Thursday, 01 August 2019 17:51

Sharing Latino Homesteaders Legacies

There are places that change you and that you will keep a piece of them close to your heart; Homestead is one of those places.  My last week here has been unexplainable. I’ve been catching up with different things before leaving and today I presented my project’s results with the staff at the park.

My main task was to provide data to build up biographies of Latino descent homesteader families in the Southwestern states. One of the families that I found were the Lopez from Arizona and following their steps I had the opportunity to talk to one of their descendants, Jaqueline Lopez Ingraham.

Jacqueline is Mercedes and Lugarda Lopez’ great-granddaughter. They homesteaded near Cochise County in Arizona, specifically in Cascabel.  In her book “We were born Lopez”, Jacqueline says that her Nana remembered when they were living at Cascabel, Indians used to come to their house and Lugarda would make burritos and sweet breads that they would pack and take with them.

I have also found stories on Latinas and how they had to deal with the challenges of being a woman homesteader. Gregoria Barcelo was 35 years old when she homesteaded, she was single and she had to deal with working her land and taking care of her aged mother.

Now that I have found and shared these stories, Homestead National Monument of America will be able to better tell our Nation’s epic homestead story, a story that is inclusive of all Americans!

Published in EFTA intern blog

A picture of Alisha's last day at Homestead National Monument of America

As teacher from the Teacher Ranger Teacher Program, the majority of Alisha Chab’s job at Homestead was to develop a Distance Learning Program that focused on the homesteading movement as well as the suffrage movement and how they interacted and intersected in the United States, specifically focusing on women's roles in both of those events.

She developed two programs: one as a general overview of the Homesteading Movement and the Suffrage Movement and how they worked together, and on how the 19th amendment was ratified as a result of both of those movements and the effects they had on the United States.  

“It's pretty undeniable that women were vital in the growth and expansion of the United States. They were just as resilient as men were in the West. They were incredibly independent and progressive for such an unprogressive time period in the United States. Wyoming was the first state (and territory actually) to grant suffrage to women because they recognized how vital they were to their state--this was before the 19th amendment was ratified. 23 out of the 30 homesteading states actually granted women suffrage before 1920”, says Alisha.

The purpose of the Teacher Ranger Teacher Program is to expose teachers, specifically teachers from Title I Schools, and to provide them opportunities to bring back the resources and connections with the National Park Service to enrich their teaching as well as encourage partnership.

Published in EFTA intern blog
Sunday, 21 July 2019 18:15

A Journey to the Past on Homestead Days

The biggest festivity in the park, Homestead Days, took place in late June. It was like taking a journey to the past and getting familiar with the Homestead Era. From seeing artisans sewing, chefs cooking as they did in the 1860’s, people adorned in clothing worn during the Homestead years (1860’s to 1980’s) to getting in a stagecoach from the Pony Express, it was all an adventure! 
Even though I was working during that weekend, I had so much fun and consider it my favorite activity in the park so far. When the staff was planning a Fashion Show about the Homestead Era clothes, I could not resist and offered myself to be a model; wasn’t that bad since I was a model some time ago in Puerto Rico. I had the opportunity to dress myself in a white summer dress, originally from 1916.  I felt gorgeous.
I also got the opportunity to see how people made butter back in those days, what type of ovens they used, techniques for sewing, and I even got a moment to try to play a zither and a Mountain dulcimer.  In addition, I had some time to see some of the performances that took place on the stage. My favorites was an American Indian songwriter from Montana and the International Folk Dancers from Omaha, which performed dances from Greece, Germany, Rumania, Ireland and more. On other hand, my biggest project during the weekend was doing an interpretation and encouraging people to go in a stagecoach from the Pony Expressx, letting them imagine how it would feel like to go on a trip to other states in the 1860’s.
Published in EFTA intern blog

Whether you call it pampas, prairies, praderas, or temperate grassland, they were declared the world’s most endangered ecosystem according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2008 , a new thing that I just learned here at Homestead National Monument of America.

