13 Jul Keeping Nuestra Cultura Alive
On Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015, I was sitting in the Presentation Ceremony of the Secretary of Interior’s Historic Preservation Awards for 2014. I was perched in the front row of the Department of Interior’s 7th floor penthouse with approximately 50 people. My fellow Washington D.C. interns, along with myself, had been invited to read the citations for the award recipients. It was a pleasure to have read and listened to the accomplishments of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local historic preservationists. Among the award recipients was Vernelda J. Grant the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the San Carlos Apache Tribe, which I had the honor of reading her citation. This was my second visit to the Department of the Interior, but the first time I got such an overview of the institution, including the opportunity to speak at the podium. The moment I found out that I would be introducing the award recipients, I had to call my parents, my partner, and my friends to let them know the good news, and, of course, they were all proud of me, which made me nervous. Initially, I was overwhelmed and feeling a bit unsettled at having to present a citation to a group of renowned historic preservationists, Federal employees, and my fellow interns—it was nerve wrecking. In the past, I have presented at research round tables, academic conferences, and even led three semester long course discussion sections at the University of Texas at Austin, but the fear of public speaking is something I have yet to overcome. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to chat with Vernelda prior to the commencement of the ceremony. I introduced myself and mentioned to her that I would be reading her citation. She could tell I was nervous, so she smiled and told me to relax and assured me that I would do a great job—her kind words settled my nervousness. In the end, my fellow interns and I successfully presented the award citations and were highly praised for doing so.
I would like to take a moment and reflect at how significant this was for me. In my previous post, I have mentioned much about my background, so I will omit from discussing it again, but I do want to stress that presenting—even if it was a three-paragraph ceremony citation—at the Department of the Interior was one of the highlights of my life. I would have never guessed that one-day I would have had this admirable opportunity. What is more remarkable is that I was able to read the citation of a distinguished strong Indigenous woman that is at the forefront of preserving her people’s traditions from being lost. When Vernelda received her award, she spoke in the San Carlos Apache language. It was a powerful moment to hear her speak in a language that is older than the Americas and that has survived many attempts at eradication by outside epistemic and structural forces. It was at this moment that I realized the importance of cultural historic preservation. I am proud to be part of the Latino Heritage Internship Program, because it is through these programs that we as students and scholars are able to learn and develop the necessary skills that will keep the legacies of nuestra cultura alive for future generations to enjoy and know.