Written by: Felina Maria de la Luz Martinez and published by UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute
Margie Montañez is an assistant professor in the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences as well as the Latin American Collections Curator for the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections (CSWR). Her research focuses on Chicano/a literary and cultural history, U.S - Mexico Borderlands, and ethnography to understand how border cultural production actively produces knowledge in shifting colonial spaces. Her research also examines how post-custodial archival collections can operate outside neoliberal archiving models and enhance cultural engagement with Latin American Collections.
“I study Mexico for personal and professional reasons. Professionally, my work with archives in Mexico seeks to address the ways digital technologies can help make available endangered Mexican cultural and historical material in a way that does not reproduce colonial extraction practices,” Montañez said.
Montañez said growing up in Southern New Mexico along the Texas-Mexican border informed her research trajectory as she often made trips to Juárez or Parral, Chihuahua which led to her interest in the region’s literary and expressive cultures.
“I was always fascinated by family stories of movement, place, and genealogies,” Montañez said. “This is ultimately where my interest in literature, folklore, and the borderlands was formed. The intersections of this cultural and geographical space were mimicked in my research as I was more formally drawn to the regions literary and cultural history.”
Most recently, Montañez said she has finished a collaborative project called “Capacity assessment of Latin American and Caribbean Partners: A Symposium about Open-Access, Technological Needs, and Institutional Sustainability.” The grant was awarded in Spring 2020 by a Council on Library and Information Resources microgrant with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Throughout the project, Montañez said she worked with cultural heritage institutions, libraries, and archives in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop best practices and identify areas of need when considering post-custodial archival work. She said the biggest take-away from the project was the importance of collaborating with partners outside the U.S and working with communities from which the material originates when developing digitization projects.
“We developed a report and recommendations for these transnational collaborations for Latin American and Caribbean Institutions, U.S based institutions wanting to partner with archives and cultural heritage centers, and for funding institutions. This report was translated into English, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish and can be found here,” Montañez said.
The digital preservation of endangered material Montañez said is important in many ways.
“The digital replica crosses geography and space, and most importantly, the digital historical materials shift the way knowledge is traditionally understood,” Montañez said. “It disrupts the North-South dominant view of information exchange and makes evident the voices of local, regional, and sometimes marginal, people in larger national and transnational dialogues. It also provides access to material that would otherwise not be available, especially material that is fragile, rare, or one of a kind.”
With regards to advice for young scholars in the field of Latin America, Montañez emphasized being open to a variety of career paths and opportunities.
“Remember that career paths are not linear—so be open to potential opportunities that come your way. Just like the region is not monolith, you should think about learning different digital technologies that can shed new light on your research and possibly open other career areas,” Montañez said.