The Monument includes a 100 acres restored prairie to approximate the ecosystem that was here by the time of the Homestead era. Aware of the destruction of the prairies in the United States, the National Park Service started here, in 1939, the restoration of the tallgrass prairie by planting grass seed.

Tallgrass prairie once covered 140 million acres of North America, but now only a 4 percent remains. European and eastern settlers, lots of them moved by the Homestead Act, craved for this ecosystem do to their richness in nutrients that facilitated farming. They convert what was once called the Great American Desert into the World’s Breadbasket.

The settlement of the tallgrass prairie perpetuated the movement of the Native Americans, the original settlers of the prairies, to reservations and almost caused the extinction of the bison.


Published in EFTA intern blog

Homestead National Monument of America is full of history, the best ones are those from visitors who tell how their ancestors came to homestead in America from different parts of the world. I especially love to hear volunteer’s stories since they are aware of the importance of the Homestead Act, like Marcella who told me that her grandparents came from far away to homestead in Nebraska. 

Marcella’s grandfather was from Sweden and her grandmother from Germany. When both of them first came to America in different years they knew no English, they later met and got married.  Marcella even remembers going to church on Sundays and seeing how people gathered in small groups and they could speak their native tongues. 

Today about 90 million Americans are descendants of homesteaders. We can deduce that one of the most significant contributions that brought the Act was immigration. To have an idea the census of the United States reveals that the total population of states and territories (excluding Texas) west of the Missouri River doubled from 1860 to 1870 as stated in a study done by the historian Blake Bell. The Homestead Act was signed in 1862 so the data from the census shows a correlation between these events.

To have an idea of the importance of the Homestead Act and other Land policies in immigration the following map shows the percentage of the foreign-born population in the different states during the 1900s, that was the time when the peak years in immigration also coincides with the peak years in homestead claims. For example, Montana is the second state with more foreign population, just behind Hawaii, and it's also the state were more claims were made under the Act.

Foreign born population 1900

But, from which countries did these people came? Were they only Europeans?

I can tell that they came from many places around the globe and representing different nationalities, some of them were even Latinos.  In the Southwestern states the Latino homesteader’s legacy is one of the most important in the area. For example, in a state like New Mexico, a simple search will let you realize that about half, if not the majority, of the homesteaders, had Hispanic last names. In other states, some of the counties had been developed because of the Latino homesteaders.

After this brief introduction about the importance of immigration and how Latinos also left their mark in the Homestead Act, I can talk about my project. I cannot be prouder and more thankful for having the opportunity to do research and choose at least three Latino descendants of homesteader families from the Southwestern states and to share their stories with everyone.

For what I have found so far, these stories there are full of challenges, empowerment, determination, and sacrifices. Even though some of these stories were sad, other, especially those of Latino single and widow women, are very significant and they show us that our heritage and the determination of the Latino people is something to be very proud of.

Published in EFTA intern blog
Wednesday, 12 June 2019 03:04

Homestead: An invitation to the world

Escaping the conflicts in their former country, Prussia, two brothers came to Nebraska knowing of an Act that would give them the opportunity to claim free land. This is the story of the ancestors of Roselyn, a volunteer at Homestead National Monument of America (HOME) who shared her story with me on my first day at HOME. After getting familiarized with the park and Roselyn’s story, I realized that the Homestead Act was an invitation, not only to Americans but to the world, on a promise of free land.

The Homestead Act was signed in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. During this time the government gave 160 acres of land to a head of a household, without making distinctions of people.  Women, former enslaved people, immigrants and anyone who was over 21 years old could claim the land, they just had to be or become citizens of the United States and make improvements to the land in a period of five years, after that…the land was theirs.

Why Nebraska?

HOME sits in one of the first claims, made by Daniel Freeman on the first of January 1863, under the law that effected the Homestead Act. Legend says that he filled his claim 10 minutes after midnight, this is the reason why he is recognized as the first homesteader.  Despite being established in Beatrice, Nebraska, the park represents the nearly 4 million people who filed claims in 30 states.

