By Mariana Llamas-Cendon
It has been almost a year since a group of professional Latinas from different parts of Ventura County gathered to talk about how they could spread the word about Latino culture in the region. The group was brought together by Anna Rios BermÃºdez, a curator of the Museum of Ventura County.
That informal July meeting has since led to the creation of the museum's advisory group known as Las ContemporÃ¡neas (Contemporary Women).
Las ContemporÃ¡neas name, according to member Kathleen Contreras, professor of Bilingual Education and Chicano Studies of California State University Channel Islands, describes a group of Latino women.
Currently, the group has 15 bilingual and bicultural members, either involved in education or business, who are very active in the communities they belong to.
"Many of us were already members of the museum. We felt that we could assist the museum by attracting more Latinos, in fundraising for outreach, developing the collections to include Latino history and historical artifacts like a quinceaÃ±era or baptism dress from years ago, musical instruments," Contreras said.
Since the museum will be expanded and remodeled in the next few months, Las ContemporÃ¡neas thought it was the perfect time for outreach.
"Even though (the museum) is in Ventura (city), many of the members come from Oxnard, Fillmore, Piru, so we are trying to make the museum more accessible to those communities as well," Contreras said.
To accomplish that objective, the members of Las ContemporÃ¡neas also went to Sunday masses and schools.
"We knew that a lot Latinos go to Sunday mass in Spanish. We targeted certain schools that have a huge population of Latino students, and sent home flyers through the school district," Contreras said.
For the first time
It hasn't been their first anniversary yet and Las ContemporÃ¡neas has already organized very successful events at the Museum of Ventura County. Last fall, they had their first event and it was sold out: a fashion show, in which most of the artists were Latino.
"All the artists created artwork, clothing and accessories. The models represented the young teenage girls, women in their 20s, in their 30s, up to 'seÃ±oras' in their 50s," Contreras said.
By November 2008, the group assisted the museum with the DÃa de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) event by greeting families in Spanish and helping children throughout the exhibition.
In December, they featured the event "Para los niÃ±os," in which stories were told in both English and Spanish, along with a "posada" and tamales.
"The kids created these pieces of artwork. We were very surprised that many fathers participated in creating these small art pieces. Almost 200 people attended that," Contreras said.
In order to attract new members to the group, a High Tea Latina Style was held, sponsored by the local bank.
"One of our members is a manager at Banco Buenaventura, so we had a High Tea Latina style, and instead of having scones and traditional English-style tea, we had 'yerbabuena' (spearmint), 'limÃ³n' (lemongrass) and 'canela' (cinnamon) teas, 'empanaditas', and 'pan dulce (pastries),'" Contreras said.
The group is currently planning what they believe will be their signature event: "La pasiÃ³n del chocolate" (Passion for Chocolate) on Feb. 14, 2010, which will also raise funds for museum outreach.
"The history of chocolate comes from the indigenous, from the Aztecs. We would have exhibits, chocolate tasting, culinary dishes like 'mole con cocholate' and 'pan dulce,' lectures, artwork, all related to chocolate, 'la pasiÃ³n,' 'el amor,'" Contreras said.
New and improved
Las ContemporÃ¡neas is ready to welcome new members and anyone can join as long as they support and want to promote Latino culture in the community.
"Some of our members would like to see more Latino artists, more exhibits. Even in the museum store they want to see more Latino representation," Contreras said.
Members do have to be women, but do not have to be Latina professionals. They just have to have available time. The group meets on the second Saturday of every month.
"We are all busy professionals," Contreras said. "We are looking forward to our upcoming second year."
If interested, contact Anna Rios BermÃºdez at 805.641.1876, ext. 302, (firstname.lastname@example.org), The Museum of Ventura County (www.venturamuseum.org) or Kathleen Contreras (email@example.com).
Mariana Llamas-Cendon is a founding editor of Amigos805.com