A closer look: Alumni explore Bolívar Collection during ‘Juntos’ weekend

By Molly Minturn | April 27, 2023

Earlier this month in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, a happy group of alumni, students, and staff posed in front of a portrait of Fernando Bolívar, who was likely the first Latin American student at the University of Virginia. The nephew and adopted son of the Venezuelan leader Simón Bolívar, Fernando enrolled at the University in 1827. He is the namesake for important hubs in UVA’s Latinx community today, including the student residence Casa Bolívar and the Bolívar Network, an alumni steering committee.

The group was gathered for the UVA Alumni Association’s inaugural Juntos weekend, a celebration for Latinx alumni. (The Spanish word “juntos” translates to “together” in English.) As part of that weekend, UVA Library sponsored two events on April 15, including a presentation of Simón and Fernando Bolívar’s artifacts held in Special Collections. For that event, called “A Closer Look: The Bolívar Collection,” UVA Library curators and archivists displayed Simón Bolívar’s silver and manuscripts, Fernando Bolívar’s papers, and portraits of both men that were donated to UVA in 1944 by the Venezuelan government. They also presented more modern items related to the Latinx experience at UVA and the Bolívar Network’s founding.

Members of UVA’s Latinx community pose in front of a portrait of Fernando Bolívar.
During the Library’s Juntos weekend events, members of UVA’s Latinx community posed in front of a portrait of Fernando Bolívar, who enrolled at the University in 1827. In the portrait, Bolívar wears a typical uniform of an early student at the University of Virginia.

“The team that interpreted the objects from the Library’s Bolívar family collection were so thoughtful in their explanations and care for the precious items and their stories,” said attendee Gina Flores, a 2000 UVA alumna and founding student member of the Bolívar Network. “I appreciated the 1827 Bolívar history paired with more current Latinx histories. Seeing some of the founding documents of the Bolívar Network from decades ago reminded me how important it is to collect and preserve UVA Latinx history, past, present, and future. Seeing our community’s history validated my connection to UVA and sense of belonging as an alumna.”

That same morning, the Library partnered with Microsoft’s HOLA Network (its internal Latinx employee resource group), to host a breakfast in Special Collections’ Harrison-Small Auditorium, where Latinx Microsoft employees shared video testimonials about the power of Latinx community. “A weekend like this one is an opportunity for units, schools, and groups across the University to reflect on the journey of Latinx students, faculty and staff since the University’s founding,” said Catalina Piatt-Esguerra, the Library’s Associate Dean of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility, during the Microsoft event. “It’s a weekend that reminds us of the impact of community and the power of representation.”

Take a look below at images from that day, captured by photographer and Library employee Eze Amos.

A librarian shares original letters written by Simón and Fernando Bolivar with a group of people.
Jacob Hopkins, Instruction Librarian/Archivist, shares original letters written by Simón and Fernando Bolivar. “These manuscripts, generously donated by Luis Fernando Bolívar, a descendant of Fernando’s, give us more insight into the experiences of some of the first students to attend UVA and the experiences of an international student — particularly one from Latin America — attending the University in the 1800s,” he said.
People look at artifacts.
“It was so rewarding to present these collection materials to alumni who offered additional insight and context into how we can interpret and understand them — whether by helping us translate Spanish-language items or through relaying their own experiences participating in the Bolívar Network,” Hopkins said. “Our collections grow in meaning the more we share them.”
Photo of the dedication a portrait of Simón Bolívar at UVA in 1944.
In the 1940s, Professor James Bardin coordinated the delivery of a portrait of Simón Bolívar to UVA. The University invited a descendant of Fernando Bolívar, also named Fernando Bolívar, for its dedication in 1944, pictured here. The portrait (and the one above of Fernando Bolívar) were originally displayed in Pavilion VI, which served as the home for Romance languages, and have been widely exhibited at Casa Bolívar. Today they can be found in New Cabell Hall. They are a part of UVA’s Fine and Decorative Arts Collection, managed by the Library.
A librarian shows people papers from the founding of the Bolívar Network, an organization of Latinx and Hispanic alumni.
Meg Kennedy, Curator of Material Culture, introduces visiting alumni to items from the founding of the Bolívar Network, an organization of Latinx and Hispanic alumni.
A librarian and a woman flip through a miniature book.
Jacob Hopkins and Gina Flores flip through a miniature book, “Paginas Selectas” [Select Pages], which compiles excerpts from Simón Bolívar’s writings and correspondence.
Two men shake hands.
Juntos attendees shake hands during the “Closer Look” event. “Juntos was an initiative many years in the making,” said Liz Crowder, Senior Associate Director of Alumni Programs at the Alumni Association. “There was a palpable energy and excitement among students and alumni as Juntos came to life on Grounds.”
A collection of 19th-century silver flatware and tea service.
Luis Fernando Bolívar’s donation of Bolívar family materials includes a collection of 19th-century silver flatware and tea service.
A librarian speaks to a smiling woman.
“The event was attended by some of the creators of material in our University Archives collections, including several students who advocated for the rights of Hispanic/Latinx students in the 1990s,” Kennedy said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their efforts and to consider the ways our collections can and should reflect the full range of the University’s student experience.”

For more about the Bolívar Collection, check out these links in the Library catalog: