Women of Wednesday: Jennifer Patiño on Archiving the Marginalized and the Preservation of Overlooked History

WOMEN OF WEDNESDAY is a weekly micro-interview series featuring women of color in various industries and walks of life, focused on highlighting their pursuits and making it easy for readers to support their endeavors. If you would like to be featured, please submit your answers to the below five questions here.

Jennifer Patiño, 30, Writer, Poet, Future Archivist/Librarian (Chicago)

1. Tell us about the work you’re doing and why it’s important.

For the past six years, I have been working with Sixty Inches From Center, which is an arts publication/archive of the Chicago arts scene. The need for this organization comes from realizing that the history that is preserved in our cultural institutions is curated, often with certain biases against the history of others. In this way, the stories and creations of marginalized groups are constantly being pushed out of the historical narrative. And we can’t count on the kind of people who respond to criticisms of lack of diversity with claims that there just aren’t enough artists of color or that the work we do isn’t “real art” to keep the record on us. I’ve been very excited to work with Tempestt Hazel, Reuben Westmaas, and Toby Zur Loye as we experiment with ways to preserve the archive online, expand it, and engage new audiences. I am really excited to go back to school to get my Master’s degree in library science to be able to learn new techniques for archiving — as well as to advocate for support of bilingual services in the field.

I work on preserving our stories and supporting Latino events as a writer for Gozamos, a Latinx focused publication in Chicago. The work that Gozamos does is important because of the way it challenges gentrifier narratives put out in publications like DNAinfo about majority Latino neighborhoods as dangerous frontier towns in need of civilizing by new white residents and the overpolicing of our communities this causes. From time to time you may see me reading poetry around the city as well. I feel like my poetry work is mostly for me, but I still find myself recording small pieces of Chicago and Mexican history through a personal lens.

2. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in pursuing the work that’s important to you?

As far as a major challenge, I’d say it’s not just one thing. Finding funding for the work I have been engaged in is definitely difficult. An arts publication/archive hybrid is a strange bird that doesn’t neatly fit into grant categories. Finding time to write and work on my projects is also hard. I work a day job — actually I am working two jobs on top of freelancing work on the side. So it is definitely hard to fit everything in. I am excited to be going back to school for library science in the Fall — yay me! — but I realize that this will make things even more difficult as far as juggling demands and making time to do everything.

As far as the challenges of archiving, I think that sometimes in the field people don’t see a need for specific efforts to preserve the histories of marginalized communities. It’s seen as too narrow a focus by people whose histories are documented (or glorified) just fine. Some of the first state sanctioned archives were for memorializing Confederate veterans, for example so that is the climate that archiving in the US has grown from. Another challenge is getting people from those marginalized communities, or just people in general, interested in archiving their work. I think that there is a misconception that if you put something up on a website, it’s up for good. But Google just deleted 14 years of an artist’s work that wasn’t backed up anywhere else and he has little recourse for getting it back. But with regards to marginalized communities in particular, I think if you aren’t being valued by the mainstream institutions — as an audience member even, let alone as an artist — it can feel like your work isn’t important enough to archive. But it absolutely is. What you are doing is important and people in the future deserve to know about it. And unfortunately, as our communities and art spaces get pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods, all we might have left of our work sometimes is an entry in an archive.

3. What do you need to continue your work in the way you envision?

Time is the most beautiful thing in the world. I wish I had more time to keep going on all the articles and poems I’d like to write. Financial support for Sixty Inches From Center and Gozamos is essential for them to continue. I also realize that because not everyone will welcome or see the value in what I am trying to do, having a community of people who get it and value it is something that’s really important. Seeing and talking to more artists and creative people in Chicago is also essential. I want to know what you are doing!

4. Where and how can we support you to make #3 happen?

You can support Sixty Inches From Center and Gozamos by making a donation. If you want to brighten my day and say something nice or tell me your thoughts on history or art, you can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr at FlorYPluma. You can also reach out to me if you are interested in writing for either Gozamos or Sixty or if you are an artist in Chicago wanting to connect and share your work.

5. What is your favorite quote?

“We need the historian and philosopher to give us with trenchant pen, the story of our forefathers, and let our soul and body, with phosphorescent light, brighten the chasm that separates us. We should cling to them just as blood is thicker than water.” — Arturo Schomburg