(If you want to learn more about homesteads in the 30 states click on the link to see a map that I have created) 

The site is composed of three main buildings, a cabin, and a tallgrass prairie.  The Heritage Center contains different exhibits related to Homestead. Approximately 100 acres of tallgrass prairie can be hiked trough trails in the park where you can walk from building to building. The Education Center has rooms with exhibits and is the building dedicated to education activities.

Also, there is the Freeman School, a historic one-room school that served for the local children. And last but not least, my favorite piece in the park, the Palmer-Epard Cabin. George W.  Palmer, a homesteader, built it 14 miles northeast the monument and lived there with his wife and 10 children.

I encourage anyone who comes to Nebraska, to visit Homestead National Monument of America, this way they may see all the history that involves the park and witness how stories like Roselyn’s connect a lot of people all around the United States with the site.

Published in EFTA intern blog
Monday, 03 June 2019 02:28

Nebraska feels like home

During this summer I am going to be working on a project at the Homestead National Monument of America as an intern for the Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP) in collaboration with Environment for the Americas (EFTA).

After spending a weekend camping at the Californian desert with other EFTA interns, getting off an airplane at Lincoln, Nebraska, and viewing all the lush, green land, I am reminded of my hometown. Being born and raised in the west part of Puerto Rico, in a small town near the mountains, I remember going to the fields and into the woods to play with my cousins. In every single memory of my childhood, the green lands are present.

After moving away to college, I experienced one of the most significant changes in my life: relocating from the countryside to the city. I attend to the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, where I am completing a major in Journalism and Modern Languages. Of course, the changes weren’t as bad at all; I was still in my country and just two hours away from home.

When the opportunity to come to Nebraska arose, I did not think of it twice and I accepted. If changes have taught me anything, in relation to my transition to the university, it is that they make me grow. But obviously, it was going to be a whole new experience and, who isn't a bit scared or anxious about the unknown?

After getting off the airplane and taking the ride in my site, I was able to see all the open fields. At that moment, many memories came to my mind and I was transported, somehow, to my own house back with my family. As I’ve mentioned before, I was in the desert the weekend before arriving at Nebraska and everything in the desert looked very different from the island’s geography. Somehow, Nebraska looked like home.

Of course, not everything is quite the same; Nebraska is flat and has open lands and Puerto Rico is full of mountains. But the wind, the warm weather, the trees, and the green fields are similar to what you can see and feel in Puerto Rico.

The people here, also remind me of the people back at my hometown: humble and giving people, always willing to help. The sum of all these components come together to make me feel welcome and make me feel as if I am at home.

Published in EFTA intern blog
Wednesday, 15 May 2019 14:23

Veronica Barreto

Born and raised in the island of Puerto Rico, I'm a Latina who carries her heritage with pride as I represent it wherever I go. Furthermore, I'm a first-generation college student at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, where I’m majoring with a double concentration in Journalism and Modern Languages. During my free time, I enjoy reading about cultures, history and politics, a practice that has brought me closer to a better understanding of where I come from. My passion is traveling and discovering unknown things, and then being able to write about them. Another of my most beloved actives is practicing Portuguese and French to improve my knowledge of these languages in order to break cultural barriers. As an intern at Homestead National Monument of America, in Nebraska, I’ll work to have an active role in the preservation and knowledge of the Latin American culture at the park.


Published in Intern Bios
Monday, 03 December 2018 21:20

Lissete Ocampo

Lissete Ocampo completed her anthropology degree from Whittier College in 2015. She hopes to work in the archives field with either a museum or historical society, and is currently working on a graduate degree in library and information science at San Jose State University.

Published in Intern Bios
Monday, 03 December 2018 20:13

Paola Perez

I am a first generation college graduate with a major in English and a minor in Chicano Latino Studies. During my amazing opportunity at Homestead National Monument, I will be recording and conducting oral histories of the residents. I honestly never thought that I would do something like this in my life!

Published in Intern Bios
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