Latinos in Heritage Conservation (LHC) was co-founded in 2014 by an intergenerational group of heritage practitioners, advocates, scholars, and students interested in building a national network to support Latinx preservation efforts across the country. Those individuals included Desiree Aranda, Laura Dominguez, Sehila Mota Casper, Antonia Castañeda, Sarah Zenaida Gould, Belinda Faustinos, Luis Hoyos, Manuel Huerta, Julianne Polanco, Ray Rast, Josie S. Talamantez, and Eddie Torrez. Within three years, Sara Delgadillo, Betty Villegas, Marta V. Martínez, Moira Nadal, Yolanda Chávez Leyva, and Daniel Serda also joined the organization. Many of these individuals formed LHC’s founding board of directors.
LHC was the brainchild of Desiree Aranda and Laura Dominguez, co-workers at San Francisco Heritage. The two were inspired by the work of Asian & Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP), which had been in existence since 2011. After attending a meeting of APIAHiP held in San Francisco in 2014, Desiree and Laura discussed the possibilities of a similar organization that focused on preserving Latinx heritage and mentoring emerging practitioners. As it was, they already communicated informally with other Latinx heritage advocates across the country, sharing strategies and offering support. The two reached out to other Latinx heritage conservationists, as well as Tanya Bowers, then Director of Diversity at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and proposed a formalized network or coalition of practitioners and advocates who could better organize around threats to important Latinx heritage sites.
Like many good ideas, different people in different places had simultaneously identified the need for such a coalition. Members of the Mexican American-based Westside Preservation Alliance in San Antonio, Texas, including Sarah Gould and Antonia Castañeda, had a similar thought. Sehila Mota Casper, then a master’s student in historic preservation at the Savannah College of Art and Design, wrote her thesis on the topic of Latino conservation practices and similarly called for a national strategy. In 2011, the National Park Service launched its American Latino Heritage Initiative and published American Latinos and the Making of the United States: a Theme Study in 2013. These federal efforts also spurred the momentum of a national grassroots movement to conserve sites of Latinx heritage. Several individuals involved in the American Latino Heritage Initiative―Antonia Castañeda, Ray Rast, Belinda Faustinos, and Luis Hoyos―joined the interest group. Other early members were engaged at the local level in California, including efforts to create a Latino Cultural District in San Francisco, to document and preserve cultural landscapes associated with the Chicano Movement in East Los Angeles, and to designate San Diego’s Chicano Park and its Monumental Murals as a National Historic Landmark.
To gauge support for such a network, the group, now calling itself Latinos in Heritage Conservation (LHC), organized a session at the National Trust’s PastForward 2014 conference in Savannah, Georgia. The session, entitled, “Latinos in Heritage Conservation: Building a National Network,” garnered great interest and attracted new members to the group. During an informal happy hour following the conference session, Chicago-based architect and National Trust advisor Eddie Torrez proposed the idea of organizing a national gathering of Latinx heritage advocates in Tucson, Arizona within six months. His enthusiasm and energy was infectious, and everyone agreed to his spontaneous, but exciting proposition. Over the next six months, LHC organized its first solo event that eventually took place in Tucson, Arizona in May of 2015 with support from the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation and the University of Arizona’s Heritage Conservation Program.
It was during the Tucson summit when the members of LHC made the decision to become a nonprofit organization focused on advocacy, education, and leadership. Attendees identified national priorities and formed working committees, in addition to sharing experiences and learning about Tucson’s Mexican American heritage.
In June of 2015, LHC executive committee member, Julie Polanco, was appointed State Historic Preservation Officer for California, requiring her to step down from the executive committee.
Between 2015 and 2020, LHC held two additional national gatherings: Reunión 2016 in Houston and Encuentro 2018 in Rhode Island. In 2020, Latinos in Heritage Conservation incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the state of Arizona. Hartford, Connecticut-based architect and attorney, Sara Bronin, joined LHC as the newest board director that same year. In 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Bronin for the position of chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).
As of 2021, the work of LHC centers on the advancement and appointment of Latinxs to key federal historic preservation positions, including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the NPS; support of local grassroots Latinx heritage conservation efforts and projects; and the development of our own Abuela’s Project―a multi-year preservation initiative to collect, curate, and amplify place-based stories.
While LHC is a young organization, historic preservation in Latinx communities has a past. Out of view of mainstream preservationists, advocates have fought to save their longtime homes, neighborhoods, businesses, parks, and other community spaces. Most did so without formal training and did not call themselves preservationists, at least not at first. Nonetheless, they rooted themselves in the places that mattered most to them, often putting their bodies on the line to defend their belonging in their local communities and in the nation at large. Today’s advocates inherit these traditions of democratic participation, pride of place and culture, and resistance to social injustice from earlier generations of civil rights and ethnic studies movements. Then as now, we stand in solidarity with other groups whose histories, important places, and culture have been systematically erased, and we imagine a future in which our heritage is recognized as part and parcel of the American experience.
Learn how LHC went from a tireless grassroots volunteer group to hiring our inaugural staff: