Hispanic Heritage Month

On the Road Again 

As if the invitation to present our work at the Smithsonain National Museum of the American Indian didn’t keep us busy enough!  We barely caught our breath from an exhilarating two weeks  in NYC and D.C. before we were on to our next commitments. USH continued its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month 2016 with friends and colleagues in  North Carolina and Massachusetts.

North Carolina:

UNC Pembroke’s Native American Speaker Series

terryOn September 19, 2016 Carlos, Chema, Carmen and our four Maya Traditions partners piled into a large van and took to the highway.  Some 7 hours later, we arrived at our hotel in Pembroke, NC.  We were greeted by three of our Founder’s doctoral students Terry, Tiffany, and Denise.  Their presence was a warm southern welcome after what seemed like being on the road for days!  The next day, Dr. Jane Haladay led us to UNC Pembroke (originally the Croatan Normal School – built by and for American Indian higher education).  Our group visited two university classes, showing USH films and engaging in discussion about Maya culture and education.


In the evening, Carlos, Carmen and Chema spoke at uncpUNCP’s Native American Speaker Series.  We were just about to being, when the entire town of Pembroke lost electricity!  These leaders handled it beautifully, engaging the audience by talking about USH’s pedagogy and evolution.  Shortly, we regained power and were able to show a Level 1 & Level 2 Film.


img_2309Following the films and discussions, the audience gathered in the rear of the auditorium, watching weaving practices and engaging in further dialogue with our leaders.


…In the meantime, the UNCP student media team was present.  This team interviewed both Carmen and Chema, a story which would air on local UNCP television broadcasts.

UNC Chapel Hill


On a very last minute whim, we our team made a very brief stop at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  A dear friend and colleague, who is also Maya K’iche’, convinced us to stop in his class.  Emilio del Valle Escalante  is a professor and researcher in Latin American and indigenous literatures and cultures.  The most exciting part for the Program Leaders was that the discussion was fully in Spanish!  No need for translations; just direct and deep conversation! Yet another wonderful gift, closing their 2016 U.S. experience.   


Bunker Hill Community College

Not long after getting our screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-4-17-05-pmGuatemalan travelers to the airport, our Founder and Director was preparing for her Bunker Hill Community College  invitation.  The presentation called ¡Inspirate! was part of BHCC’s 2016 Hispanic Heritage month events.  The day began with An informal lunch and discussion was held at the Chelsea campus.   Later that evening, the extending community gathered for dinner and presentation.   Amidst the audience, Cedric Woods, a Lumbee Tribe member, who stopped to see what is coming to his community!


More to come!!


Announcing USH’s First U.S. Chapter!

USH: Lumbee Chapter

It is with EXTREME enthusiasm that we announce our expansion to the United States! We will begin the USH: Lumee Chapter in Pembroke, North Carolina, a collaboration with the nycf-logoLumbee Tribe Boys & Girls Club.  Funded by The First Nation’s Development Institute of Longmont, CO, the Lumbee Tribe adoption and implementation of USH began in September 2016 and is funded through July 2017.  We are simply ecstatic!


Lumbee Youth, Lumbee Tribe Members, and USH Team meet at UNC Pembroke

In keeping with the USH vision of youth-led expansions of USH, our Guatemalan Program Leaders Carlos, Chema, and Carmen initiated the chapter.  These three leaders sat with the group of Lumbee youth who will participate in the USH program.  Carlos, Chema, and Carmen introduced how USH has been evolving in Guatemala, asked them about their visions for USH in their community, and answered questions.  This introduction was part of USH’s participation in the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Native American Speaker Series.


Lumbee Leadership

We would also like to announce two outstanding Lumbee Tribe youth who will facilitate and manage the USH: Lumbee Chapter.  Please help us in welcoming Reagan and Bryan.


Reagan is a Native American student at UNC-Pembroke majoring in biology with a Biomedical Emphasis with aspirations to become an orthodontist. Reagan serves as an ambassador for SHPEP and is an American Indian Association Scholar. She is passionate about social issues surrounding Indigenous people and is excited to be working with USH and the Lumbee tribe.


Bryan is 20 years old and is from a small town called Fairmont, North Carolina which is located in Robeson County. He is currently seeking his Criminal Justice Degree at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. His willingness to give back to the community and help give his Lumbee people a voice, inspired him to pursue Unlocking Silent Histories: Lumbee Chapter.

Additional Support



Denise Hunt, Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend, Tiffany Locklear

Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend:  Dr. Lowry-Townsend is the Lumbee tribe’sYouth Services Manager at the Lumbee Boys & Girls Clubs.

