Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! We here at SITES take great pride in working to expand museum access and engagement for Latinos across the nation, and this month we want to highlight great Latino museum professionals from the SITES family who are making a difference across the country. Today, we're introducing our very own Maria del Carmen Cossu - or Makaki to friends - our incredibly dedicated Director for Latino Initiatives here at SITES. Here, Makaki talks about her start in her native Peru and how she's leveraging her great journey to grow Latino access to the museum field:
I am originally from Lima, Peru, and when growing up, wherever I walked I encountered many testimonies of my native country’s past. I was fascinated with our history. I decided to study history, and loved doing research. When a job opportunity came to serve as an instructor in addition to my studies at college, I discovered that I also loved teaching! While a student, conducting research at the National Library, I used to walk every day in front of a museum, and I looked up to that museum, thinking that it will be a great place to work.
Well, a job opened up in the museum, and I became enamored with the world inside the museum and its possibilities. I discovered that I could research and teach in a museum! It was the greatest place to learn and work and combined my passions for teaching and researching. So I decided to explore more possibilities for formal training so that I could work in the museum field. In the 1980’s Peru didn’t have a formal museum studies program, so I looked for opportunities to become a museum professional beyond the frontiers of my country. I was fortunate to be accepted to become an intern here at the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES.) Through my colleagues at SITES, I learned that I could study museum education; it was a perfect match for what I wanted to do in the museum field.
I wanted to go back to my country and give back. However, I decided to take the opportunity to work at with Smithsonian Institution, bringing an exhibition on the rainforests to twelve countries in Latin America. I never lost my passion to give back to my home, and later I was able to find more opportunities to give back to my country through special visits or seminars in which I taught museum education strategies to my colleagues in Peru.
The museum field is rewarding, you learn something new every day and meet great people who are interested and passionate about the world of arts, culture, history, and science. After several years at the World Bank Art Program, I came back to the Smithsonian, which I consider my alma mater.
In April 2015, I joined the staff at SITES as Project Director for Latino Initiatives. This job is very meaningful to me, as I am now at the place where I started my career in this country. My job is to provide traveling exhibitions and professional development to the museum field so that all Americans better understand the U.S. Latino experience and so that museums have a greater capacity to reach U.S. Latino audiences.
One of the opportunities that I am involved in is to mentor new Latinx museum professionals in the field through internships and fellowships, since the population of Latinx museum professionals is very low, we hope that our opportunity at SITES will make a difference in the future. I also want to make the museum field known as a great place to work not only for museum specialists, but for professionals in different areas of expertise, such as accountants, human resource specialists, financial analysts, graphic designers, web developers, etc. I feel proud to be part of this profession and to be a Latina working in the museum field. I hope that in the near future we will be more Latinx contributing to the museum field!