History of Spanish-language TV Explored in Smithsonian Internship

Graduate student Steven Moreno-Terrill contributed to future exhibition during summer fellowship at the National Museum of American History

Steven Moreno-Terrill

Steven Moreno-Terrill interned in the prestigious Smithsonian Latino Studies Museum Program this summer.

RIVERSIDE, California – The rich legacy of Spanish-language television remains an understudied topic in American cultural history, one which the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is examining as curators at the National Museum of American History work to tell the story of broadcasting in Spanish by collecting objects and conducting oral histories with current and former employees of networks and independent stations across the U.S., including Puerto Rico.

Steven Moreno-Terrill, a graduate student in public history at the University of California, Riverside, spent much of the summer helping Smithsonian curators document the history of Spanish-language TV in the United States between the 1950s and 1980s. The project began with collecting for the museum’s “American Enterprise” exhibition, which includes the story of San Antonio’s KCOR radio and television – which later took the call letters KWEX. From this station began what was known as the Spanish International Network that evolved into today’s Univision. Telemundo’s story is being documented as curators acquire objects related to the history of stations in that network, including Los Angeles, New Jersey, Miami, and San Juan.

“I am grateful and excited to have been able to work on this important project that honors the rich legacy of nuestra gente (our people) in the U.S. television industry,” he said. “Through this experience, I was able to add to the understudied history of Spanish-language television in the U.S.”

Moreno-Terrill worked on the project as a fellow in the six-week Smithsonian Latino Studies Museum Program, one of a dozen fellows selected from around the nation. Fellows received travel and housing accommodations, as well as a modest stipend.

His selection for the prestigious summer internship at the Smithsonian is a significant honor, said Cathy Gudis, director of the UCR Public History Program.

“A very select group of students is chosen to participate in the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies Program,” she said. “Working alongside curators at the National Museum of American History was an incredible opportunity to hone his skills as a researcher and experience what is required to develop a compelling museum exhibition for the national stage. In turn, Steve gave back to the project his understanding of Chicano history in our region.”

Moreno-Terrill in front of display

Public history graduate student Steven Moreno-Terrill contributed to the development of an upcoming exhibition on Spanish-language television in the U.S. Photo by Diana C. Bossa Bastidas, Smithsonian Institution

Moreno-Terrill said the fellowship program enabled him to learn from leaders in the museum field on Latino initiatives, such as Kathleen Franz, curator of the Division of Work and Industry at the National Museum of American History. “My decision to become a scholar in this field derived from a sense of longing I had throughout my K-12 schooling experience to learn about my own history and culture as a third-generation Chicano. It also emerged from a strong sense of social justice and desire for community empowerment through education.”

A Riverside resident who was born in Santa Ana and grew up in Chino and Chino Hills, Moreno-Terrill expects to complete his master’s degree in public history at UCR in June. He earned an Associate of Arts degree in ethnic studies at Santa Ana College, and a bachelor’s in sociology and a master’s in Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Los Angeles.

His master’s program research at UCR focuses on the history of Mexican American education in the Inland Empire with a focus on race, place, and citizenship during the early 20th century. He particularly focuses on the emergence of segregated schooling in Riverside, the implementation of Americanization programs, and the various ways that Mexican Americans asserted their cultural citizenship through activism and community life.

“I would like to build archival resources and oral histories related to Chicano/Latino history and create an interactive exhibit at my local museums that coordinates with school curriculum and community events such as those associated with Hispanic Heritage Month,” he said. “An exhibit I hope to create in the near future is one that focuses on the emergence and proliferation of segregated schools for Mexican Americans throughout the Inland Empire prior to Mendez v. Westminster,” a 1947 federal court case that challenged racial segregation in Orange County, California.

One of the most memorable moments of the fellowship was viewing objects in the Smithsonian collections related to Latino history such as a jacket that belonged to Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, known as the Queen of Tejano music; high-heeled shoes worn by singer Celia Cruz; and baseball star Roberto Clemente’s helmet.

“Getting to see these artifacts up close gave a layer of meaning that was extremely impactful. It made the history real and tangible,” Moreno-Terrill said. “The museum studies training I received through this fellowship empowered me to promote public awareness of Latino history and cultivate educational justice through culturally relevant curriculum and museum practices. It equipped me with the knowledge, experience, skills, and connections to be able to promote Latina/o history in both school and community sites in innovative and empowering ways.”

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