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Transitions and Continuities in Contemporary Chicana/o Culture

19 Jun

On 24-25 of June, University College Cork will hold the first major Chicana/o conference in Ireland. A host of academics from across Europe and the Americas are due to present papers on a diverse range of topics under the rubric of “Transitions and Continuities in Contemporary Chicana/o Culture”.

Running concurrently to the two day conference are two art exhibits by Chicana artists Alma Lopez and Celia Herrera Rodriguez. Lopez’s exhibition, “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas” ties in to the European book launch of “Our Lady of Controversy”, edited by Alma Lopez and Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

our lady of controversy

Our Lady of Controversy

This book hosts a collection of essays by Chicana writers who respond to the controversy surrounding the first exhibition of Lopez’s digital print “Our Lady” in New Mexico in 2001. On Friday 24th she will also be presenting a video screening of “I Love Lupe”, a video that accompanies the book and records interviews by Chicana visual artists who have also re-envisioned and re-imaged La Virgen de Guadalupe in their own art.

Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness

Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness

Celia Rodriguez’s work “enAguas enTlalocan / Prayers for Mother Waters” accompanies the worldwide release of “A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness” by award winning Xicana lesbian, feminist, writer, educator and dramaturgist, Cherrie Moraga. The book is a collection of Moraga’s writing that spans over a decade and is her first publication since her 1997 biographical work “Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood”. Rodriguez’s images appear and compliment Moraga’s writings throughout the book, using a contemporary twist on the style used in ancient Aztec codex. Her watercolours will also be on display Friday and Saturday in the same room as Lopez’s pieces.

The exhibition will be small but is free to the public and definitely worth a visit for any Chicano/a researcher in the country, or indeed anybody interested in contemporary Mexican American art.

Xicana Caminante

Xicana Caminante by Celia Herrera Rodriguez


What a difference an election makes….

6 Nov

In the same week as Obama reels from a “shellacking” by the electorate and Chihuahua elects a nineteen year old chief of police, the Washington Post reports that the U.S. has finally agreed to subject its Human Rights record to review by the U.N. council.

The GOP (Grand Old Party) as the Republican Party is also known, have taken the House of Representatives while the Democrats have retained the majority in the Senate.  A breakdown of the voting results is attached below, courtesy of

An interesting side note to the elections is the historic number of minorities and LGBT candidates winning races. US News writes, for example, about Nikki Haley the first female South Carolina representative elected by either party. She is also the first Indian American governor elect of the area. Allen West became the first African American House Representative of Florida since 1870. Susana Martinez became the first woman Hispanic governor from either party while Brian Sandoval became the first Hispanic governor ever of the state of Nevada. The New York Times has a full and thorough run down of the wins and losses of Latino politicians across the country.

The Tea Party also won 32% of the seats they ran for, an overview of which can be found on BBC News, though there is speculation as to whether or not they will actually be able to deliver on some of the promises they have made to their electorate. It is will also be curious to see how a small government political party will in fare in a political institution as large as the US.

With no one party having complete control it is now more crucial than ever for co-operation between the two main political parties in order to address important issues such as the economy, immigration and security.

The New York Times does an excellent run down of the election results. Below is the House map:

On November 1, 2010 Diane Dimond wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled “A Mexican Savior or Sitting Duck?”. This may seem rather unkind given that the article is about the election of the new Chief of Police in Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. However, when you realise that this is a city a mere 35 miles southeast of Ciudad Juarez, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and that the previous Chief of Police was kidnapped and beheaded, you begin to see where the writer is coming from.

Marisol Valles Garcia, a twenty year old criminology student has been elected to this new position. She boasts a squad of 13, nine of whom are women. They have one squad car and four guns. They patrol a population of approximately 9,149 who live terrorised by cartel violence. A Mexican Savior or Sitting Duck?

The plan seems simple enough – leave the cartels to the military and create a better relationship with the community. But with the fate of her predecessor and the rising death toll due to the cartels (two major cartels, the Sinaloa and Juarez are battling for control over the city’s main highway) combating fear in the community will not be an easy task, especially with events including the recent massacre in the nearby city of Juarez of a children’s birthday party (death toll at the time of writing was 16).

What seems evident from elections on either side of the border is the thirst for change and the drive of a younger generation to create it.

Between Borders

20 May

Just received a copy of Between Borders (ed. Del Castillo, Adelaida R.)

