Kate Heston

The Latino Native American Cultural Center exhibit is seen in the main library gallery in Iowa City, IA. Established in 1971, the center celebrates their 50th anniversary this year.

Honoring 50 years of family

April 20, 2021

Just to the right of the Shambaugh Auditorium in the UI Main Library sits the LNACC exhibit, “Building Our Own Community: 50 Years of the Latino Native American Cultural Center, Founded by Chicano and American Indian Students in 1971.”

The exhibit, curated by Rachel Garza Carreón and Christopher Ortega, holds artwork, newspaper clippings, and items from the last 50 years. Sweeping quotes occupy the beige walls, once spoken by the three founders and others who influenced the center’s creation.

For Garza Carreón, coming to Iowa from San Antonio, Texas, made her long for her Chicana-Tejana roots and miss her culture’s traditions and foods. The LNACC was where she felt at home.

“You don’t have to explain yourself,” Garza Carreón said. “Whatever part of Latino and Native American culture you are — you have a place.”

An important piece of the history Garza Carreón said was the #DoesUIowaLoveMe movement in February 2019, during which students, staff, and faculty took to social media to share their concerns about discrimination on campus. Support came in the form of tweets, Instagram posts, and stories shared at a rally on the T. Anne Cleary walkway.

The exhibit will be open until late July for the students to visit in the Main Library Gallery.

Jessica Padilla, co-president of the Latino Native-American Alumni Alliance (LANA3), said maintaining the involvement of students is important after they graduate and leave the UI. The pandemic has created opportunities to make connections virtually and attempt to think about how to continue to foster that sense of community.

“The older you get, the more responsibilities you get,” Padilla said. “We just hope to continue to be a resource for our students.”

The Native American Student Association hosted its first-ever virtual event on April 17, entitled, “Honoring the Powwow at the University of Iowa.” The Powwow was canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020. The 26th annual Powwow looked a little different for 2021, but still honored those who continued to support the community. Similar to the 14th annual Latinx Week in Action held in March and Latinx/a/o Heritage Month for 2020, the events were held in an entirely virtual format because of COVID-19.

The LNACC will celebrate throughout 2021 with various events and virtual programming pending updated public health recommendations during the pandemic.

First-generation and Guatemalan American student McKrina Lopez serves as the student lead for the LNACC, alongside Coordinator Isabela Flores. Although the center’s “home away from home” feelings have drastically changed because of COVID-19, she still feels like there are different avenues to maintain the connection with students and celebrate this year.

“We are trying to keep relationships as best we can,” Lopez said. “… It has definitely been a challenge.”

Flores and Lopez continue to work hard with their peers to drive programming and the sense of community in a home that has such a wide range of history to it. They continue to uphold the values and recognize the importance of the center’s story from Barceló, Zavala, and Pushetonequa.

And even today, the originators feel a strong connection with the center.

“The cultural center,” Barceló said, “we affectionately called it, La Casa, our home.”

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