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Latinx exhibit set to open at Museum of Durham History in September

Durham’s Latinx community will receive special recognition just after the city’s 150th anniversary—its first exhibit at the Museum of Durham History.

The museum will collect oral histories from various Latinx people in Durham throughout the next few months to prepare for a September opening.

“Our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories that aren't often the most prominent," said Patrick Mucklow, executive director of the Museum of Durham History. "We feel like the story of the Latino community is not well represented in Durham and we want to try and tell it."

The exhibit comes after several years of planning by museum staff, who are turning to the community to gather their recollections of life in Durham. Because of the museum's limited size, exhibits will tend to focus more on stories than artifacts.

“We can tell you what happened on this date in this place, but it will go in one ear and out the other. But if we tell you about a specific person and their experiences and their recollections, it makes the history more personal,” said Jeanette Shaffer, the museum's director of operations.

However, not all of their stories will be celebratory. In February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested roughly 200 people in raids across the state, some of whom were arrested in Durham.

According to Durham police officer Karina Ramos, the raids have caused the Latinx community to distrust Durham police. In an attempt to forge relationships and trust, officers like Ramos are frequenting the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, where hundreds of Latinx residents worship on Sundays.

Other relevant changes are underway. The Durham Police Department’s graduating class of new recruits had the largest bilingual population yet this year, Ramos said.

In order to properly convey the perspectives of Durham’s Latinx population, museum staff gave a presentation at a meeting of the Mayor’s Hispanic/Latino Committee, which was founded in 2015. The staff went looking for feedback from members as to which pieces of history they found valuable and important to highlight.

The Latinx community has grown rapidly in Durham. Latinx people made up roughly 1% of the population in the 1990's. By 2010, Latinx people made up nearly 14% of Durham's population. 

Shaffer said the exhibit will focus on immigration on the national, state and local level, diversity within the Latinx population, work life and religion. However, the museum’s staff is open to changes if something interesting comes up during conversations they plan to have with Latinx residents, Shaffer said.

The next step will be to organize oral history, image and artifact collection days in the community. Staffers will bring portable scanners, oral recording devices and video recording devices to collect stories. They will do so on dates the museum will release this month.

Of utmost concern to the museum during these collections is to uphold its mission to promote an understanding of diverse perspectives about the Durham community and its history, Mucklow said.

“We want to responsibly go out into the community to build trust and make sure that we honor that trust in our exhibits,” he said.

The exhibit will open in September to honor National Hispanic Heritage Month, which lasts from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It will remain on display at the museum until December.

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