Taína Caragol, curator for Latino art and history, has only been at the National Portrait Gallery for two years, but visitors are already sensing her influence through recent acquisitions to the collection and in popular exhibitions, such as “Portraiture Now: Staging the Self.”
Committed to raising the visibility of Latino figures in U.S. history as well as Latino portrait artists, she has acquired more than eighty portraits, among them images of writer Sandra Cisneros and singer Marc Anthony. Her effort is part of a Smithsonian-wide initiative to integrate the story of Latinos in our national museums and pave the way for other underrepresented cultures.
Many of the images that Taína has acquired are groups of photographic portraits that document figures within specific Latino communities. A one-of-a-kind portfolio by ADÁL (a.k.a. Adál Maldonado) features crucial figures of the Puerto Rican diaspora, from actors Raúl Juliá and Rita Moreno, to trombonist Willie Colón, fashion illustrator Antonio López, and poet Pedro Pietri. Paying homage to the Nuyorican (New York–Puerto Rican) literary tradition that emerged in the 1970s and its alternation of Spanish and English, ADÁL titled this portfolio Los Portraits.
Continuing in the vein of cataloguing important personalities, George Rodríguez’s photographic series records Chicanos and West Coast Latinos who have distinguished themselves for their work in the performing arts, and on behalf of public education. Among the portraits are actors Anthony Quinn and Edward James Olmos and educators Sal Castro and Jaime Escalante.
In July, Taína will present her first historical show for the Portrait Gallery, “One Life: Dolores Huerta”(on view July 3, 2015–May 15, 2016). Huerta, an activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 with César Chávez, quickly became a major force behind the United Farm Workers union a few years later. Although Chávez was the public face of their campaign, Huerta was instrumental in lobbying for the rights of California migrant workers (most of whom were of Mexican and Filipino descent), protesting hazardous working conditions, negotiating contracts with growers, and pressing for passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975.
In the mid-1960s she was one of the main strategists behind the national grape boycott, which called on consumers to stop buying grapes from growers who refused to cooperate with the union. She was the first woman in U.S. history to spearhead such a movement and now, at age eighty-five, she continues to work for justice and reform.
The exhibition features photographs of Huerta as a young girl in Stockton, California; her early years as a volunteer for the Community Service Organization of California, run by her mentor, Fred Ross; championing the rights of farm workers with Chávez in the early 1960s with the National Farm Workers Association; during the founding of the United Farm Workers; and raising a “Huelga” (“Strike”) banner. Also included in the exhibition are items from the farm workers’ movement, such a flags, pins, boycott posters, and flyers.
The mother of eleven children, Huerta saw no barrier between her family and work. She believed that women were essential to the fight in the struggle against injustice: “People are poor so the whole family works together and the whole family strikes together and pickets together. . . . We are nonviolent, and the women bring a lot of dignity to our movement.”
Expect to see more of Latino art and culture at the Portrait Gallery as Taína’s contributions go on view. She is hoping that that visitors will start to make interesting connections among the works, so that a portrait of Puerto Rico’s first governor, Luis Munoz Marín, will generate discussion about the migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, which will in turn lead them to ponder the image of Sonia Sotomayor, the daughter of Puerto Rican migrants and the first Latina justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
—Amy Pastan, for the National Portrait Gallery