A PUBLICATION OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LATINO ARTS AND CULTURE
raúlrsalinas March 17, 1934 – February 13, 2008
VOLUME 7 NO. 1 SUMMER 2008
A PUBLICATION OF NALAC
Volume 7 Number 1 Summer 2008
A Message from the Executive Director Over the past year NALAC has continued to strengthen its programs and services to the national Latino arts field, and we have also taken time to strengthen NALAC’s capacity and infrastructure to assure that we can continue to be an effective advocate for Latino arts and culture. NALAC prepares to commemorate its 20th Anniversary in 2009, and we hope you join us as we celebrate and acknowledge past accomplishments and envision and plan for the future with a series of national convenings across the country.
NALAC The National Association of Latino Arts and Culture
1208 Buena Vista, San Antonio, Texas 78207 Telephone: 210.432.3982 Fax: 210.432.3934 E-mail: email@example.com
NALAC BOARD OF DIRECTORS CHAIRPERSON
GALA HispanicTheatre, Washington, DC VICE CHAIRPERSON
Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D.
Public Folklorist, The Southwest Center University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ TREASURER
MECA, Houston, TX
Artist/ Assistant Professor of Art Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, GA
Bromley Communications, San Antonio, TX
Castellanos Family Foundation, San Jose, CA
San Anto Cultural Arts, San Antonio, TX
Maria Lopez De Leon NALAC, San Antonio, Tx
La Casa Latina University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Artist/Chair Art Department University of Memphis, Memphis, TN
Mattie Rhodes Arts Center, Kansas City, MO
Southwest Airlines Multi-Cultural & Community Affairs, San Antonio, TX
Luis A. Ramos-Garcia, Ph.D.
University of Minnesota Department of Spanish and Portuguese Minneapolis, MN
We welcome back Maribel Alvarez as el AVISO’s guest editor. We dedicate this issue to the late elder raulsalinas and his work and his words that continue to inspire. This issue also continues the series on artistic and scholarly interpretations of the Virgen de Guadalupe, a personal conversation with dancer Arthur Aviles about the Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre (AATT) and BAAD!, The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. We also celebrate the work of MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts) who has been serving youth and the Latino community in Houston for 30 years. Also, take a look at the photos of the NALAC familia at our most recent Regional Arts Training Workshops in El Paso, Texas, Athens, Georgia and Tucson, Arizona. NALAC Fund for the Arts has completed three successful years of awarding grants to Latino arts and cultural organizations and Latino artists in support of their artistic production. Over the last three years $380,000 has been awarded through 128 grants and fellowships to artists, ensembles and small and mid-size organizations. Our goal is to establish an endowment to continue to support artistic innovation and build the capacity of the Latino arts sector. The NALAC Leadership Institute has become a nationally recognized program and in 2008 it will celebrate eight years of training and empowering a new generation of arts and cultural leaders. The Institute alumni are part of a national network of arts leaders who are already impacting and shaping the future of the Latino arts field. The ongoing Regional Arts Training Workshops allow NALAC to organize and strengthen connections with the Latino arts and cultural community in diverse regions of the U.S. The regional workshops directly drive the growing national Latino arts movement. 2009 will mark NALAC’s 20th anniversary, and it is a time of growth, deep reflection and planning. We will acknowledge this milestone with a series of national convenings that will allow us to do a deep and critical analysis of the issues impacting the Latino arts and cultural community. I encourage you to become a member of NALAC and take advantage of the benefits of membership. Your membership not only gives you access to our programs but is your investment in the future of Latino arts.
BAAD!, Bronx, NY
Pregones Theater, Bronx, NY
Josie S. Talamantez
California Arts Council, Sacramento, CA
Maria Lopez De Leon NALAC Executive Director
NALAC STAFF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Maria Lopez De Leon NFA GRANT MANAGER
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Verónica Pérez-Picasso DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
AVISO GRAPHIC DESIGN
Adriana Maria Garcia PLEASE VISIT US ONLINE
The National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) is dedicated to the preservation, development and promotion of the cultural and artistic expressions of the diverse Latino populations of the United States. Through this effort, NALAC is committed to the continuing struggle for the elimination of racism, sexism, ageism and discrimination against gay, lesbian and physically challenged populations. The objective is to recognize and support the varied standards of excellence grounded in the aesthetics and traditions of our root cultures.
Cover photo of raulrsalinas courtesy Arte Publico Press
4 Alice Valdez, Sandi Turner and Tina Lilly. Athens, Georgia.
Ernesto Portillo. Tucson, Arizona.
Mi Vida Bailando: An Intimate Conversation With Arthur Aviles By Charles Rice-Gonzalez
Roberto Bedoya, Executive Director, Tucson Pima Arts Council. Tucson, Arizona.
Catolicismo Popular Entre Latinas By Jeanette Rodriguez, Ph.D.
8 Denise Chavez with Johnny Irizarry. El Paso, Texas.
Latina Popular Catholicism
Josephine Ramirez. Tucson, Arizona.
By Jeanette Rodriguez, Ph.D.
NALAC Mourns The Loss Of Poet/activist RaĂşl R. Salinas Performance by Verbobala. Tucson, Arizona.
Sister Margarita Martin. Athens, Georgia.
A Warrior Poet Remembered: raulrsalinas
Valerie Aranda, Charles Rice Gonzalez and William Fisher. Athens, Georgia.
