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Welcome sign for my mother and father, their first trip back to Peru after getting married. Lima, Peru. 1991. Courtesy of Monica Soto.

Monica Soto on creating “Interconnecting Worlds: Weaving Community Narratives, Andean Histories & the Library’s Collections” Research Guide

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La versión en Español de este artículo puede leerla aquí.

This is a guest post by Monica Soto, 2022 Junior Fellow, who has a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of William and Mary and is pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Denver. This interview was previously published in The Gazette (Volume 33, No. 27 July 15, 2022) and this is an expanded and updated version.

Calle de “Canta.” Lima Region, Peru. 1997. Courtesy of Monica Soto.

For many, understanding their heritage can be a journey worth taking. My father, Leonard Soto, came to the United States in the eighties, leaving Peru and the Andean countryside where he was born to seek a better life. In the early eighties in Peru the social and political situation, as he puts it, was “getting rough.”

Peru had a mass emigration, creating a diaspora, which began in the early eighties because of political violence and civil unrest. At the time, my dad was living in Lima, where he says the unrest had not yet touched its residents. The effects, of course, were still felt.

After arriving in the United States, my father had to fight to preserve his connection to the country he left behind some 3,000 miles away. Assimilation was demanded at every turn: language, dress, attitude, food, culture. He didn’t go back to Peru for five long years. Once he did, annual or biennial trips became the norm. Seeing his family and place he grew up for only a few weeks at a time must’ve felt isolating and lonely for my father.

I didn’t know about any of this history until recently. Growing up in the United States, away from this part of my heritage, I’ve always had a foot in different worlds. For me, belonging to one or the other always felt dependent on circumstances.

Language has been a way to bridge that gap. When I was a child, Spanish mixed heavily with English; I can still recite the prayers my father taught me that use Spanish in one sentence and English the next. From what little Quechua he knew, he also taught us numbers, phrases, and pieces of stories. Much like the family history I hadn’t known, I also didn’t realize the importance of language until I’d lost most of it.

Reconnecting heritage learners can tell you: it’s not an easy journey, and it’s about more than just learning the language. An understanding of the culture, the people, and the history is essential, because it’s your culture, your people, and your history.

Assimilation is such an intense expectation in the United States, and the stigmas of not doing so can be severe; but there is so much to gain by exploring your heritage and making connections with others who share it. My grandparents spoke Quechua, the ancient Indigenous language of the Andean region, quite fluently. I wish I had made that connection sooner and learned it through ancestral sharing, like so many before me.

Left photo: My mother and father (far left) with my family in Peru. Lima, Peru. 1989. Right photo: Me and my grandfather (and my older cousin). Lima, Peru. 1997. Courtesy of Monica Soto.

That’s exactly why this Junior Fellow project to create a research guide on Andean studies appealed to me so much. Not only it would highlight Andean and Indigenous resources in the collections of the Library of Congress, but it would also serve as a map for my own knowledge. I could learn more about aspects of my culture I didn’t know or hadn’t had the opportunity to take part in. There was a community of people waiting and willing to help others in forging their way back to their Andean culture.

There’s so much room for growth in learning. I hadn’t realized until recently that the music my father had played around the house for my entire life was actually Andean Huaynos, a type of traditional Indigenous music that has been sung to instruments like the “quena” (flute), “zampoña” (panpipes) or “charango/kirki” (guitar). I’m grateful for every discovery – they’ve made me aware of other Andean influences I had overlooked and helped me to feel much closer to what can sometimes feel far away.

This is the power institutions such as libraries and museums have. Weaving rich and sacred narratives with the intentions of preservation, respect and kindness can change lives. The stories they choose to tell can validate community identities and experiences, and connect people both to their shared history and each other. I’ve experienced this power myself, and I for one cannot wait to share these stories with my family and all those who want to connect with our vibrant culture.

My father’s interview is part of a collection of videos included in the research guide Interconnecting Worlds: Weaving Community Narratives, Andean Histories & the Library’s Collections. All the interview videos are available here. 

Discover more

Cultural Exchanges in Quechua Dictionaries, A history of encounters told through lexicons. StoryMaps are multimedia storytelling publications on Library’s materials that can include rare books, photographs, audio recordings, music, maps, and more. All the Library’s StoryMaps can be found here.

Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS): A Resource Guide The Handbook of Latin American Studies is a bibliography on Latin America consisting of works selected and annotated by scholars. 

The PALABRA Archive at the Library of Congress The PALABRA Archive is a collection of original audio recordings of 20th and 21st century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works. This link takes you to the audio recordings of South American authors. This other link takes you to PALABRA Indigenous Voices Project, a subset of the PALABRA Archive focused on poetry and literature written and spoken in Indigenous languages.

Library of Congress Research Guides Library’s guides organized by research topic and collections – these include both online materials, and materials only available on site. The guides related to the Caribbean, Iberian, and Latin American Studies can be found here.

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