¡viva la raza!’ (may the people live on)” –Ariana Santoya Lemus

Ariana Santoya Lemus received this multi-colored stole at Virginia Commonwealth University’s first Latina/o Graduation Ceremony as a symbol of her accomplishments and pride in her Latino heritage. She is a first-generation college graduate and received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in teaching. Ariana was born in Eagle Pass, Texas. Her Mexican-Chicano family moved to Chesterfield County, Virginia, in 1997, attracted by the availability of jobs in the construction industry.

Hispanic College Institute t-shirt (2010)The Valentine

Santiago, who prefers not to use his last name, emigrated from Ecuador to Henrico County, Virginia, in 2002. Santiago wore this t-shirt when he was a student at the Hispanic Youth Symposium, now Hispanic College Institute, in 2010 at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia. The program motivated him to pursue college despite his undocumented status. Santiago was able to work and attend J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College through President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, which protected him from deportation and authorized him for employment. In 2014, Santiago received a full scholarship to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in engineering in 2017.

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.
Google apps