On a recent morning at the Houston Holocaust Museum, the unfolding notion of what such a museum is, and who it serves, came into sharp relief.
Sitting on a row of wooden benches in a dimly lit multimedia room are two dozen middle- and high-school students, mostly Hispanic and African American, from the George I. Sanchez Charter School. (The school is 99 percent minority and 91 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.) With rapt attention, they watch a sepia-toned film — an introduction to the Jewish experience in pre-Holocaust and Holocaust-era Europe — projected on a large wall in front of them.
Over the next two hours the students accompany a Spanish-speaking docent around the 57,000-square-foot museum. They explore two floors of exhibits, view artifacts from the Final Solution and watch taped oral histories from Holocaust survivors.
The Sanchez Charter School students had learned “a little” about the Shoah in the wider context of civil rights, said Stephanie Garcia, a teacher who accompanied the group’s tour. She helped arrange the tour, she said, “because the students need to know that civil rights [violations] are still occurring today.”
Adding Spanish, reaching out to other groups and developing a Spanish-language website “makes the lessons of the Holocaust more relevant to other people … to a broader audience,” Zuniga, the museum’s director, said. In Houston, that broader audience in the future will be increasingly a Hispanic one in a city where Hispanics now make up nearly 4-in-10 Houstonians. (Census figures estimate that the city, the nation’s fourth largest, will be majority Hispanic by 2050.)
As the museum tour concluded, two ninth-graders reflected on what they’d just experienced.
“I learned how it was possible” for the persecution of Jews in Nazi Europe to take place, said Maria Lucio. A classmate said the tour taught her the importance of a single person speaking up when he or she sees someone being persecuted. There will always be, said Gabriella Vasquez, “some people who will help one another.”