By Magdalena Gomez
12 Eduardo Diaz, Maribel Alvarez, Gaspar Enriquez and Tomas Ybarra-Frausto. El Paso, Texas.
Richard Lou, Manuel Castillo, Ernesto Gomez and Gerardo Garcia. Athens, Georgia.
Elisa Gonzales and Desiree Aranda Smith. Athens, Georgia.
2008 NALAC REGIONAL ARTS TRAINING WORKSHOPS
Creative Responders: Latino Art In Action Re-afďŹ rming and Transforming The Future NALAC recently convened three successful Regional Arts Training Workshops in El Paso, Texas (March 7-8); Athens, Georgia (April 4-5) and Tucson Arizona (April 25-26). The Regional Workshops are a forum for dialogue, professional development and technical assistance which serve to empower Latino artists and arts and cultural organizations through ideas, solutions and strategies for sustainability.
The regional workshops permit active engagement between NALAC and the Latino arts community. If you are interested in convening a Regional Arts Training Workshop in your community, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more photos of the NALAC regional workshops visit www.nalac.org.
By Juan Felipe Herrera
Happy Birthday MECA: A Dispatch From Houston By Maribel Alvarez
Una Boricua Agradecida By Rosalba Rolon
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The regional workshop presentation tracks focused on artistic innovation, resource development, capacity building, leadership development, arts in community and transnational cultural connections. Keynote speakers and workshop leaders included Josephine Ramirez, Cheech Marin, Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, Denise Chavez, Yolanda Leyva, Gilberto Cardenas, Richard Lou, Felipe Molina among others. Performers included Radio La Chusma, Verbobala, Corridos de Guillermo Saenz and other local artists.
Outside The Mindjail Sweet Medicine Sings Homage To raulrsalinas
Mi Vida Bailando: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION WITH ARTHUR AVILES By Charles Rice-Gonzalez
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When I was asked to write about Arthur Aviles, I thought it would be an easy task. He and I have shared our lives for over 10 years, have built his dance company, Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre (AATT) and BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, a performance space that was crowned “funky and welcoming” by the New York Times and the Village Voice. So, given that our lives are so intertwined and that I’m a writer, I thought it would be a no brainer. We sat down to have a conversation on Valentine’s eve.
Photo courtesy of BAAD!
It proved to be challenging because I asked myself how do I say something different about this man who is very public and for whom a Google search reveals hundreds of entries on over 30 pages of information. Arthur has been the subject of NY Times articles and profiles in Dance Magazine, El Diario La Prensa, The NY Daily News’ VIVA Magazine, New York Post’s TEMPO and numerous interviews on network television and National Public Radio. He and his work have been the topics of several Latino scholars, and
he has performed all around the world and has received several awards including a Bessie Award (the Tony Award for the New York City downtown dance community) and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. One reason so much has been written about him is because packed into his 5’4” frame is a giant who is constantly working and always creating something new. Every night before he goes to bed and every morning when he rises, Arthur looks out of his bedroom window at BAAD! which is right across the street. BAAD! is in the fortress-like American Banknote Building in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx which used to print currency for Latin American countries. The structure is a behemoth in the neighborhood and was solidly built in 1911 of steel and brick, yet Arthur looks at it to make sure that it won’t disappear. “Maybe because I am a dancer everything seems ephemeral. Nothing ever seems stable. Dance truly exists when it is happening and then when the dance stops, it exists as a memory and experience or on visual recordings that give a flat representation. But those are not the real things. The true essence of dance can only be experienced live,” said Aviles. But losing everything is something that Arthur, like most artists, lives with every day of his life. In 2003, Anna Kisselgof, the lead critic for the NY Times said, “If you have not seen Mr. Aviles dance, you have not seen one of the great modern dancers of the last 15 years.”
One early morning, just before the sun rose, the apartment was engulfed in smoke from an apartment on a lower level.
But regardless of the circumstances, life in the Aviles home was replete with energy, movement and music. The family had parties where Daisy and Lucas would dance together. Although they embraced their Latino culture and Arthur and his siblings were raised with arroz con pollo and ate Puerto Rican pasteles during the holidays, Daisy and Lucas pushed their kids to assimilate to an English speaking culture that they considered one aspect of achieving what they perceived as the American dream.
“I’m a New York Rican. That’s different from a Puerto Rican and from a Nuyorican. I make that distinction because Puerto Ricans have a definite affinity for the island and most were either born and/or raised there. Nuyoricans are either transplanted to New York or are second generation Puerto Ricans who have fused Puerto Rican culture and language with the culture of New York. New York Ricans have a love for their culture, but are also estranged from it. And most of us don’t speak Spanish or even Spanglish. This group is difficult to find given that a part of their movement in life is to get away from their culture.” That conflagration of culture and the search for identity is one of the strong themes through Aviles’s work. He has created works like “La Mezcla” which brought together Puerto Ricans dancing and included Taino (Indigenous Puerto Rican) dance, Salsa Dancing, Hip Hop and contemporary dance, and “Mi Tito Mi Celia” which took a movement style that Aviles developed called Swift/Flow and set it to classic Latin Jazz by Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. When Aviles moved back to the Bronx in 1996, after touring the world for eight years with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, he wanted to have a dialogue with his people.
