By Mimi Pollack
Linda Caballero-Sotelo carries two passports, Mexican, and Spanish, as well as an American green card. She will become an American citizen in 2016. That background makes her especially well suited to be executive director of the growing New Americans Museum.
The United States is a land of immigrants, and the New Americans Museum is a place that is dedicated to honoring those who have arrived in the United States since World War II. Caballero-Sotelo is an immigrant herself and the granddaughter of immigrants. Her grandparents arrived in Coahuila, Mexico from Barcelona, Spain, so they were both Spanish and Catalan. Linda was born In Tijuana, and later settled in San Diego.
How do you embrace recently arrived immigrants while at the same time celebrate those who came before? This is something Caballero-Sotelo is passionate about, and she has never backed down from a challenge, especially in light of the anti-immigration backlash this country is now experiencing. She wants to find ways to create a civilized dialogue, and hopes that through the programs, voices and exhibits at the museum, that dialogue will be embraced, especially by a mainstream audience. Her goal is to facilitate a vision and open it up to others.
Caballero-Sotelo’s background is an asset. She received her BA in International Relations and History, studying at both UCLA and the United States International University. She received her MA in International Business and Economics, studying at the Webster-Regents College, UK, and the London School of Economics. She has over 20 years experience as a senior level executive, advocate and activist for national and international projects and organizations. She has worked in a variety of corporate, public and nonprofit settings in both the United States and abroad. She was the chief executive officer of the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She also organized and collaborated in the development of various public art installations.
Thus, she has both the head for business and the heart for art, two talents that serve the museum well in its mission.
Both Caballero-Sotelo, a mother of three, and the founder of the museum, the renowned philanthropist Deborah Szkeley, have a soft spot for children. One of the regular special events is a swearing in ceremony for children who become American citizens.
“My vision is for the New Americans Museum to be a conduit, a facilitator for dialogue and storytelling around inclusion, immigrant values, and why these contributions continue to matter,” said Caballero-Sotelo.
To this goal, the museum has educational programming which includes the children’s naturalization ceremony, school tours, an altar for Dia de los Muertos, an emerging Arts Leaders Fellowship Program, a recording studio, an oral history project where immigrants tell their stories, ongoing internships, docent and volunteer opportunities, and exhibitions with talks, forums, celebrations and special events.
The next exhibit is “Maletas Migrantes,” or “Migrant Suitcases,” which is an exhibition of 50 pieces made by 50 contemporary artists. It draws attention to the contradictions, negotiations, and dialogues contained within the geographic and emotional crossing and consequent displacement of migrants, be it geographical, historical, or emotional. The curator is Ignacio Vasquez Paravano, who comes from the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City.
The opening reception will be on Thursday from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm, with the curator’s talk from 5:00 pm to 5:30 pm.
Of special interest to San Diego county K-12 and community college teachers is the yearly “My Immigrant Journey” essay contest in which students write about their families’ or their own journeys coming to America and their new lives here. The best essays are honored and awarded prizes. The contest is held in the spring.
When asked what legacy she would like to leave, Caballero-Sotelo thoughtfully replied, “I would like to help create a place without walls where ideas, tolerance, resilience, excellence, inclusion and innovation are represented through our combined immigrant experiences, and celebrated for them.”
Mimi Pollack is an ESL teacher and a freelance writer.