Cougars at Work

By Kristina Michel

Papers of renowned political activist Leonor Villegas de Magnón. Documents about civil rights lawyer and diplomat Alonso S. Perales. These are some of the materials available to those who visit the Hispanic Collections, part of the University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library’s Special Collections. 

Lisa Cruces became curator and archivist of this collection of rare and historical documents in February. Though the library has always had a commitment to collecting Hispanic history archives, particularly via its partnership with Arte Público Press, Cruces is the collection’s first-ever curator. She is one of only a handful of Hispanic collections curators in the nation. In her new role, Cruces hopes to capture the history of the Hispanic experience in Houston and Texas and to share that history with visitors. 

I’ve always been interested in Mexican-American and Hispanic history, but I also believe in creating access,” Cruces said. “This collection isn’t just one group’s history. It’s everybody’s history.”

The Hispanic Collections are especially dear to Cruces because of her own Mexican heritage. She is a first-generation American. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and she grew up in Kerrville in the Texas Hill Country. Cruces’ parents encouraged her to be equally proud of both her Mexican and American heritages. They are a major reason why she studies Mexican-American and Hispanic history.

“My parents were really great in informing me about my heritage and helping me find strength in that,” Cruces said. 

Cruces has bachelor’s degrees in history and Latin American studies from Texas State University in San Marcos and a master’s degree in information studies, specializing in archives and academic libraries, from the University of Texas at Austin (UT). After graduating from UT, Cruces obtained a two-year visiting position as a resident librarian at Notre Dame University. While there, a friend told her that UH was looking for a Hispanic collections archivist. Cruces immediately applied.

“I’m fortunate that when I came here, so many members of UH and Houston recognized the importance of this position,” Cruces said.

In addition to gathering materials for Hispanic Collections, Cruces is also building partnerships with the UH Center for Mexican-American Studies, the Hispanic Studies Department, Arte Público Press and Latino organizations throughout Houston. She hopes to hold events showcasing the collection in classes throughout the fall semester.

When she’s not working, Cruces enjoys exploring Houston’s diverse neighborhoods and visiting local restaurants. She also likes to take road trips exploring the many parks and monuments of Texas. Her most recent road trip was to Sam Houston National Park. 

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