“When I was growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s it was very macho with break dancers doing their thing in the park. As a gay kid I didn’t feel welcomed in those circles, so when I came to the Bronx I wanted to not only have a dialogue with my community about
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This great dancer had an origin just like many other Latinos growing up in an urban environment. He was born in Jamaica, Queens to Puerto Rican parents, Daisy and Lucas Aviles. He was the fourth of eight children. His parents also took in the three daughters of one of Daisy’s sisters, so there were 11 children growing up in the household. The family moved from Queens to Long Island and the Bronx, where Arthur spent his teen years. Right before Arthur went to study at Bard College, the family relocated to Florida where they still reside. Lucas was a carpenter and Daisy a seamstress and together they built, literally, the homes in which the family lived. Once, while living in the Bronx, the family lost everything when there was a fire in their building.
“I went from sleeping in my room, which overlooked the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, to being relocated to one of the most notorious sections of the South Bronx at that time, Hunts Point.”
Aviles has created over 20 dance works in the ten years his company has been in the Bronx, and he has performed with many choreographers and projects, but his home remains in the Bronx. I love being in the Bronx, and I love that BAAD! brings something ‘other’ to the borough. BAAD! is a space that presents dance and works in all creative disciplines that are empowering to women, people of color and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community) through four festivals: BAAD! ASS WOMEN, Boogie Down Dance Series, Out Like That! and The BlakTino Performance Series. Photo courtesy of BAAD!
my Latinoness, but also my being gay. I felt very oppressed by our culture and I wanted to think of different possibilities for Latinos to embrace our gay people.” His first concert in the Bronx was at Hostos Center for the Arts where he presented “Arturella,” a gay Puerto Rican re-telling of Disney’s classic “Cinderella.” In it the young Arturella finds his prince (played by Jorge Merced the wonderful actor/director and associate director of Pregones Theatre). Of the company’s premiere performance, Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times said, “Mr. Aviles is also a bold, exuberant dancer. And ‘Arturella’ has the vigor, stylishness and clarity of the best street theater, its occasionally raunchy but uncampy humor drawing laughter from the families as well as the dance aficionados in the large audience.” Through several of Aviles’s works he has used non-dancers along with professional dancers. Involving the community in the creation of art has been integral to many of his popular works. He brought “Arturella” back in 2003 at Dance Theatre Workshop and The New York Times returned and reviewed the work saying, “‘Arturella’ is hilarious and more than community outreach. You don’t have to live in a Puerto Rican neighborhood to appreciate the authenticity of Mr. Aviles’ humorous dance-theater tale.... Three mice are played by Ms. Koga, Juan Antonio Perez and a kindergarten student, Miranda Benitez. Children and nudity might not mix for everyone, but the context in which taboos exist is also important. In this case these taboos have obviously been broken.”
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Every year Aviles has premiered a new dance work and in May 2008 he presented one of his most ambitious concerts to date. He has asked the Tony Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones to create a duet between him and Vogue master Benny Ninja, and has asked the celebrated choreographer Doug Elkins to create a new piece for his dance company, AATT. Aviles is also working on a new solo and will bring back a repertory piece called “This Pleasant and Grateful Asylum,” a nude duet about the stages of the way two men engage in a relationship. The works will be presented at BAAD! The building in which BAAD! resides was recently sold to developers Taconic Real Estate and Denham Wolf.
“I was pretty terrified when I learned about the building sale, because we all know what follows. The artists get kicked out. But I am glad that we have a lease that goes to 2015, so at least until then we will be OK, and we will work to continue presenting dance and art in the Bronx beyond that. And as we sit on this Valentine’s eve reflecting on what we’ve done, Charles, I’m glad that you have been with me every step of the way.”
“I was so glad that The New York Times understood what I was doing. I love celebrating the body and all the complex metaphors it can present. Audiences are always fascinated by the nude body in motion. Muscles stretching and twisting. On the stage it is done at the service of revealing the complexities of what it means to be human and if I am going to involve my community in my work, I won’t shy away from any issues and want to bring my community along with me for the ride. I was proud of everyone who participated in the creation of “Arturella.” They were a bold crew.” Photo courtesy of BAAD!
Veladoras left by supplicants at a roadside chapel or capilla in Magdalena, Sonora.
Catolicismo Popular entre Latinas Jeanette Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Tr a n s l a t e d b y M a r i b e l A l v a r e z
La jerarquía convencional de la Iglesia Católica y las creencias tradicionales que acostumbran asignar un lugar subordinado a la mujer, han dado paso en sí mismas a la formación de prácticas religiosas alternativas que otorgan un lugar mucho más activo a la mujer. Muchas de estas prácticas se pueden denominar como un modo de “Catolicismo popular” (quiere decir, de “el pueblo”).
Las formas de religiosidad popular existen en la medida en que le ofrecen a las personas una fuente de poder personal,
dignidad, y aceptación que da significado a sus vidas más allá de lo que pueden encontrar en la iglesia institucionalizada. Estas prácticas religiosas populares tienden a ser activas, dinámicas, y se llevan a cabo con el objetivo de activar la fe de los creyentes. En varias ocasiones, estas prácticas también han tenido la function de servir como modos de resistencia a la asimilación cultural. Los altares caseros son una de las formas más comúnes de la religiosidad popular. Adornados con figuras de yeso que representan santos favoritos, flores reales o artificiales, fotos de seres queridos, y veladoras, el altar personal es un elemento de la vida Latina que cruza
nacionalidades. Tantos Puertorriqueños, como Colombianos, Cubanos, ó Mexicanos afirman esta tradición como parte integral de la vida doméstica. Localizados tanto en la sala principal de la casa como en el dormitorio, los altares pueden ser permanentes ó portables. Desde el punto de vista teológico, el altar casero cumple la function de llamar la atención a lo divino dentro de las esferas mundanas de la vida cotidiana. En cuanto por lo general son las mujeres de la familia quien se ocupan de mantener el altar, estos también sirven de espacio mediador para otorgarle un rol simbólico de importancia a la mujer dentro de el hogar y dentro de la iglesia misma. el AVISO
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Se le llama “religión de el pueblo” a aquellas celebraciones de fe que se llevan a cabo casi siempre en la casa y sin ser directamente dirigidas por un miembro autorizado de el clero. Generalmente se incluyen también los peregrinajes, procesiones, fiestas, y altares espontáneos hechos en la comunidad. La gente se ocupa de estos modos de expression sin que nadie los ordene. Desde el Siglo 16, la vida religiosa de muchos Latinos se ha cementado en este tipo de práctica informal que capta los valores y aspiraciones de la gente común.
