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A “Living” Latino Museum could come to Lorain

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

As a teacher for over 30 years, Guillermo Arriaga said he saw firsthand how the Latino culture is dying locally because a great part of the youth simply do not know their culture. He knew he had to do something to change that. And with his selection of roughly 3,000 Latin American artifacts collected over the years and housed in his own Lorain, Ohio home – everything from folkloric clothing to pottery – the mission to share the Latino culture was born.

Guillermo and Andrea Arriaga

Arriaga hopes to bring the first Latino museum to Lorain in the near future, to join the ranks of the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center in Toledo [emphasis on Chicano] and Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center in Cleveland [emphasis on Caribbean]. But he is still looking for a building in the city best suitable to house his museum.

“Our schools don’t teach our culture; it’s up to us,” Arriaga said “As an educator, I was too busy teaching the basic stuff. You don’t have time to teach the rest. We are losing a lot of our culture.”

A Latino culture he hopes to preserve with his museum.

“Latinos have just as much pride and things to contribute to the world,” he said.


A Living Museum

His museum – called the Museum of Hispanic and Latino Cultures – will display authentic artifacts including folkloric clothing, children’s toys and dolls, jewelry and pottery from several Latino countries spanning the pre-Columbian Era to current time, though his greatest collections are from Perú and his ancestral México.

Among his collection are artifacts from the indigenous peoples of the Americas, but especially the Aztecs and Mayans from Central America – items he collected while visiting Mexico.  But he has only been able to visit a few Mexican cities directly across the U.S. border, and plans to visit the capital for a greater collection.

He said his collection of Puerto Rican items is not very large currently but he hopes to expand that area as he is planning to visit the island for the first time at the end of this year.

Arriaga has been collecting the items for over 30 years with most items being purchased from flea markets, thrift stores, garage sales, or people have donated them.

“Lorain is rich with a lot of Hispanic artisans but they are hidden,” Arriaga said “We want people to know not only who are the Latinos in this city but in this world.”

To showcase Latinos’ achievements among the different walks of life, the museum will also display  Latinos in movies, music, and sports.

The Latino collection is not the only feature setting this museum apart; Arriaga said he wants his museum to be a “living museum,” a place where the community can become involved. He wants to travel worldwide to bring music, entertainment, writers, public speakers, as well as more artifacts to the museum.

“We don’t just want to display our artifacts. We want our museum to be a ‘living museum’ where people share their traditions, where artists can become part of our community” Arriaga said “When a Latino walks in, to be able to say, ‘this is who I am. These are my ancestors. This is my future.’”

Museum of Hispanic and Latino Cultures: Future events.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, they are planning an art show and exhibit at Lorain County Community College's extended campus at Lorain's St. Joseph center, Sept. 21 to 23, 2011.  On that Friday, LCCC's Los Unidos, several Toledoans, and Oberlin College Latino students will present an art show, sing, dance and read Spanish poetry.

Museum president and curator Guillermo Arriaga said they are also planning to set up an exhibit at the Oberlin College campus in the future.  They are still seeking to collaborate with other organizations including Lorain City Schools during Hispanic Heritage month.

Plus, they plan on displaying several of their artifacts within the art museums of Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus in the future.

A Building for the Museum

Arriaga, president and curator of the museum, said he has four board directors including his daughter Andrea and son Francisco, and his museum became incorporated for nonprofit status with the Ohio Secretary of State office last year, July 8, 2010. 

But he is still waiting for his public, nonprofit museum to receive a tax-exempt status from the State Secretary office, and hopes to have it by this summer - an important status that will enable him to receive greater cash donations.

But his most anticipated move: he needs a building for his museum. 

Arriaga has talked with city officials about his need for a building, and is looking toward the downtown Lorain, more specifically Broadway Avenue area. He is considering renting a space on the first floor of the St. Joseph Community Center, 20th Street and Broadway Avenue, as he needs a place with sufficient parking.

Arriaga said he is confident he will receive sufficient funding to run his museum.

“The money is out there even through these terrible times,” Arriaga said “People are excited about this.”

Rey Carrion, from the city’s Community Development Department, said his group has been talking with Arriaga about his plans for over a year.

“We saw his business is a great addition to our city, and we are still determining the site best suitable for him,” he said.

Carrion said St. Joe’s could be a possible site because it has spaces available and already houses another museum, the Lorain Sports Hall of Fame.

“We have plenty of empty buildings; we are working to eliminate that vacancy rate and promote businesses downtown,” Carrion said “The Hispanic population continues to grow here and I think it’s great that someone is taking the initiative to portray our culture,” he said.

Born and raised in Ohio, Arriaga graduated from Bowling Green State University and then Ashland University, and taught at the Elementary level in Fremont for 7 years. He taught 7th and 8th grade Science in Lorain for 25 years, and retired December 2010 to pursue his museum goals full-time.

But he was close to leaving it all behind 6 years ago after weathering a divorce.

“God put it in my head to continue, that the people of Lorain need this,” he said.

Today his goals are to preserve the Latino cultures as well as help the city financially.

“We want to bring jobs and multimillion dollars to Lorain,” Arriaga said, “We want to bring the world to Lorain, and bring our heritage back to our people,” he said.

To help with monetary or artifact donations, call Guillermo Arriaga at (440) 478-7385. Or write to P.O. Box 768, Lorain, Ohio 44052.

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Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/14/11 19:05:10 -0700.





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