An expensive purchase, but I really needed to get a hold of essay by José E Limón entitled “La Llorona, The Third Legend of Greater Mexico: Cultural Symbols, Women, and the Political Unconscious.”

After delving through the last two books, I found myself looking for religious symbols in the protests in Arizona. As La Virgen has transcended political borders, moving as a cultural and political symbol from Mexico to the US – from the Mexican revolution to the United Farm Workers’ protests – it was vaguely surprising to find no image cropping up in the plethora of videos and news articles I have come across so far dealing with either SB1070 or HB2281.* However, the protests have not been completely bereft of Catholic iconography, with the Sacred Heart of Jesus appearing in artwork displayed in the Art Campaign of Alto Arizona, among others.

With a strong tradition of mural and other street art on the borderlands and beyond, it is not surprising to find some excellent artwork being produced in response to the current political landscape of Arizona. However, instead of the Virgen or other Aztec figures, as have been reproduced in the past, artists appear to be taking inspiration from more Eurocentric white supremist groups. Nazi Germany iconography – the swastika and Nazi uniforms – and the KKK uniform appear over and over again. This is not surprising, given the threat of racial profiling which protestors fear will arise from the bill.

Arizona citizens who are pro the immigration and/or Ethnic Studies bill, or who are simply fed up with the protesting and threats of boycott action from neighbouring states have also produced their own artwork. There is one in particular which has appeared on twitter a few times; a photoshop of a cactus to look like someone flipping the bird (unfortunately I’ve lost the link, but when I find the right one, I’ll post it). It’s concise, but forcibly portrays the anger and resentment brewing in opposition to the groups of protestors.

*It should be noted that as a non-US citizen writing from outside Arizona I am constrained to what is appearing on the internet. There could be other iconography appearing, however my research has not yet uncovered any on the internet. Any arguments/proof to the contrary are greatly welcome!

The Drug Cartel’s Diamond-Studded Gun Cache

5 May

The Mexican Attorney General’s office uncovered an interesting cache this week in a raid on one of the hideouts of Oscar Nava Valencia aka “El Lobo.” El Lobo is recognised as one of the lead operators of the Milenio cartel, aka “La Familia Michaocana“.

According to the Attorney General’s Office Press Release among the cache were

• Un arma larga calibre AR-15, calibre .223 con lanza granadas.
• Una subametralladora MP-5, calibre .9 mm.
• Dos fusiles AK-47, calibre 7.62X39 de los conocidos como “cuerno de chivo” uno de ellos chapado en oro con silenciador.
• Dos Fusiles AR-15, calibre .223 chapados en oro y plata.
• 31 armas cortas de diferentes calibres, con incrustaciones en diamante y chapadas en oro y plata, además de constar con las leyendas “Lobo Valencia”.
• 706 cartuchos de diferentes calibres.
• 76 cargadores de diferentes calibres.
• Una bolsa con 200 gramos de marihuana.
• Un vehículo Escalade modelo 2009 con placas de circulación JHH-8323 del Estado de Jalisco.
• Joyería diversa.

  • An AR-15 long gun, .223 with a grenade launcher.
  • An MP-5 submachine gun, 9 mm.
  • Two AK-47 “goat horn” rifles, 7.62X39, one of them gold-plated with a silencer.
  • Two AR-15 rifles .223 caliber, silver and gold plated.
  • 31 handguns of various calibers, inlaid with diamonds, plated in gold and silver, and engraved “Lobo Valencia.”
  • 706 cartridges of different calibers.
  • Magazines of 76 different calibers.
  • A bag containing 200 grams of marijuana.
  • A 2009 model Escalade vehicle.
  • Various jewelry.

Photos are available from Gawker (English) and the PGR (Castellano)sites.

Arizona immigration law comes under legal fire

30 Apr

There has been some major controversy in the last few days over new immigration law (SB 1070) signed into Arizona state law by Gov. Jan Brewer.

With everyone from Obama to Shakira hitting the headlines over the legislation, which is set to become law 90 days after adjournment of state Legislature (meaning August), just what is this new law and why is it so controversial?

First of all, the actual text itself Arizona Senate Bill 1070:

HTML version from a business law firm situated in central Phoenix, Arizona

PDF format from who describe themselves as a news wire for lawyers.