Latina Popular Catholicism J e a n e t t e Ro d r i g u e z , P h . D . Despite increasing conver sions to mainline Protestant denominations and other groups, the Latino/Hispanic population in the United States continues to identify itself primarily as Catholic, although many believer s invoke a Catholicism “a mi modo” (my way). More significant than these statistics is the role Latina women have traditionally played through the centuries in the creation and transmission of religious formations and belief s. THE VERY NATURE OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH’S HIERARCHY AND TRADITIONAL TEACHINGS CALLED FOR WOMEN TO BE SUBORDINATE TO MEN,
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but this system did not preclude them from playing an active role in the practice of popular religion. Popular religion has been defined many ways. For the purposes of this essay, popular religion is considered home-based, non-cleric-led expressions and celebrations of faith. This also includes such practices as pilgrimages, processions, fiestas, and communitycreated sacred shrines. People celebrate these spontaneously because they want to and not because the official hierarchy has mandated them. Catholicism here, in relationship to the Latino culture, refers not to the institutionalized version of Catholicism but to popular Catholicism, handed down through generations more by the laity than by the ordained clergy. Although Hispanic popular religion has its historical roots in sixteenth-century Catholicism, it has evolved a life of its own that captures the identity and values and inspirations of the people
opular religion continues to exist because for the poor and marginalized it is a source of power, dignity, and acceptance that adds to and fills out their experience of the institutional church. Popular religion is not celebrated by a few but by the majority of the people. It is an expression of faith that has survived over a considerable period with roots in the historical beginnings of Hispanic culture. Above all, popular religion is active, dynamic, and lived and has as its objective to move its practitioners, the believers, to live their faith. That is, people’s own history, both personal and cultural, their own possibility for being saved in history, is expressed. Popular religion also functions as a form of resistance to assimilation. At the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) Conference of 1989, Orlando Espin and Sixto Garcia pointed out that popular religion is an important guardian of culture, history, and identity; without it, Hispanics in general and Latinos in particular would not be the people they are. “Our Identity as an integral part of the Catholic Church would not have survived the frequent clashes with the non-Hispanic—and often, anti-Hispanic—ways of the Church in America” (Espin and Garcia, 71). Faith expressions of popular religion are readily accessible to anyone without exception, and no one is excluded from participating. They provide a deep sense of unity and joy, while providing a forum for shared suffering. They are participatory, and everyone takes an active role. For those who participated in the realm of popular religion, religious experience permeates all space and time. They are spaces and times of special strength and power that are part of the religious experience.
Home altars are located in a variety of places within the home: a few feet from the front door, in the bedroom, in the family room. There may be one home altar; there may be several in the same dwelling place. Home altars can be permanent or, in some cases, “portables.” That is, a woman may display her altar at significant times, then fold up the altar and put it back in her bureau. These altars form the basis for home devotion and are maintained by the mother and other adult women in the house. It is primarily the mother who takes upon herself the responsibility to teach the children the altar’s purpose and maintenance. The focus of the home altar is to draw attention to the secular world’s dependency on the divine. The creator of the altar brings together sacred icons in a sacred place of the home. This actively negotiates women’s personal relationship with the creator and the pantheon of sacred people. One would place on their altar the saints and/ or the Marian image that one has developed a relationship with through family tradition. There may be pictures of loved ones. These may be people still living, to whom prayers are directed for protection or healing, or a picture of a loved one who has died, so that they too might be able to intercede for the family. There are candles lit as a ritualistic gesture of petition. There are flowers, perhaps rosary beads, special mementos symbolic of the family’s experience. Decorative items may include jewelry and even money. The objects themselves may be inexpensive, but the meaning ascribed to those objects gives them a priceless value. What is significant about the objects is that through them one is fostering, deepening, and developing one’s intimate relationship with God and the saints.
The dicho (saying) “La mujer es el alma de la casa”—the woman is the soul of the house—underscores the importance of the religious role of women in the home. This practice was well established even in the early days of colonization. Ranchos of the Spanish period, for example, give evidence of the important role that home religion played in resisting the invader and maintaining traditional values. The altar tradition is learned informally and passed down generation after generation through the female lineage of the family. A distinction is made between the church altar, which is the central focus of worship for the Christian community and the home altar, which is, in more intimate terms, referred to as “El Altarcito” (the Little Altar). To examine these home altars is to see reflected the specific history, hopes, experiences, and needs of the families. At the heart of this altar tradition is the relationship to a particular saint, the Virgin in any of her manifestations, or groups of saints who serve as a woman’s personal intercessor before God. The saints and Mary are represented in contextual human forms and are given a place of honor so that they may be known and appealed to in the most human and intimate way. The mother brings their presence into the home and makes them part of the family. A woman creates a place for the family before these altars. This a sacred place, where the family may sit and make themselves known to God and feel God’s response to them through the intercession of the saints or a particular Marian devotion. A charming story surrounding this tradition of home altars is presented by researcher K.F. Turner. The assumption of being privileged with God at home was made clear to her at a gathering of neighborhood women. They had met to view Pope John Paul II’s speech in Mexico City. “In response to this adamant refusal to accept the possibility of sanctioning women priests in the formal church hierarchy,” one woman responded, “Who needs it? We are our own priest at home.” The researcher reports that everyone laughed, nodding their heads in agreement (Turner, 30).
