The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) recently announced the appointment of E. Carmen Ramos as its first curator for Latino art.
According to the museum's press release, Ms. Ramos will be responsible for acquiring artworks for the museum’s permanent collection and producing a major exhibition and catalog based on the museum’s Latino holdings for fall 2013. She begins work on Oct. 12.
Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the museum, welcomed the hiring with the comments that she was "thrilled that E. Carmen Ramos is bringing her expertise and insights here to help us feature Latino artists who transform personal experiences and cultural heritage into vivid artworks,” and furthermore added that Latino artists' "stories are culturally specific, but also American and universal."
I have an issue with the segregation of artists based on race, or as in this case, with an invented ethnicity which appears to exist solely in the USA and which more often than not showcases a spectacular cultural ignorance about the actual ethnic diversity of the 35 or so nations that make up the countries in the Americas.
But before I get to that, I am a little confused as to what exactly is a "Latino" and thus what makes up "Latino art." I am told by some references that the term "Latino" refers to people who are either (a) born or living in the US and who have a family ancestry from one of the Spanish (and I think also Portuguese) nations in the Americas. Or (b), that set of people plus anyone from those same nations. Thus, an artist from Argentina (let's say Guillermo Kuitca, or closer to home here in the Washington, DC area, Felicia Federman) is an Argentinean in his or her home nation, but also a "Latino/a" when in the US.
That's not to be confused with "Hispanic," which I am told in addition to "Latinos" includes the two nations from the Iberian peninsula of Europe (Spain and Portugal). Never mind that the word "Hispanic" is derived from the Roman name for Spain (Hispania) while Portugal's name was Lusitania and poor Portugal spent centuries defining a separate entity, language and culture from Spain, only to be grouped together with its larger neighbor under this also uniquely American ethnic label.