Spearheaded by a University of Colorado Boulder emerita professor, the Boulder County Latino History Project brings together scholars, community leaders, educators, and youth to properly record and share the virtually untold history of Latinos in Boulder County. Project leaders and volunteers have gathered historical artifacts detailing Latino history, culture, and influences over the past 100 years, and those findings are now being incorporated into local classrooms.
Marjorie McIntosh, University of Colorado Boulder professor emerita of history, was shocked to discover the lack of Latino inclusion in the prevailing histories of Boulder County. Furthermore, she worried that Latino history was a missing chapter in local schools’ history lessons and in American history classrooms nationwide.
“With a few small exceptions, Latinos are virtually invisible in the standard histories of Boulder County,” McIntosh said. “For me, it’s a moral issue. What we know about the past should be about everybody.”
Buoyed by a passion to make it right, McIntosh partnered with Latino groups, historical organizations and dedicated volunteers to launch the Boulder County Latino History Project in 2013.
In its early stages, project volunteers and high school and college student interns gathered oral, written, and photographic information about the experiences of Latinos Boulder County over the past century. Their research turned up community lore detailing compelling stories about college-student protests, obstinate war veterans, the demise of discriminatory ordinances, and even a near lynching.
Volunteers and interns then digitalized countless sources to form the one of the country’s most comprehensive multi-media collections of local Latino history to date. Much of the collection is now accessible on the project website, bocolatinohistory.colorado.edu, and McIntosh is writing a book about the project’s findings.
“We want (the Boulder County Latino History Project) to document the struggles and the way so many people succeeded despite those struggles,” she said. “We want to make very clear the contributions Latinos have made in Boulder County.”
Now in its second phase with support from a CU-Boulder Outreach Award, the Boulder County Latino History Project has begun to focus on sharing its materials with K-12 educators. The goal is to help teachers from all grade levels in the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley School Districts learn about the history of local Latinos, explore the project’s collection of primary sources (some held at local museums and libraries), and develop classroom materials that utilize those sources to make history come alive for their students.
Kent Willmann, CU-Boulder School of Education instructor and former St. Vrain Valley social studies teacher, and Leonora Velasquez, former Boulder Valley principal and administrator, are co-directors of the project’s K-12 efforts. They hosted a pilot, interdisciplinary workshop for K-12 teachers in June 2014 to seek direction and input from educators.
“Teachers trust other teachers, so we want to make sure that the instructional materials and trainings we produce are the kinds that meet their needs,” Willmann said. “We want our materials to be a choice for teachers who want to engage kids with primary sources and topics of interest to their students.
“(Together) we get to expose students to stories that are empowering and sobering, that connect events right here in Boulder County to larger events in our nation.”
Teachers who participated in the pilot workshop are introducing Boulder County Latino history into their existing curriculum throughout the school year. Teachers decide when and how to incorporate the material into their classrooms.
Isabel Chavez-McBeth is a teacher in the St. Vrain Valley School District who attended the pilot workshop. She said the project was well timed to help with her search for Latino history to include in her third grade classroom.
“I was planning to incorporate local history into my class, but I struggled to find the history in books,” she said. “Now I plan to use primary sources from the Longmont Museum in my lessons.
“I’ve learned a lot from the resources they have provided, too. It’s important to look at the struggles Latinos have been through and how they have contributed to the community. It’s important for Latino students to have strong role models.”
CU-Boulder faculty and students in education, history, and ethnic studies are continuous resources for the teachers as they develop, test, and refine their teaching materials. Project leaders aim is to expand the project to include a larger set of local teachers, and the project will host a larger teacher workshop during the summer 2015. In the long term, they hope their efforts could serve as a model for other communities that want to preserve and make known the experiences of groups that have traditionally remained hidden.