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Nationwide Grants Give Groups Chance to Learn Latino Culture, History

Latinos may be the largest minority group in the U.S., but many are not familiar with the fact that Hispanics have been an integral part of the U.S. s

Latinos may be the largest minority group in the U.S., but many are not familiar with the fact that they have been an integral part of the U.S. since the country's beginnings, and that different nationalities have their distinct history, culture and roots.

To celebrate and inform on the diversity and achievements of U.S. Latinos, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association created Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, a nationwide initiative grant to educate communities around the country.

More than 200 grantees - libraries, museums, cultural arts centers, state humanities councils, historical societies and community organizations will be receiving funding and resources to host festivals, discussion groups, oral history initiatives, local history exhibitions, multi-media projects, performances and other programs about Latino history and culture. Fifty-five organizations will receive $10,000 grants, and 148 will receive $3,000 grants, totaling more than $1 million.

Image: Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta
Civil rights activists Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta at a march in Chicago, Illinois in 1971.Courtesy of Eliseo Medina

The PBS landmark documentary series “Latino Americans” will be shown to groups to foster meaningful conversations surrounding issues relevant to U.S. Latinos such as civil rights, labor, immigration, as well as to discuss the influences of Hispanics on America’s social and cultural life.

RELATED: Author, Journalist Ray Suarez Tells The "Latino American" Story

The award-winning documentary "Latino Americans" chronicles the history of Latinos in the U.S. from the 16th century to present day. There is also a companion book based on the documentary, Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped A Nation, written by acclaimed Hispanic journalist and author Ray Suarez.

RELATED: Newsman Ray Suarez: Latinos Prosper, America Prospers

Sari Feldman, President of American Library Association (ALA), told NBC News the initiative is part of the changing mission of America's libraries.

“Programming opportunities like this one are invaluable for communities," said Feldman. "Libraries have transformed to deliver lifelong learning for people of all ages and this learning advances individual knowledge and opportunity and fosters community experiences.”

The grantees have planned different ways for using the documentary and tying it into their community outreach, as several explained to NBC News.

In Minnesota, the Ramsey County Library was the only library in the state to earn the grant. “Latino history is part of American history, and we look forward to welcoming audiences of all backgrounds,” said Judy Woodward, the library's History Coordinator. The activities will include exposure to Latin American musical traditions through musical preludes as well as guest lectures from a professor from Macalester College in October and November.

“We know people will find much of interest in a series that ranges from the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s to the story of Latino settlement in Minnesota,” said Woodward.

In western Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley History Network is planning a variety of events beginning in September, including a Family Fiesta Day, featuring Puerto Rican folktales and Caribbean music, a study of the documentary "Latino Americans" at Turner Falls River Culture and a Spanish-language film festival at Holyoke Community College.

“The Hispanic population has been a part of our community for more than 100 years,” said Clifford McCarthy, president of the organization, which partners with historical societies, museums, libraries, and other sites in the area. “We think it will be a great opportunity and step towards bringing the Latino American heritage into our consciousness.”

In Durham County, North Carolina, its public library plans to host an exhibit on the contributions of Latino military servicemen and women since the Civil War.

Bakersfield College in Bakersfield, California, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Delano grape strike with a three-day event about the farm workers movement.

In Southern California, Grand Performances, a presenter of free performing arts in the region, will host screenings, discussions, and recorded story circles on topics including Latina feminism, the importance of grassroots leadership, and the value of arts and culture in emerging communities.

ALA's Sari Feldman said these nationwide grants are significant on several levels.

“We recognize the tremendous opportunity that we have to bring people into public spaces - and particularly public libraries - to celebrate Latino American culture.”

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