The Transylvania Times -

By Jane Warth
Special To The Times 

Library Exhibit Honors Hispanic Heritage


The display celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month is open to the public the rest of this month at the library. (Times photos by Michael Rogers)

The Transylvania County Library is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month during October, honoring the culture and history of members of our community who came here, or whose ancestors came here, from Mexico, Spain, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Observation of Hispanic Heritage Month officially started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson.

It was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on Sept.15 and ending on Oct. 15 and was enacted into law in 1988.

This year’s theme is Many Backgrounds, Many Stories…One American Spirit — “paying tribute to generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.” ( )

The library display, designed by Rodrigo Vargas, executive director and Judy Nebrig, president of the Board of Brevard’s CCHA, Centro Communitario Hispano-Americano, an advocacy organization in Transylvania County, features photographs and artifacts which bring Hispanic history and culture alive while also showing where the Hispanic community is now.

Photographs in the display were taken by Jim Null. In the photographs, Hispanic residents are shown participating in festivals and community events that enhance the richness and authenticity of Hispanic family culture.

Hispanic children, many fluent in both English and Spanish, share the cultural influence of their parents with us. At the same time, they share their American experience with their parents and elders, and serve as interpreters and teachers in their community. Grocery stores and restaurants in this county reflect the rich flavors of Hispanic culture as traditionally Spanish foods and spices appear on the shelves and menus.

A photo in the display is of a professional Hispanic folk dancer, son of Mexican immigrants, who is an officer in the U.S. Army posted at the Army Reserve Training Center in Brevard. He is shown performing with his wife at El Centro’s Mexican Village Festival in Brevard in 2009 — the day before his deployment to Iraq. At the Festival in 2010, his wife danced alone.

These photographs are set alongside interesting and beautiful art work and historical artifacts. They include a sculpted stone head, made from porous volcanic stone, frequently found in Costa Rica’s Pre-Columbian settlements. This carving may represent a trophy head taken in battle as many stone sculptures from this region and time are militaristic in theme.

Also from a tiny village in Costa Rica, Guaitil in Nicoya, the ancient Chorotega tradition is kept alive with the creation of exquisite pottery molded by hand using ancient methods passed down from the days before Columbus arrived. Made from “arena de iguana,” literally the sand where iguanas lay their eggs, baked in home-made ovens, then carefully decorated with natural paints, this pottery is part of a lasting heritage for Hispanic descendants.

Beaded folk art (called Chaquira) in the display is from the Huichol Indian people who mostly live in the mountainous areas of the Upper Sierra Madre Mountains of Western central Mexico.

These indigenous people have a long history of decorating bowls and other objects with beads, historically made from seeds, shells, coral, clay and other natural materials, and pressed onto a wooden form covered in beeswax.

The beaded art works in the display are decorated with designs that have changed little over time and which come out of the religious beliefs of individual Huichol artisans.

Interestingly, the Huetchel people are one of the last tribes on this continent who live today much as they did in pre-Colombian times, maintaining the same ageless rituals and beliefs. Anthropologists value these people and their artifacts as an enlightening window on the past.

A mask from the ancient Mayan culture represents a god-like symbol of divinity. Colorful masks like this one from Mexico were an important and sacred element of funeral rites in Mayan culture, and may have been put over the face of an important ruler when he died. Another mask in the display is illustrative of wood and fiber art from Ecuador.

A colorful, loom-woven wall hanging demonstrates a craft still practiced by indigenous people in Guatemala.

These weavers not only create the textile on a wooden loom but also raise and sheer the sheep, prepare the wool and color it using dyes made from natural plants and minerals in their environment.

Another weaving in the display, a beautiful multi-purpose cloth called a tzute is made by Guatemalan Mayan women. Such cloths serve many purposes from carrying babies, as a shawl or head cloth, or taking goods to and from market.

The library display is the work of staff and volunteers of CCHA, Centro Communitario Hispano-Americano of Brevard. El Centro, as they are known, began ten years ago as a welcoming organization for Hispanics coming into Transylvania County. In fact, their founding name was Welcoming Hispanics in Transylvania County.

According to U.S. Census Bureau findings, Hispanics have become American’s largest minority group. Their background, heritage and purchasing power are widely felt in music, entertainment, television and in the varied tapestry of the American neighborhood.

Growing Hispanic communities often remain tightly knit by a language barrier, bridged by their children, and access to programs and advocacy services of organizations like El Centro.

El Centro’s goal is to “enhance the wellness and the integration of the Hispanic community by encouraging education, encouraging multicultural understanding, working for justice, developing Hispanic leadership and promoting civic participation.”

To accomplish this, they offer a “homework club,” after-school tutoring with volunteer tutors for Hispanic elementary school students. Other initiatives include assistance with interpretation and translation of documents and legal forms, classes in English and computer use, referrals to social service agencies as needs arise and various services to foster self-reliance, access to education and participation in multicultural events.

Vargas, an advocate for Hispanics in the area, has been building alliances between the Anglo community and Hispanics living in and around Western North Carolina for 14 years.

Vargas is a Spanish teacher at the Outdoor Academy of Eagle’s Nest Foundation, a local organization with a mission to provide “experiential education for young people, promoting the natural world and the betterment of human character.”

Vargas has also completed training in Civil Rights advocacy at the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tenn., and with Hispanics in Philanthropy in Los Angeles, Calif.

More recently, he has facilitated programs dealing with immigration issues, diversity and non-profit leadership sponsored by COLS (Coalition of Latin American Organizations) and CPC (Center for Participatory Change) in Brevard.

Vargas is recipient of the “unsung Hero” award from the African-American Awareness Council of Transylvania County for his tireless work bridging the gap between the diverse cultural groups in our community.

Under his leadership, the organization has developed many new initiatives to educate and support the Hispanic community and to promote inclusion into the community as a whole. He was cited in the award for his “kind heart, commitment to human rights, advocacy and exceptional work ethic.”

El Centro in collaboration with Brevard College will be sponsoring an Inter-Cultural Folk and Film Festival in March, 2012. Their office is at 249 East Main St. in Brevard.

This Mayan mask represents a god-like symbol of divinity.

The public is encouraged and welcome to stop by and meet the staff and volunteers. Hours are 3-5 p.m. Mondays; 4:30-7 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; and 3:30-5 p.m. on Thursdays. For more information, call (828) 883-2900.

The Transylvania County Library provides exhibit and display space for educational, artistic, historical and cultural materials that promote interest in the use of library materials and information, or that share information about the local area, culture and organizations.

The Friends of the Library, an association of more than 600 members, coordinates the approved use of the monthly display cases located near the elevator in the library.


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