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B. Valladares Case Statement

NHC 2016 Working Group
Challenging the Exclusive Past: Relevancy, Inclusion, and Diversity
Banu Valladares’ Case Statement

I’m personally and professionally excited about the timing for this conversation as it fits into my life‐long interest in finding my “authentic” voice/self as a second language speaker in the United States and my career focus on working closely with community organizations and individuals to design public programs that meet their needs.

This is also ideal timing for my career at the North Carolina Humanities Council as this conversation leverages and furthers the Council’s mission and strategic goals, as well as the momentum started by our current programs and statewide strategic initiatives, Pulitzer NC: The Power of Words (2016) and Journey in the New South: Conversations on the Legacy of Race and Ethnicity in North Carolina (2017).

Pulitzer NC raised questions about how we deal with the requirements of the First Amendment, whose truth we represent, and our responsibility as humanities institutions to confront community issues and make a call to action to change community conversations and the way a community thinks. Journey in the New South further explores those questions as we work closely with 4 host communities across the state to identify the current persistent social, economic, cultural, and racial issues that divide them, then plan, design, and implement relevant public humanities programs in each community to addresses those issues. Using North Carolina’s rich cultural heritage (foodways, music, literature, history) and humanities scholarship and scholars, we will create safe spaces for cross‐cultural interactions that lead to greater cultural and racial understanding. These programs, centered in the legacy of race and ethnicity of each community and applied to current context, will create civic spaces for the community to gather, experience their local culture, and engage in dialogue around the identified local issues. The goal of these programs is to develop sustained public humanities conversations that humanize the other and bring a greater depth of understanding of their challenges and contributions.

From my perspective as an “immigrant” to the United States without a personal story in the culture, I’m very interested in exploring with this group the questions of language and identity that plagued me when I first arrived here: How do you develop a sense of self? What role do memory, story, and language play in self‐identification? How does bilingualism and bi‐culturalism affect self‐definition? How does a culture’s definition of race, ethnicity, heritage, social class, gender, age, economic status, “legal” status, privilege, and views of migration/citizenship inform/affect personal narratives? How do cultural stories and representation (and lack of) in historic narratives affect our understanding of ourselves? How do we construct personal narratives? How can we use literature and writing as tools to explore and change personal, cultural, and historical narratives?

Because of what I now understand was the privilege of my upbringing in an upper middle class Venezuelan family of mostly of European background, my high level of education, and because I came to the United States “legally” on a student visa, I fell into what I like to call the “exotic Latina import” bucket, and the story of how people have related to me since has overall been positive. I fit into a comfortable checkbox so I continue to enjoy privilege and get invited to many tables. Latinos born here, the ones whose stories begin with a hyphen (Mexican‐American, Honduran‐Americans, etc.), farm workers, the poor, those who cross the border or don’t have documents, the under‐educated, are not as fortunate as I’ve been. The stories given to them and told about them are more complex, less inviting, deeply rooted in the history of the country. There is no easy room at the table for these Latinos and when there is, their story tends to be oversimplified, romanticized. I’m very interested in exploring how these stories assigned to us from birth or at the moment we enter this culture affect our self‐ definition. I’m fascinated by the stories we tell others about who we are and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. I’m also fascinated by how we internalized others’ stories for us and sometimes become our own oppressors, and I’m very, very interested in and committed to transforming systems so people can tell themselves and others the stories they actually want to believe.

I bring to my career at the North Carolina Humanities Council and to this group, over 10 years of experience designing public programs that meet organization mission and respond to the needs and the diversity of the communities they serve. I have worked as a diversity consultant, served as the program director for outreach at the NC Arts Council, and was part of the leadership team of the diversity and inclusion working group there, developing internal policies and a culture to engage the diversity of our staff and better serve our constituents. I also recently received the ArtSi Sara Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing my support of the Latin American arts community in Charlotte NC.  As you can tell, I’m passionate about the topic of this conversation and I’m excited to work with all of you on a national team to explore and lead the way on how humanities councils engage and give voice to communities to inform our work developing relevant, inclusive, and diverse public humanities programs.