Tiffany Locklear and Denise Hunt: Tiffany and Denise are doctoral students at UNCW. Locklear and Hunt, also Lumbee Tribe members, will volunteer their services at the Lumbee Tribe Boys & Girls Club as independent studies students and their participation will assist with the project’s sustainability.  Hunt and Locklear are thrilled about bringing the cultural resources of the project to the Lumbee community to make education relevant to our students.  

DC: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian: Stop #2

National Musuem of the American Indian: DC

korahIn Washington D.C., we were greeted by Korah English Morez, the NMAI Cultural Arts Program Specialist, who organized a breathtaking, and beautifully curated exhibit of “Maya Creativity and Cultural Milieu”.

Unlocking Silent Histories Filmmakers and the Maya Traditions Foundation guests were joined by Maya weavers from Weaving for the Future, a Washington, D.C.-based cooperative. An array of colors and crafts permeated the space.   Indigenous Design Collective, a Washington-based Maya graphic arts initiative dedicated to educating people about Maya symbolism, facilitated hands on activities; The musuem displayed interactive websites; and the Smithsonian Latino Center organized opportunities to learn about Maya migration and Bak’tun 13.  This was all set to energizing, authentic Guatemalan marimba music.

The USH Film Screenings took place in the NMAI Rasmuson Theater.  Here audience viewed the thoughtfully threaded programs crafted by Melissa Bisagni, NMAI Program Manager Media Initiatives.  Featured were 16 youth-produced films from our 9 partner communities in Guatemala.  Discussions with the filmmakers and program leaders Carmen, Chema and Carlos followed.  In both the  morning and afternoon conversations, you will hear how these leaders describe their roles in co-creating USH, how the organization belongs to all of them, and why this work is important for their indigenous communities.


A very special than you also, for the private guided tour of control room.  It was a very special opportunity for these burgeoning professions to get a behind the scenes insight to high quality production and documentation!

Visiting the Film Archives


Melissa Bisagni was obviously thinking about our guests having the experience of their lifetime.  She prearranged a very special trip for Carmen, Carlos, and Chema.  We visited the Human Studies Film Archive, at the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, MD.  What an amazing morning!  We handled legacy equipment and imagined what it might have been like filming and editing with equipment like this!   Next, they viewed various archival ethnographic films of the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala, dating between 1920 and 1960.  These three inquisitive youth greatly appreciated of the opporutnity to see historical films of their region – noting what stayed the same, what changed, and how others outsiders were choosing to document their communities and describe them – at times the descriptions were inaccurate.  An experience that inspired conversations and visions of doing more films from within.

Melissa told the youth, your work is important because we often have films about indigenous communities, but not many from within themWords taken to heart with great appreciation from this very seasoned expert.

Special Guest Duane Howard

As if the program that Korah and Melissa had prepared was not enough, we also welcomed a very special guest, Duane Howard.  Duane played the role of ‘Elk Dog’, the lead native warrior in 20th Century, in movie “The Revenant”.


Duane enjoyed DC with our USH team, sharing his wisdom – both about film and about First Nations communities.  After watching both sets of films, he comments that he was taken by the ways in which the youth were capturing their cultures and traditions, and spirituality of the communities.  His first visit to DC, we organized a special tour of the museum and entertained him at a traditional U.S. diner and a “hip” neighborhood bar!  It was an honor to have him, and most of all, we appreciated his humorous, generous spirit, and support of our work at USH.

Visiting Sites

DC was incredibly busy, yet we found some time to visit DC’s Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and a distant glimpse of the Capital Building.  Our Program Leaders will need to come back for a visit to enjoy more of the city!


Thank you DC. What an amazing time we had!!

NYC: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian: Stop #1


National Musuem of the American Indian: NYC




Our first stop in the U.S., The New York City National Musuem of the American Indian.  This, the first of a very jam packed Hispanic Heritage month, set the pace of or rapid adventure.  

It was here that the USH presenters took to the stage and got their first look at their USH films on a professional screen!  Lively conversations followed, as audiences asked profound questions.  The well articulated responses of these three leaders illustrate how they have embraced USH , and have each developed their unique voice.  

The team celebrating on the stairs are USH and MTF participants:  Carmen, Elena, Cecelia, Chema, Marisol , Donna, Carlos and Matea as well as Korah (NMAI), and Temis (USH volunteer)!


When not on stage, Chema, Carlos, and Carmen talked manned our USH information table, positioned in this austere building, the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, a monument to commerce that was built between 1900 and 1907.  Sitting at the entry way to the rotunda of the custom house, USH greeted musuem visitors, sharing literature, movies, and their stories.  NMAI in NYC?  Simply perfect.