SOURCES: T.K. Turner’s Mexican American Women´s Home Altars: The Art of Relationship (1990), explores unexamined Catholic folk traditions maintained and transmitted over the centuries by Latina women. Primary ﬁeldwork was done in south Texas. Turner applies feminist theory to the examination of the tradition of home altars and its critical contributions to the art of relationship. Orlando Espin’s The Faith of the People: Theological Reﬂections on Popular Catholicism (1997) and his article, co-authored with Sixto Garcia, “Lilies of the Field: A Hispanic Theology of Providence and Human Responsibility” (1989) are invaluable sources for understanding the popular religion of the U.S. Latina population. Jeannette Rodríguez is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Seattle University. This essay was edited by Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D. with the author’s permission.
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The institutional Church’s separation of genders within the lay-clergy continuum resulted in some unintended consequences. While consecrated males held the liturgical powers of the sacraments, women developed a unique, deeply religious parallel spirituality. Outside the convent’s cloister, too, the male centeredness of politics, economics, and other secular pursuits afforded women opportunities to forge their identities and self-expression within the domestic sphere. The power of women, then, to formulate and express religious consciousness in the home was both a result of oppression and an expression of liberation. This dynamic parallelism of clergy and laity results in a uniquely feminine spirituality that ensures a cultural legacy in spite of being “hidden.
Plaster saints, artificial and/or real flowers, family pictures, scented candles—these are but a few of the elements of home altars. The frequency of home altars can be found among a cross section of Latinas, whether they are Puerto Rican, Colombian, Mexican, or Cuban. The home altar has a visible and significant place in the domestic sphere as both a religious and a ritual symbol. The home altar is focused on the extended family, immediate community, saints, and women’s relationship to them.
NALAC Mourns The Loss Of Poet/activist
Raúl R. Salinas, aka raúlrsalinas, regarded as one of the most important Chicano poets and human rights activists of our time, passed away on February 12,2008. His life journey took him through four of the most brutal prisons in the country. His singular journey from individual alienation to rage to political resistance reflected the social movements occurring inside and outside of prison, making his story both personal and universal. Photo by Valentino Mauricio
He gained international recognition as a spokesperson for a diversity of political causes, ranging from prisoner rights and national liberation struggles to gang intervention and youth arts advocacy. His belief that the Chicano civil rights struggle was intrinsically linked to all indigenous people’s struggles led him to adopt the term Xicanindio to refer to his hybrid identity. He is the author of three collections of poetry: Un Trip Thru the Mind Jail y Otras Excursions (Editorial Pocho-Che, 1980; Arte Publico Press, 1999), East of the Freeway: Reflections de mi pueblo (Red Salmon Press, 1995), and Indio Trails: A Xicano Odyssey thru Indian Country (Wings Press, 2006). He also produced spoken word CDs and pieces for academic journals and anthologies.
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Recently, UT Press published a selected collection of his prison writings, raulsalinas and the Jail Machine: My Weapon Is My Pen (edited by Louis Mendoza, 2006). This groundbreaking collection of Salinas’ journalism and personal correspondence from his years of incarceration and following his release provides a unique perspective into his spiritual, intellectual, and political metamorphosis. The book also offers an insider’s view of the prison rebellion movement and its relation to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The numerous letters between Salinas and his family, friends, and potential allies illustrate his
burgeoning political awareness of the cause and conditions of his and his comrades’ incarceration and their link to the larger political and historical web of social relations between dominant and subaltern groups. These collected pieces, as well as two interviews with Salinas—one conducted upon his release from prison in 1972, the second more than two decades later—reveal to readers the transformation of Salinas from a street hipster to a man seeking to be a part of something larger than himself. Louis Mendoza painstakingly compiled a body of work that is autobiographical, politically insurgent, and representative. Salinas received many awards and honors in his life including the 2004 National Association for Latino
Art and Culture (NALAC) Lifetime Achievement Award.
Raúl Salinas was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1934 and raised in East Austin, where he attended Catholic primary school and public high school through the eleventh grade. In interviews he noted that he was a good student; he was clearly capable of mastering his lessons, but he was also a young rebel who often rejected strict rules and behavioral guidelines. At the time of his passing he lived in Austin, Texas, where he owned Resistencia Bookstore, a neighborhood center for aspiring writers and a gathering place for activists. el AVISO
A WARRIOR POET REMEMBERED:
raúlrsalinas March 17, 1934 – February 13, 2008 “Raza Linda, ya volví me fue muy bien por allá surge otra dimensión ya no soy de acá There’s tristeza/there is joy pero ya todo acabó... hay que empezar otra vez, life has just begun...”
