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Professor Silvio Torres-Saillant Helps Advance Latino History and Culture in the United States
Silvio Torres-Saillant, professor of English and Dean’s Professor of the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences, is one of 18 members selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Latino (NMAL) Scholarly Advisory Committee. The committee, which includes leaders from across various academic disciplines, will guide the museum on important matters and provide input on the museum’s comprehensive plan to preserve, document, display and promote knowledge of U.S. Latino history, art and culture.
“There is no way to overstate the significance of the National Museum of the American Latino given the longevity of the Hispanic presence in the territory that is now the United States,” says Torres-Saillant. “Just consider that Juan Ponce de León arrived in Florida in 1513, nearly 100 years before the 1607 arrival of John Smith in Jamestown, Virginia. The museum has the opportunity to interrupt the image that for too long has represented Latinos exclusively as newcomers while driving home the point that Latino history is American history.”
The framework for NMAL was established through a bill passed in 2020 calling for the Smithsonian to construct a new museum to advance the representation, understanding and appreciation of Latino history and culture in the United States. The committee will work with recently announced founding director Jorge Zamanillo, who is executive director and CEO of HistoryMiami, to lay the groundwork for the museum’s collections, research and publishing vision. In addition to the advisory committee, a board of trustees including award-winning actor and producer Eva Longoria, Emmy-nominated actress Sofía Vergara, Grammy Award-winning musician Emilio Estefan and 16 other representatives will assist with key decisions relating to the museum’s development, outreach and fundraising efforts. NMAL is currently in the planning and design phase and will be located in Washington, D.C.
Torres-Saillant has collaborated on Latino initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution since 2016. He was part of an advisory group that counseled a Smithsonian-based team charged with creating the Smithsonian Latino Gallery, a 4,500-square-foot exhibition space being constructed in the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall. The Smithsonian Latino Gallery, now named the Molina Family Latino Gallery thanks to a significant gift, is slated to open later this year. Torres-Saillant and other committee members offered recommendations on matters of chronology, content, graphics and ways of displaying the complexity of a segment of the U.S. population that consists of over 62 million people with multiple national origins. His work on that initiative led to an invitation to be on NMAL’s Scholarly Advisory Committee in 2021.
According to Torres-Saillant, having the opportunity to help showcase the longevity and rich history of the Hispanic presence in the United States is both an honor and a privilege.
“I am in a position to make a difference on a project of momentous significance with great social potential, but it is not an easy privilege,” he says. “It’s one that will bring satisfaction only in the extent to which you take it seriously and invest the effort that the undertaking demands so that it can make a difference.”
Torres-Saillant has taught in the Department of English at Syracuse University since 1999. Among his extensive administrative experience, he has served as director of Syracuse’s Latino-Latin American Studies Program (1999-2009), was founding director of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (1992-2001), co-director of the Inter-University Program for Latino Research (1996-2001) and coordinator of the Literature Program at the Ollantay Center for the Arts (1988-92). Torres-Saillant’s academic honors include an appointment as the William P. Tolley Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences (2009-11) and an appointment as the 2005-06 Wilbur Marvin Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (2005).