Liliana Macias is a graduate student in Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has been a gallery engagement associate in Race: Are We So Different? since January and reflects on her experience in this blog post.
I have been working in Race for five months and by now if I close my eyes I can clearly see the visuals in the exhibition. If I cover my ears and close my eyes I can see the scholars in the videos and recite what they are saying. Despite my familiarity with the exhibition, every day I’m here feels like I’m stepping into it for the very first time. By now I have come to see it through the eyes of the groups and individuals who walk through its entrance. When I do tours, I encourage participants to contribute whatever experiential knowledge they have on the subject because I understand that we live with our race and, despite it being a fictional concept, our lives are marked by it.
Liliana in the Race gallery. All photographs by CHM staff
When visitors connect with Race on a personal level and share their stories with me, I’m extremely humbled. Those stories contribute to the way I have come to understand race in the United States. As my knowledge expands on the subject, I improve on how I can engage with visitors. And even in those moments when tensions are high and a visitor rejects the social reality of what people of color experience, my prior interactions in the exhibition give me the knowledge I need to navigate those tense conversations. Even though the tension of those conversations can leave me feeling weary, I need only to conjure the precious shared stories of previous visitors and that weariness dissipates. I can feel the tension melt away when I think of the refugee children who have shared with me about their arduous journey to the US. I can feel it lessen when I hear young black children proudly assert that Black Lives Matter. I can feel the tension ease when I remember the elderly black couple who talked to me for an hour about their experiences during the Jim Crow era. I can feel it trickle away when I remember the young Mexican boy who asked me if he could share something with me in Spanish and was elated to know that I spoke Spanish like him, grew up in the same neighborhood as him, and was Mexican just like him.
A school group listens as Liliana talks about Kip Fulbeck’s The Hapa Project.
At the end of the day, my job as a gallery engagement associate at the Chicago History Museum is to honor those shared experiences by encouraging visitors to think critically about race in the hopes that they understand the urgency of abolishing the power structures that negatively impact our lives.