Community Activists Stage Protest Action at El Museo del Barrio’s 50th Anniversary

Jun 13, 2019
4:05 PM

During the 50th anniversary celebration and exhibit at New York City’s El Museo del Barrio on Monday, activists staged a protest, demanding that the board respond to the needs of the community.

In an action where protesters wore t-shirts that said “El Museo fue del Barrio” (“The museum was of El Barrio”), individuals read a manifesto, stating grievances over the museum’s direction and handed out over 400 copies of their statement, expressing concerns about erasure.

“Our event was basically an activity to create community awareness and education about the manifesto and the campaign that was launched [in relation to] El Museo del Barrio because we felt that it was a good opportunity to have that embedded into the process of the celebration,” Debbie Quiñones, one of the lead organizers, told Latino Rebels. “It’s easy to kind of say, ‘everything is okay,’ when it’s not.”

The Mirror Manifesto is a statement signed by dozens of academics, students, activists, curators, artists and others. The manifesto makes demands of the museum to cater to the people of El Barrio and other New York and tri-state area Latinx communities, as opposed to what the statement calls “elitist Latin American art.” The manifesto, dated March 28, 2019, states:

If El Barrio means neighborhood, or enclave, and we are defining the institution as encompassing a diasporic latinidad, then what we are contending with is what is now being called “Latinx.” Loosely defined, this is the Nuyorican, the Dominiyorker, the first, second, and third generations of Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Hondurans that make up a barrio in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. It is the El Salvadorian and Guatemalteco kids in Silver Springs, Maryland, the Cubans in New Jersey, the Tejanos, the Chicanos. It is the dreamers and the migrants who identify with a U.S. lived experience. It is the children of immigrants at the border and the children of recently arrived Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Pennsylvania Post- Maria, that have and will grow up here.

This is distinct from Latin America and should not be confused. For too long, this ambiguity has rendered Latinx artists invisible.

Quiñones said that many thought the action was part of the Monday anniversary activities.

“We went into the gallery and we identified three pieces that represent Latinx artists and read portions of the Manifesto in front of the pieces,” Quiñones explained. “I think that people initially thought it was a part of the program, but then once we kept reading, you can see that people’s faces kind of transformed… with concern. Interested people were asking questions and really making an effort to understand. So I think that what we did was we were able to transform the celebration into a conscious level event.”

The protest is the latest in a series of call-outs where many have expressed their grievances about the museum’s mission and leadership. For instance, former Museo director Marta Moreno Vega shared her sentiments and decision to remove her portrait from El Museo in March.

When asked to further explain her concerns, Quiñones added, “It’s about who directs the Museo and the staff and how do they advocate for a balance between the mission statement, expansion, and looking at their promotion of Puerto Rican and Latinx art and Latin American art. And I want to be clear that I don’t have anything against Latin American art.”

Latino Rebels reached out to El Museo del Barrio for a statement. As of this posting, it has not received a response.

Update, June 14, 10:39am ET. A representative from El Museo Del Barrio responded to an inquiry from Latino Rebels with the following statement:

“El Museo del Barrio issued a statement in April when the Mirror Manifesto first appeared, which you can find attached. We have no further comment regarding the Manifesto.”

Update, June 19, 1:51pm ET. A representative from El Museo Del Barrio also sent the following statement:

El Museo del Barrio debuted the second section of its 50th anniversary exhibition, Culture and the People during this year’s Museum Mile Festival, which displays an institutional timeline of the museum’s history and legacy over the past five decades. The exhibition, also inclusive of more than 120 works from the museum’s Permanent Collection by nearly 80 artists (primarily Puerto Rican and Latinx), firmly places our mission and values at the forefront. The evening was also representative of El Museo’s diverse programming, including a new collaboration with Nuevayorkinos (a visual digital archive dedicated to New York City’s Latinx population), live music by leading Latinx performers, and family-friendly art-making workshops for the community. We welcomed nearly 3000 visitors to El Museo throughout the evening. We look forward to welcoming everyone to El Museo del Barrio this summer as we continue to celebrate our 50th anniversary!


Amanda Alcántara is the Digital Media Editor at Futuro Media. She tweets from @YoSoy_Amanda.