from raúlrsalinas’s book, Un Trip Through the Mind Jail y Otras Excursions; Because I Should (Una Breve Escape a Las Tierras Indias, for Elda)
by Magdalena Gomez Please do not attempt to separate his name: raúlrsalinas. All lowercase, all one. That’s how raúlrsalinas chose to write it. This simple action speaks volumes of this man I had to good fortune of knowing and performing with, if only for a brief while. Singular, indefatigable in the struggle for justice, even in times of ill health, with a name and a personhood that could not be divided by anyone. The very writing of his name, a conscious choice to be whole, solid, unbreakable, no selling out, no compromise, no adherence to the standard rule of how one “should” write one’s name. A singular man of principle and character. A man, who as poet Sara Littlecrow-Russell might put it, intrinsically understood “the secret powers of naming.” A man who held onto his warmth, generosity and kindness even after many years of hard time behind the concrete walls of Leavenworth. Poor health in his later years never stopped him from his tireless commitment to incarcerated youth or those termed “at-risk.” raúlrsalinas conducted writing workshops in countless juvenile detention facilities and community centers to help youth find the poet within themselves and embrace a freedom that cannot be robbed from the soul and mind, regardless of circumstance. Working from his small bookstore in Austin, Texas, Resistencia Bookstore: Casa de Red Salmon Arts, raúlrsalinas found ways to generate whatever was needed to support a cause, to amplify a silenced voice, celebrate a victory, provide venue - a man with a corazón de melon and a seemingly infinite capacity for compassion coupled with the courage and ganas to take action. Although I knew him and addressed him as raúl, I choose to honor his full, unbroken name: raúlrsalinas.
Although Fred had spoken of raúlrsalinas, we had not met, and did so by accident. I was attending a conference of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture in 2004, in Kansas City, Missouri, when during lunch in the hotel restaurant I overheard: “Fred Ho’s been around; that
cat’s been in the trenches a long time. That brother is loyal, dude.” I knew I wanted to meet whomever that voice belonged to; we clearly shared a sentiment and a friend. It turned out to be raúlrsalinas. We had a chance to get to know each other a little, share stories, dinner and some deep belly laughs at that memorable conference where NALAC presented him with a lifetime achievement award to a lingering standing ovation. From that weekend forward I officially, and with the deepest respect for him as my elder, named him “Papí Chulo.” raúlrsalinas provoked collective swooning and fluttering of hearts wherever he went. I would tease him and say, “raúl, do these people know you are my Papi Chulo? Today there will be blood on the streets!” And that silly joke never got stale for us as it grew to operatic proportions with exaggerated talk of knives and decapitations. His belly laugh was the constant repetition of a beautiful miracle – this man who had suffered incarceration, erasure, insult and illness, always had it in him to laugh with his whole being. raúlrsalinas was never robbed of his sense of humor any more than of his relentless sense of justice. raúlrsalinas’s poetry rocked the house wherever we went. raúlrsalinas had dubbed himself “The Cockroach Poet” and now I understand why. Some think it was a self-effacing gesture. I choose to believe otherwise. It is very hard to destroy the cockroach and it knows how to find it’s way in the dark. The cockroach will survive long after the rest of us are gone, and if there is any justice in this world, so will the name of raúlrsalinas. Visiting his website would be a good place to start: www.raulrsalinas.com
el AVISO Summer 2008 |
I first learned of raúlrsalinas from my dear friend and colleague, composer and baritone saxophonist, Fred Ho. Fred was aware despite a staggering trajectory of arts and activism that spans decades. raúlrsalinas has remained unknown to a wider audience beyond the Southwest and West Coast, a greater loss to all of us than to raúlrsalinas, who was not enamored of celebrity nor did he require it to fuel his commitment as a poet of the people and an indefatigable worker for human rights and social justice, as exemplified in his work with the American Indian Movement and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.
Photo by Victor Payan and Pocha Peña
H O M A G E
1934 – 2008
raulrsalinas: By Juan Felipe Herrera
2/27/08 EXCLUSIVE FOR el AVISO
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have been fortunate to have known raulrsalinas for the last thirty-five years. When I took my first major step into the Chican@ literary caldron, at the First Annual Chicano Literature Floricanto Festival on November 13th and 14th in 1973, held at USC, I came upon raulr, el poeta, “Tapón,” – muscular, magnetic, handsome, agile, versed, brave and most of all, possessing the “calling spirit.” This term sounds a bit romantic, literary or even anthopological. Yet, “calling spirit” is what raulrsalinas was and is all about. He could conjure and crystallize the lost, the dead, the invisibilized and the unaware into a tremulous, real aural presence. Up close, he was a humble, patient, humorous, kind man.
M I ND
And when the “call” came, he transformed himself into a fire-speaker of and for a new circle of revolutionary change – personal, collective, momentary and transcendent. It is possible to relate this “calling spirit” to his personal power, his Jazz-riff sensibilities, his gift of voice, his daily devotions to lifetime activism or even his genius for audience interconnections. A more accurate term is raulr’s continuous connections to “suffering.” raulr not only walked with many hurts, he ignited them and sang them with his inner-heat – they were inscribed on his arms, his notebooks, his prison jazz newsletters, conversations of loss and regrets, manifestoes of denuncia, cantos and corridos of eulogy, memorias of familias long gone, and sound tracks of needles, drugs and abandonments and witnessings of many blood-soaked carnales and carnalas brutalized, assassinated and tortured by the forces and agents of what raulr termed “backyard” neo-colonialism. He was a man of personal sacrifices for the larger self living in the barred labyrinths
L SW E E T I A M
of assault across time and space. In the early years of the Movimiento and to this day few had and have such a vision. Since the early sixties, Alurista – the Chicano founder of the concepts of Floricanto and Aztlán – and I had been running together as teens in downtown San Diego and the hilltop villages of Tijuana, listening to Jazz and Brazilian music, talking yoga, Sartre and Nietszche, and getting soaked in Aztekismo. By ’73, my sense of the Raza poet project and quest had been influenced by these investigations. After meeting raulr and performing with him in the first three major literary Chican@ encounters of the Movimiento (the first Floricanto Conference in ’73, the Festival del Sol in Santa Clara, also in ‘73 and the San Francisco International Festival Sexto Sol in ’74, I noticed something radically new. A quadruple language flow was possible: Tex-Mex español, Chuko caló, Black Jazz English, and ol’ time Mexicano jefito Spanish. And more significant, our poetic foundation was hyper-planetary.
