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Chicago History Museum, high schoolers agree on expanding Latino exhibit

Museum officials and students from Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy met at the alternative high school Wednesday.

Students Elizabeth Lopez-Jimenez, from left,  Rogelio Villegas, and Esvin Cortez, students in Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy’s history class, “Chicago: A Struggle for Equity.”
Students Elizabeth Lopez-Jimenez, from left, Rogelio Villegas, and Esvin Cortez, students in Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy’s history class, “Chicago: A Struggle for Equity.”
Sun-Times file photo

Following a social media outcry spearheaded by disgruntled high schoolers, the Chicago History Museum has agreed to install a wide-ranging exhibit on the Latino experience by 2023.

In the meantime, the museum will feature smaller Latino exhibits in available gallery spaces as early as next month, officials said. The museum has also committed to expanding its archive of Latino history in Chicago.

The moves come a month after students at Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy in Pilsen began an online campaign criticizing the museum’s lack of Latino representation.

On Wednesday, officials met with the students for the second time since launching their campaign and agreed to form an advisory committee co-led by the students themselves that will lay the groundwork for the large exhibit.

The committee will be made up of anywhere between 15 to 30 academics, artists, community members and the students themselves. The goal is to represent all facets of the Latino experience in Chicago.

“Our students are really interested in pan-Latinx representation at the museum,” said Anton Miglietta, a history teacher at Instituto. “We’re gonna do this the right way and have community input throughout the process.”

John Russick, a senior vice president at the museum, said he’s excited to work with the students in bringing the museum up to their standards.

“It’s refreshing and exciting,” he said. “These students are civically engaged and asking us to do better, and we want to deliver. The large exhibit will take some years to develop, but you never want to rush anything this big.”

The Chicago History Museum also agreed to launch a citywide contest next school year centered on Latino history in the city and will expand its physical and online archives of Latino artifacts.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.