Smithsonian adds iconic Nike Cortez to permanent shoe exhibition

(PNS reporting from WASHINGTON, D.C.) In what is being heralded as a major step towards recognition of the role of Latinos in our Nation’s history, the Smithsonian this week premiered its latest exhibit: the iconic Nike Cortez athletic shoe.

The shoe, a fixture of Latino culture since the 1980s, becomes a permanent part of the Smithsonian’s collection and may pave the way for inclusion of other Latino footwear in the future, such as exemplars from Stacy Adams, chanclas y pantuflas.

The Cortez will go on display near other American footwear, including Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the first pair of Chuck Taylors, the shoe that almost hit George W. Bush in the face in Iraq and others.

Smithsonian pop culture director Brian Gaspar said he wanted to bring the Cortez into the umbrella of the Smithsonian because after he saw the film Stand and Deliver, he realized there was a gaping hole in the institution’s offerings.

“When I saw Lou Diamond Phillips’ character [in the film], I realized that there was nothing to represent cholo culture in the Smithsonian, except for maybe some of the veterano janitors,” Gaspar told PNS. “Although I grew up in the nice suburbs of Denver, I hear that cholos are, like, a thing for Mexican Americans.”

Memo Padilla and about 25 other reformed cholos pooled their resources to rent a bus that Padilla’s uncle Chuy drove from East L.A. for the exhibit’s unveiling at the museum.

“This means a lot — not only to me, but to a lot of people from where I’m from,” Padilla said. “It shows that we’re truly a part of this country. Also, we’re really not in Kansas anymore.”

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