Breaking Barriers and Preserving Heritage: Art Curator Helen Lucero Inspires Students in Herencia en Español Class

Rafael Martinez de León, Middle School Spanish Teacher
As the month draws to a close, we want to recognize the significance of International Women’s Month and the importance of promoting gender equity and equality for all. Recently, our 7th Herencia en Español class was honored by a visit from Helen R. Lucero, a native of New Mexico who was one of the first female Hispanic curators in the country.

Dr. Lucero was born and raised in Vadito, New Mexico, where she grew up in her grandparent's adobe house with no running water, an outhouse, and only a kerosene lamp for light. Despite the challenges she faced, she became the first person in her family to attend college and went on to receive a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico in 1986. Since then, Dr. Lucero has been vitally influential in the art world.

She served as director of visual arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, associate curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art, and curator of Hispanic Arts for the University of New Mexico Art Museum. Dr. Lucero also played a crucial role in the opening of the ground-breaking Hispanic Heritage Wing at the Museum of International Folk Art—the first museum gallery in the country dedicated to the Hispanic arts—where she acted as a co-curator of its inaugural exhibition Familia y Fe, a tribute to the artistic legacy and culture of Hispanic New Mexico. 

During Dr. Lucero’s visit with the class, she shared the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and celebrating our roots and helped us recognize in our individual stories those vital elements from the language, the culture, and the traditions. She brought along fascinating artifacts that told terrific stories of our rich history and culture, including her grandmother's wedding dress, pictures from her grandparents, antique family letters, a century-old grade book, and a handmade dictionary designed to learn the Spanish language. She also shared about her relationship with another artist, Goldie Garcia, and showed us her gold shoe that held special religious significance for her.  

Her visit reminded us of the significance of our own stories and how they contribute to our larger community. We are so grateful for her inspiring words and for opening doors not only for herself but for future generations hoping to make substantial contributions to our Hispanic communities and the world at large.