S I T D U E O
S I NG S
Alurista’s charter for a revitalized indigenous “Amerindia” continent was unshackled by raulr’s quest for the “many mundos” outside the ‘mind-jail.” raulrsalinas was a vision-seeker, and unchained escapee of multioppressions – nomad of and for an activist and literary global consciousness. He was a worlds-fire-speaker who traveled inside his mind and turned personal and collective wounds into revelation, as he ambled outside the mind-jail, as he cut across boundaries, nations, cultures, sites of danger – in order to heal himself and others. He found and made the medicina, the sweet elixer of and for mystic mountains, redeemed Pachukas, border rivers, community centros, Jazz músicos, estudiante lives, exploitations and uprisings, grave-yards, and indio trails. raulrsalinas offere d himself up to the world and the universe with his liberated voice-heartmind. I bear its blaze inside of me now. Bear its feathered fire tips inside of you now.
Happy Birthday MECA: A DISPATCH FROM HOUSTON By Maribel Alvarez
Frances Valdez (Dow School Restoration Project Director), Alice Valdez (Ex. Director & Founder), Liz Salinas (Program Director), and Lizeth Gonzalez (Registrar and Assistant to Program Director.
of trust, support, celebration, and pride and yet, at the same time, issues a stern call for discipline, accountability, and excellence.
jump onto the passenger seat of the MECAmobile — a road-weary black Chevy mini truck hand-painted with bright calacas, marigolds, and papel picado motifs. Impromptu lettering prominently displayed on the side doors announces the upcoming Day of the Dead festivities. It would be tempting to dismiss the truck as one of those “outsider art” eccentricities. But this truck is different; its serves a larger purpose on the service of a larger cause. I am talking about MECA — Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts — the 30-year old stalwart of arts education for Houston’s Latino community. On this day, the truck is imbued with extraordinary powers: at the wheel, graciously driving me to dinner is the person who functions as both the heart and central nervous system of this organization. I am fortunate in ways that are difficult to pinpoint with exactitude: this balmy evening, my chauffer is MECA’s founder and Executive Director Alice Valdez. For 30 years, without skipping a beat, Alice Valdez and MECA have shared a common passion: the healthy social, cultural, and academic development of Houston’s at-risk, inner city youth through education in the arts. But if thirty years sounds like a long time (and it is), leading the casual observer to assume that after a while both founder and organization would grow tired and all-too-predictable to each other, upon first having any contact with MECA one quickly learns to do away with those clichéd assumptions.
The story of MECA is in large part the story of a holistic approach to human development. The organization’s philosophy for arts programming is not naïve about the difficulties encountered by poor and immigrant families and youth in the inner-city. But instead of remaining in the confines of a deficit model, MECA sees in these same families and children tremendous assets that can be activated.
“It’s not just about teaching the art forms in a vacuum,” says Alice as we drive, “it’s also about passing on values, love, and support --- some kids don’t even have that at home, so we become their home in the community.” Continued on page 13.
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Instead of exhaustion, a heightened sense of urgency, can-do resourcefulness, impeccable work ethic, and a relentless “gusto por la vida” are palpable throughout the organization. This is obvious as soon as one walks through the door of the historic Dow Elementary School building that MECA calls home since 1993. Currently undergoing massive upgrade and rehabilitation, the facility is in a way emblematic of MECA’s unique combination of strengths: a place of social memory and comfort that engenders feelings
Focused specifically on serving youth and families in Houston’s 6th Ward, 1st Ward, and the neighborhoods of Near Northside and Heights, MECA began as an outgrowth of a community folk festival sponsored by the local Catholic church in 1977. The core mission of the organization is music education rounded up by academic and family services. Students receive tutoring, mentoring, life-skills workshops, SAT prep, college assistance and scholarships. In addition, they are exposed to a broad range of social experiences in the community, including an award-winning job training program in architecture and construction in tandem with the building’s renovation. Through a threetier arts education program that includes music and visual art teachers placed in approximately twenty one Houston area schools; after-school year-round classes for close to 200 young people; and a seven-week summer arts camp, altogether more than 2,000 students received sustained academic and cultural enrichment instruction throughout the year. In addition to the arts education emphasis, MECA also presents a performance season and commissions new works in collaboration with local, regional, national, and international artists.
Continued from page 12.