Visiting Pamela Yates

img_9200As fate would have it, the very busy Pamela Yates just happened to be in NYC the weekend of our NYC visit.  She graciously invited Carlos, Carmen and Chema to her studio space, where she and her editor, Peter, were working on their film 500 Years.  These USH filmmakers engaged in conversations about storyboarding, shots, and editing decisions.  A truly special gift!


NYC Site Seeing

We certainly could not have enjoyed NY, without visiting some tourist sites.  Our nonstop – what felt like a sleepless time – included a ferry ride to Staten Island, a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, several subway rides, a night stroll on Time Square, and finally, a walk through and around Ground Zero.  What was the over all favorite?  Time Square.  

Thank you NEW YORK CITY!!!

From Guatemala to New York

An Unexpected Adventure!

dsc08419Fingers crossed!  7 novice travels board their flight in Guatemala.  The connection is tight, but we think positively that they will be just fine!  They land early, perfect!  Not so perfect.  Facebook and Whatsapp messages began to pour in.  “We are still in immigration,” writes Marisol.   “Call us, it’s urgent,” reads the message from Chema.  As our hopes for a smooth journey from Guatemala to the U.S. faded, problem solving quickly took its place.

Chema, now through immigration, tells me over FB video chat, “Donna, I think we are going to miss our flight.  We are all here waiting, but Marisol still hasn’t arrived.” Marisol, the only English-speaking member of our Unlocking Silent Histories and Maya Traditions group traveling to the States was detained in customs.  Chema continues, “And we haven’t recovered our suitcases!”  Iairport-chema tell Chema that everything will be ok, and “hey, this is just part of the adventure!”  Chema isn’t so sure, but we laugh and continue to talk.  I “walk” him through the airport, searching for someone to speak with.  Chema’s phone scanning the airport, we find a security guard.  I speak to her, and she tells us that there is nothing to do but wait.  Chema, Carlos, Carmen, and our Maya Traditions partners do just that.   One and a half hours later, Marisol emerges…  By this time, the flight is definitely gone.  Again, using FB video chat, I guide them to the ticket counter so that they can rebook their flights.

Knowing that they are tired,  img_2376stranded and nervous worries me.  All  I can think about is that they have no U.S. money and they need to eat and sleep.  Team USH kicks into gear.  Temis, a USH volunteer traveling with us, navigates two computers and a phone to scan websites and talk to customer service centers.  He finally secures a hotel, a shuttle to get them there, and orders breakfast for the next morning. At the same time, I worked through re-booking their flights. I also contacted a super amazing friend in Houston, who graciously fed them and got them off to the airport the next morning.  They board safely and we wait.  Together, Temis, Korah (SINMAI Cultural Arts Program Specialist), and I leave to greet the group at La Guardia.  Harried but happy to be in NYC, our USH and MTF guests arrive safely!


Welcome to the U.S.!

Our Big Present!

Dear Friends:

We bring you very joyful news this Holiday Season!

Unlocking Silent Histories will be featured at a Maya Cultural event at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. September 2016!!

We are happy to share this incredible opportunity with our partner,
The Maya Traditions Foundation!


This incredible opportunity and recognition from such an important cultural institution comes just 3 short years after beginning our work. Through the generous support of the Smithsonian, our Program Leaders – Carmen, Carlos, and Chema – will travel to the U.S. to present and discuss new youth-produced films that illuminate Maya cultural heritages and languages from their worldviews. Three Maya artisans from our partner organization, the Maya Traditions Foundation, will also accompany us to demonstrate the ancient art of traditional backstrap weaving.

The collaborative event is an opportunity for the youth and weavers to celebrate and share their Maya identities, and be recognized for their resilience, knowledge, and traditions. This experience also becomes a learning event that our Program Leaders will carry back to their communities. The new perspectives and knowledge that our Maya staff gain during their U.S. stay will ultimately translate to their continued work with new filmmakers in their communities. Additionally, the global visibility Unlocking Silent Histories and Maya Traditions Foundation will enjoy through this important event will deepen the positive impact we have on our Maya communities in Guatemala, and that they have on us.

Our journey to the Smithsonian is about to begin, and we need your support to help ensure that this once in a lifetime opportunity is the best experience for the youth and artisans!

This Holiday Season…  Join us in supporting this once in a lifetime opportunity! In lieu of a gift this year your can Give the Gift of Creative Voice by: 

  • Donating in honor or memory of family or friends
  • Becoming a monthly donor Providing equipment
  • Electing to be a Premium Donor (Contribute $500 or more and we will include you on our Sponsor Wall & Website at the Smithsonian!)

Click here to Support Our Journey!!

Your generous contributions will fund updated computers, cameras, and editing software, as well as educational workshops, to support the creation of additional films that reveal the unique perspective of what it means to be Maya, historically and presently. We will update you every step of the way!

