Scholars Speak: Seeing the Future in a Brighter Light

This post is part of our blog series “Scholars Speak,” which features writing from our 2023 cohort of Preservation Scholars. Click the link to learn more about this donor-funded program that aims to increase the diversity of voices in the Texas historical narrative by placing students from underrepresented cultural and ethnic backgrounds in paid, 10-week long summer internship positions at the Texas Historical Commission.

Scholars Speak: Seeing the Future in a Brighter Light

by Algae Guzman, 2023 Larry Oaks Preservation Scholar 

The first week of my internship has by far been my favorite, in large part because it was the groundwork, the first building block of the summer. On my second day, I had the opportunity to sit in on a review panel for cities applying to host the Smithsonian’s traveling Museum on Main Street (MoMS) exhibit within the following year. Some (but not all) of the towns applying were Texas Main Street Cities, a designation given to municipalities that were trying to revitalize their historic district through conservation, restoration and adaptive reuse of the locale thus providing new life into the buildings and the communities they are a part of.

Coming from a small bordertown, I grew up adoring our historic downtown – even though most buildings were dilapidated. I daydreamed of a day when I would return to Roma and (somehow) restore the buildings. I’d fix up the side-leaning apartments and rent them to tenants. I’d make that big pink building a library and maybe I’d add an ice-cream bar, too. The memories flooded back to me as I realized this is exactly what these towns were doing while also sharing their rich heritage. They were enacting my dreams.

The MoMS program would allow the community to host a traveling exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian Institute and share their own heritage through a complementary exhibit they would self-produce to residents and visitors while also bolstering small-town commerce. This would be Texas’ first-time hosting MoMS, and we had already broken the record for most applications submitted per state by almost two-fold. The cities’ applications were inventive in how they would highlight their town’s history, pairing it with public events and activities as well as partnering with local businesses. It was through these first-week conversations that I saw small towns across Texas which were deeply committed to sharing their local stories.

The panel met for two days, and though I mostly took notes of the multiple projects, my fascination grew on how THC was able to support towns at a more localized level than I thought a state branch ever would. Through reviewing applications, I was saddened to find that there was only one applicant from the Tropic Trail Region and that there were no applicants from the Rio Grande Valley where I am from. Seeing the potential impact of programs like Texas Main Street as well as Musuem on Main Street on small communities has inspired me to pursue a career in public administration and public history.

Before this internship I was deeply considering continuing my education through a doctoral degree and working in a museum setting as, at the time, that was the only place I could see myself being able to conduct research. I believed that I could only find fulfillment if I was constant learning, but I struggled to grapple with my belief that education should be for all and not just for those who have access to prestigious institutions. I briefly wondered what returning to teaching would be like or if producing curriculum would aid in my goals for folks to learn more about themselves. I questioned if higher education administration would be something I would enjoy as I could support students thrive in rigorous and isolating settings. But knowing my deep interest in Roma, my hometown, and knowing that I valued the immense joy that history and heritage provide when highlighted, I now believe that I would find that same passion in the many historic communities across the state.

Thanks to the opportunity the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission provided me through the Preservation Scholars Program, I have been able to see myself (and my future) in a different and brighter light.