Behind these principles and the myriad activities that materialize them, the presence of one exceptional individual makes all the difference. “Alice is relentless in her perseverance,” says Liz Salinas, MECA’s Director of Programs. She adds, “MECA stands as a testimony of her unwavering faith.” And indeed, Faith has been a defining element in Alice’s life. As a child growing up in El Paso in the 1950s, from MexicanAmerican parents active in community service on both sides of the border, Alice began singing religious music and studying the clarinet at church. Continuing music studies through high school, she switched to the oboe as her instrument of choice. She earned a music scholarship to college and performed with El Paso’s ballet, opera, and symphony orchestras for many years. Eventually, she acquired a Masters Degree in Musicology from the University of Houston. But it was her dedication to the kind of music experiences that inspire and uplift the community that placed her on the path to become MECA’s beloved leader. As the volunteer Director of Music Liturgy at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Houston’s Old Sixth Ward, she was asked by the pastor to conceive of an alternative education arts program that could extend year round the success of the multi-ethnic festival the church had been presenting annually. That was thirty years ago, but anyone visiting MECA today is likely to feel among the staff and audiences the same fresh enthusiasm and revolutionary vision that frequently one associates with up-and-coming start up art initiatives. Everyone I talk to during my visit to Houston insists on telling me a story of how Ms. Valdez “changed their life.” From MECA’s receptionist to the Finance Director, each person has a similar story to share: they came to MECA as children, a bit shy and a bit lost, growing up in a neighborhood largely neglected by the power structures, in a city that has great wealth and great poverty. Many also attended Dow School as children. Everyone said that Alice saw something in them beyond the statistics. The story lines of MECA’s development, Alice’s life work, and each person’s individual trajectory blur and merge in the conversations; it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other one ends. Señor Guerra, who was one of the founders of the mariachi program at MECA, has an explanation for Ms. Valdez’s remarkable success: “Cuando las cosas se hacen con amor, asi es que pueden salir a flote” (when things are done with love, that’s how they are able to rise to the top and endure).
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A large, black and white framed portrait of Alice Valdez holding a musical instrument hangs in the lobby of the Dow School. With time in my hands while I wait in the lobby for Alice to finish reviewing some last minute financial statements, I contemplate the photo and its surroundings. Across the hallway, a dry erase board lists today’s class schedule. Parents and children begin to arrive in small groups to begin their afternoon instruction; suddenly, the school’s main office is drowning in the sounds of little voices,
laughter, directions, paperwork, and side conversations in Spanish. What had up to now been a quiet space where staff attended diligently to grants, invoices, inventory and accounting begins to intensify with higher density and chatter. I am told by someone passing by that this is how it is every school day. Liz Salinas comes out of her office to discuss “a situation” with one of the mothers (something about her boy’s too many absences from class). When she finishes addressing the parent, she tells me casually as she re-enters the administrative area:
“This is part of our work, too; we see the cultural arts as a vehicle for socialization.” Alone again for a few minutes, I glance at the photo of Ms. Valdez once more. The image reveals a distinct elegance and dignity. I immediately realize, however, that far from being the attributes of a single individual, these are the intangible gifts that Alice must see in the faces of the community members she works with: the elegance of vernacular knowledge passed on from generation to generation, the dignity of hard-working people who struggle and thrive despite the challenges. The achievement of MECA is captured in the minutia of details required to carry out a grander aspiration; it is also embodied in the strategic alliances between teachers and parents; in the bonds of affection between cultural workers and neighborhood residents. Perhaps more difficult than any other feat for a nonprofit organization, however, is making values of this sort resonate and permeate an entire organizational culture. Nonprofits, after all, are corporations with peculiar demands, protocols, and regulations. But somehow, MECA has successfully walked the tight rope: one can feel the down-home solace of community, and at the same time envision a world beyond the familiar routines of the here and now. That equilibrium, in essence, is what defines great art. The great news that MECA represents is that “great art” is not only the privilege of the few and powerful. The power of music, much like the power of community, is not how “special” it makes us feel, it is how it reaches inside ourselves to reveal extraordinary things within our ordinary circumstances.
SPECIAL THANKS TO OUR FUNDERS
Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
AND HELP ENSURE THE FUTURE, PROGRESSION AND HERITAGE OF LATINO ART AND CULTURE The Tobin Foundation Additional funding and support provided by: Acción Texas; Arizona Commission on the Arts; Chicano Studies, the University of Texas at El Paso; City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department; Community Foundation for Southern Arizona; El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau; El Paso Museum of Art; Entravision Communication Corporation; Univision U26, El Paso; Georgia College and State University; Pima County; Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores Consulado General de Mexico en El Paso, Texas; The Southwest Center, University of Arizona; The Southwest Institute for Research on Women, University of Arizona; The Tucson Museum of Art; The University of Georgia Fanning Institute; Tucson Pima Arts Council; University of Georgia Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute; UTEP and individual donors, volunteers and NALAC members.
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el AVISO Summer 2008 |
Raúl me tomó de la mano y me dijo: “Rosalbita, mira lo que tengo aquí. Algo que escribí en honor a un compatriota tuyo.” Sobre una mesa sencilla tenía al despliegue sus libros, sus atesoradas palabras e imágenes. Entre ellas, su reflexión poética sobre el poeta boricua Pedro Pietri, quien acababa de fallecer. Nos sentamos a conversar. En realidad, yo escuchaba y él contaba sobre su experiencia tras las rejas en la prisión que una vez compartió con presos políticos puertorriqueños. Raúl era un gran narrador. Raúl también fue puertorriqueño. Raúl fue de muchas naciones, de muchas madres, de muchos pueblos. Y todos lo echaremos de menos por siempre. - Rosalba Rolon, Bronx, NY.
Photo by Cal A. Vera
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Published on Aug 1, 2008