One of the main problems arising from this bill is the right of any law official to ask anybody they believe may be an illegal immigrant/alien for some form of identification. The type of identification accepted include a valid Arizona driving license, a valid Arizona nonoperating identification licence, valid tribal enrollment card or other valid tribal identification, or any US federal, state or local government issued identification. In other words common forms of identification are acceptable. However, opposers to the new bill are not opposing the forms of identification. It is the fear of racial profiling that has dominated debates surrounding SB1070. Moreover, if you are found to be an illegal alien, you may be arrested rather than simply expelled from the country as the bill makes being an illegal in Arizona a state crime. As some have pointed out, this law would assume that all persons have their ‘paperwork’ with them at all times – a point compared to fascist dictatorships by those who oppose the bill.

So who signed in Senate Bill 1070? Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who believes that God has placed her in a position of power so she can do good work(which may also help explain why she removed state domestic partner benefits). She also vociferously denies that the bill will lead to racial profiling and believes that the worry circulating about people getting arrested is all “hype.” What is most definitely not hype, however, is the backlash Ms Brewer will get from the Latino community in the upcoming elections if the bill does get through. As it stands, The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders are seeking an injunction to prevent authorities from enforcing the law, and fifteen-year Tucson police veteran Martin Escobar who works as night patrol in a heavily Latino area of Tucson has started proceedings for an injuction against officers stopping, questioning or detaining suspected illegal immigrants. These were the first two lawsuits in reaction to the bill. There have since followed a slew of others, including three cities within Arizona state – Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson – who are also considering lawsuits to block the law. The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and other Civil Rights organisations are also mounting legal challenges.

However, some argue that her support of the Bill comes in to balance the loss of support from Republican voters after her approval of the temporary sales tax earlier in the year. And indeed there are those, like the legislation’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Russell, Pearce, who are confident that the law will be supported when voters go to the ballot box (Once measures are approved in Arizona by voters it can only be repealed via the ballot box). And he is not alone in his sentiments; other border states have voiced support, with Republicans in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota stating that they will or hope to introduce similar legislation to their respective states.

Several polls have also indicated higher approval ratings for Brewer since she signed the bill – though some contest the validity of these polls as they either solely polled Republicans or were begun only days after the bill was signed. The long term affects are yet to be seen for either Jan Brewer, the Republicans or Arizona state.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon denounced the bill as discriminatory. Mexico has issued a state warning to its citizens not travel to Arizona as they could meet with hostility and for anyone in Arizona who gets detained by police officers to immediately contact the embassy. They have also called on their more affluent citizens not to holiday in the state. Tourism, according to the Independent, has already been hit, with people even from within the US canceling holidays and conferences. Other nearby states, such as San Francisco and LA have either stopped city employees from travelling to the state or are considering boycotting the state in some other manner. Mexico has also called for a boycott, with Mexico being Arizona’s main importer that would hit the state hard, but it would hurt Mexico just as hard.

Geography has also played its part in Arizona’s plight.

An occasionally-ugly history of race relations is largely an accident of Arizona’s geography. Its largely-unfenced southern border is one of the best-trodden routes for immigrants from Mexico to cross to the more prosperous US. As a result, around 30 per cent of the state’s population of 6.5 million are Hispanic. The Department of Homeland Security says roughly 460,000 of those are thought to be illegal immigrants – although the recession has seen their number decline by 100,000 since 2008.

The importance of immigration reformation has come to the fore with the President weighing in on the debate. Barack Obama has also criticized the bill, with the New York Times quoting him as saying that the bill would act “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.” His emphasis is on a tackling immigration on a national level through law reform to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

With elections on the way and boycotts coming from both within the US and across the border in Mexico, will Arizoans look to how the bill deals with immigration or how it affects their state economy? And with immigration policy becoming a hot topic in Capitol Hill, will this affect the embattled Democrats in the November elections?

Some extra opinions since I wrote this piece:

Overview of Arizona Law (SB1070): Evaluation and Opinion by Immigration Attorney Jalesia “Jasha” McQueen Gadberry Summary

Huffington Post: The Arizona Immigration Law: Some Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Arizona Politics

Wall Street Journal: Untangling Immigration’s Double Helix

29 Mar

Found a great site recently at

Travelling the length of the U.S.-Mexican border, the crew have masterfully collected a mosaic of mini-documentaries revealing the lives of those who populate the politically charged border area.

They also have a blog here