Estuardo Rodriguez, President of FRIENDS.
Estuardo Rodriguez, President of Friends of the American Latino Museum (FRIENDS).

Estuardo Rodriguez: "Latinos are still treated like invaders in the United States"

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Although Latinos contributed to the formation of the United States from its very origins and their presence in the country dates back to before the Mayflower era, their role in history is still unknown to a majority of Anglo-Saxon Americans and Latinos. 

For that reason, Friends of the American Latino Museum (FRIENDS) has been struggling for more than a decade for U.S. Hispanics to have their own place on Washington's National Mall from which to tell the world that erased part of history. And much more than that, to help those who try to divide them understand that Latinos are not "The Other."

Today FRIENDS celebrates its annual American Latino Influencers Awards gala in Los Angeles.  President of FRIENDS, Estuardo Rodriguez, spoke with AL DÍA about the significance of the awards. 


You've been advocating for an American Latino Museum in Washington since 2004, but it's still stuck as a bill. It's a historic struggle...

Well, it's a process that doesn't come easy, but 14 years is nothing... We have the precedent of the American Indian Museum and the African American Museum, which cost almost 50 years of fighting, although it actually goes back more than 90 years. We are now successful because of the success of the African American Museum, which is always full and brings in a lot of money to the National Mall.  

Why is it so important for U.S. Latinos and for the country itself to have a museum of Latino history?

In the United States, we accept that we are a very diverse population, but we lack the knowledge to understand that we should not focus only on Anglo-Saxon culture. 

If we take a look at the history of our country, the Spaniards, Mexicans and also indigenous groups of the Southwest had already established their cities for more than three or four hundred years, and when the pilgrims arrived they met with those municipalities, but our textbooks don't talk about that.

And that's one of the reasons why there is so much racism and the widespread idea in Anglo-Saxon communities that Hispanics are "invaders." If they could understand how much we have contributed to the formation of the country, we could interact better; we could accept, for example, that cities like San Antonio and Los Angeles have Hispanic names for a reason.

"We need an understanding among the community itself; we should respect history and the reason why some Latinos have not learned Spanish."

On the contrary, in each presidential election, we find a more hostile environment, with more divisive rhetoric against Hispanics, using them as a tactic to scare people and threaten voters to go out to the polls to defend the country being attacked.

We, the Spaniards and Central Americans, even helped George Washington in that war that was so important for our country, and few know that. And they are pieces of our history that are not about the wall or the economy of Latin America, but about the history of the U.S. Those tools are very important to move forward together. 

Do you think that racist attacks like the El Paso massacre last August could have been avoided if citizens knew more, for example, about the role of Hispanics in Texas history? Was it a matter of ignorance or mere supremacist hatred?

There will always be those who want to divide and threaten Hispanics so they don't go out and vote. That division causes racism and hatred. I'm not saying that we could have avoided the El Paso attack, but it's quite possible that a person raised in the United States, being Anglo-Saxon and learning the history of Latinos in the country as Americans, probably wouldn't have gone all the way to El Paso if he or she had understood that we are not invaders, but Americans. And we are contributing to the country and we are patriots. 

That's the point of the Latino Museum, to educate people who don't understand and are afraid of losing their American identity, but this includes Hispanics. 

Whenever Latinos are mentioned in the media, it is related to drugs, gangs or migration. What responsibility do both the media and the film industry have in this prejudicial approach? What responsibility do Latinos themselves have?

Immigration reform has been discussed for 20 years. We are a community that is growing and contributing to each sector, creating new businesses. However, the most controversial stories are often told in the media, not the positive ones; from time to time new statistics come out of how many Hispanic businesses have started and this is good news, but people no longer pay attention.

We need to create new digital platforms to inform and educate not only our community but also others. And look for success stories like that of Secretary Hilda Solis, whose life is the American dream and very few know it, with a migrant family and being part of a historic administration like Obama's... That's the kind of leadership that Hispanics offer. 

But the truth is that it's hard for the media to understand. That's why we have to insist that Hispanic history be part of the curriculum in high school and that there are museums like the American Latino Museum. 

Do you think second- and third-generation U.S. Latinos take pride in their roots? I think, for example, that many of them don't speak Spanish.

Last spring, crosses and wooden coffins made by students were discovered in an abandoned school in a Texas town. It was a Spanish-language funeral that the children organized in their day. It said, "Rest in peace Spanish." 

Cubans in Miami or Puerto Ricans in New York don't get the reality many lived a few generations ago, those who were forbidden to speak Spanish when they were in school. And it's traumatic. 

"The women in our community are tremendous leaders." 

I understand that you have to have a certain level of appreciation for our culture, but you also have to respect that many families in the country, especially in Texas, were threatened by teachers and by the city itself, which wanted to erase their Hispanic identity to make sure they would not to teach their children to speak Spanish. 

They have criticized Julián Castro a lot for this reason, but it is hard to understand what his mother suffered. There needs to be an understanding within the community itself; we should respect history and the reason why some Latinos have not learned Spanish. A very horrible legacy should not be forgotten in this country, where many children were punished for showing their Hispanic roots.

Tonight the American Latino Influencer Awards will be presented and the winners are all women, which makes us happy...

Many times in these events only men are recognized and nobody is surprised. What we did was simply to look for leaders who have had an impact on the country, and the politicians Hilda Solis and Rosario Marin, as well as the soldier Olga Custodio and the philanthropist and executive Dorene Dominguez, have very interesting stories. 

The women in our community are tremendous leaders.



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