With Sincere and Heartfelt Appreciation,
Happy Holiday from all of us at USH!


Newsletter Launch! A little about Our History…

This past week, we launched our Monthly Newsletter.  Join us on the 15th of each month to get the snapshots of our journey!  We’ll connect you here for more details!  Here is the contents of our first issue:

Unlocking Silent Histories Monthly Newsletter!

Welcome!!! Thank you for joining us.  Each month as we share our stories and progress.  We are excited to keep you informed of our ongoing journey with indigenous youth. For our inaugural newsletter edition, we want to start out with a little history about how Unlocking Silent Histories (USH) began.

Our Story: In 2012, our founder and director Donna DeGennaro took a a leave of absence from her tenure-track University position with the vision of reinvigorating her passion for her work.  Since her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, she had been working toward a pedagogical design that was youth-driven and focused on digital media technologies.  She was primarily concerned with the deficit ways that culturally diverse youth were educated and the negative media representations that seemed to help reinforce this assumption.  Donna’s approach to her work is “constructivist”, which means that she always includes the voices of youth, whose ideas contributed to the unfolding concept or learning design.

Donna’s hiatus from the university took her to Guatemala where she was expecting to expand her research in a small private school.  When obstacles thwarted that that possibility, she was initially dismayed.  Yet, as fate would have it, she found herself serendipitously in the right place at the right time!  When all seemed doomed, Donna met with then Director of the Maya Traditions Foundation, Marcelle.  Marcelle was eager for Donna to do work with the youth Maya Traditions supported and invited Donna to begin visiting their communities and meetings. It was a match!  Shortly after, Donna got to work not only on her concept, but also on solidifying her idea as a non-profit.  It was with this seed that Unlocking Silent Histories (USH) was born.

USH started as a pilot program in 2012 in collaboration with the Maya Traditions Foundation (MTF). With the generous support of MTF, Donna began implementing the pedagogy that she had been developing for many years with youth in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.  The MTF Director and Donna collaboratively decided to start the program with a small group of youth in the rural community of Chirijox. For five months, Marisol (MTF Programs Coordinator) and Donna met the youth once a week in a small home in the mountains.  The trek from Panajachel to Chirijox was anything but easy, requiring crowded buses that moved rapidly up steep and windy hills and two transfers, once in the town of Sololá and then in Los Encuentros.   Donna carried two backpacks filled with cameras, computers, chargers, and other materials, determined to initiate this program.The youth engaged in what Donna calls an emergent learning environment.  This means that there is not a written script or set curriculum, instead, learning is a grassroots endeavor that starts with youths’ ideas, traditions and cultures. Specifically, the youth identify personally meaningful and community-connected topics, generate questions, and move through their learning as they define what they

need to know.  After gathering data, they analyze it and decide what they need to learn next.  It is an organic engagement that is flexible so that they can have the agency to draw upon their cultural knowledge and languages to have a personally meaningful experience.  Youth then were in charge of their research, their stories, and ultimately the short documentaries they create to share their learning.
Everything seemed to fall into place: enthusiastic youth, a supportive partner organization, and the resources to begin our journey through a successful Kickstarter Campaign.  This inspired Donna to apply for non-profit status under the name of Unlocking Silent Histories.  Unlike Donna’s previous work with the broader focus on the underserved youth population, USH would center its efforts on working with indigenous youth in impoverished communities.  USH officially become a 501(c)(3) in October of 2013.Since USH’s inception, and through a solidified partnership with the Maya Traditions Foundation, we have expanded from 1 – 6 of their communities.  Between our start in December of 2012 and 2013, 18 students have completed individual films and in early 2014 nine youth formed two production teams to create original documentary shorts.

Finally, we identified four of our first year students to become part of our staff. These Youth Leaders take on teaching new students, administering the organization, and contributing their ideas to the ongoing development of USH.  After a recommendation by a youth program leader from Cultural Survival, our Youth Leaders helped us to secure a second partnership with ADECCAP in Santiago, Atitlán.  This May these same leaders began our third year of USH, with new students in our present communities as well as in our new ones.

Click on the image below to see our video\

Next Month Preview:

Youth Leaders: We will introduce each of our youth leaders, tell you where they are from and what they are doing.  You’ll hear the philosophy from their perspective and what they envision for the future of USH. For a quick peak, visit the About Us section of our website.

Upcoming Show:

Save the Date!! On June 20th at 6PM, USH will be presenting two films at Casa Herrera in Antigua, Guatemala.Casa Herrera is a research, conference and teaching facility operated by the University of Texas, Austin.  We will provide more details in our June New letter.