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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

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Blowout! Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice: review

12 May Blowout!

BLOWOUT!: Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice.

by Mario T. Garcia and Sal Castro

Blowout!

Blowout! is the testimonio of American educator and activist Sal Castro. A phrase adapted by a Garfield High School student from a jazz term that means “to be expressive”, Blowout! was heard from tens of thousands of high school students, primarily Chicano, as they walked out of their classrooms in 1968 in protest at the poor quality of education they were receiving in East L.A. Carried out over a ten year period, this book is the result of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations compiled by historian Dr. Mario Garcia with Sal Castro as well as with a wealth of other students, teachers, administrators, artists and activists who knew Sal personally, many of whom had also been part of the 1968 High School Blowouts.

These blowouts are hailed as the impetus of the urban Chicano Movement, following on from the rural Chicano Movement that had begun some time earlier with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers thus placing Sal Castro as one of the most important Chicano Civil Rights activists of the 60s and 70s. This is the first time his story has been written.

Garcia frames the main autobiographical text of Blowout! with an introduction and epilogue that situate Castro’s story within that of the larger Chicano Movement. In the afterword, Garcia outlines the strong links between Castro’s approach to teaching and the theories of Brazilian pedagogue and educational theorist, Paulo Freire. While Freire is no stranger to most educators today, during the 60s and 70s his work was not widely read outside of Latin America. Castro was completely unaware of his work. However, the concepts of conscientização (conscientization or critical consciousness) are undeniably present as you read through the testimony of Sal Castro.

Unlike most other testimonios, Garcia peppers Castro’s accounts with quotes from different people and news articles. While there is the obvious danger of fracturing the narrator’s story, in this case it has worked quite well and the fluidity of the text is maintained. Moreover, Castro repeatedly emphasises his desire to empower the students and community, to have them speak out so the infrequent additions adds a symbolic connection between teacher and community that suits the text.

Blowout! tells the story of Sal Castro from his early childhood in Mexico to his present retirement. His firsthand experience of discrimination in the U.S. educational system as both a student and educator; in the U.S. Army where he experiences Jim Crow during his travels in the South; and society in general like when his father is returned to Mexico after WWII as part of the “repatriation” program thus forcing his parents to separate, which ultimately leads to their divorce, all provide insights into the challenges faced by immigrant communities in the U.S. at the time. These experiences would also help Castro as he critically assessed and challenged the U.S. education system. He gives personal accounts of the Zoot Suit riots, the Watts riots, the Chicano Moratorium against the war in Vietnam and more. As a teacher of history and politics as well as his background in campaigning for various senators – including John and, later, Robert Kennedy – Castro masterfully contextualises the political and social climate of the 60s and 70s in the build up to, and the later repercussion of, the blowouts, all the while managing to maintain a sense of humour that can only endear him to the reader.

This book is a strong asset not only to Chicano Studies but also to U.S. History, Political Sciences and Education Studies. While it is the testimonio of Sal Castro, it is ultimately the story of young High School students who finally found a teacher who believed in them and gave them the courage and opportunity to protest the inequalities they already knew about and faced daily in their schools and colleges. Although many problems still persist in the education system, the enduring legacy of the blowouts is visible in the ever increasing enrollment of Chicanos and Latinos at third level institutions, a greater presence of Latinos as teachers as well as on educational boards and the emergence of Chicano Studies as an elective in High Schools.

SB 1070 hits Arizona economy and Arpaio gets Hollywood posse

18 Nov

It’s official, SB1070 has created economic havoc within the cash strapped state. While the national and global economic downturn certainly played their part in Arizona’s current situation, the immigration bill signed into law by Senator Jan Brewer this year has exacerbated the problem. A recent study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) [conducted by economic firm Elliot D. Pollack & Co.] reports an estimated loss of over 140 million dollars in the tourism industry in the four months since the bill was passed. Much of this comes from the cancellation of conferences and meetings from outside of Arizona in protest at SB1070. An estimated 15 million people visit Arizona each year and, according to the state’s tourism board, 16.6 billion dollars was brought into Arizona by conferences and other tourist related activities in 2009. Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association has reported losses of 15 million dollars, but CAP calculated these lodging cancellations as costing treble this – about 45 million dollars. It then also calculated the cumulative costs of food, beverage, transportation, entertainment and tax revenue which would also be lost due directly to the cancellation of these lodgings. This resulted in the overall 16.6 billion dollar figure. It has also led to the loss of 2,700 jobs.

According to the Pew Hispanic Centre (a nonpartisan organisation which draws from the national U.S. census bureau) the Hispanic community forms 30% of the state’s population, or around 1, 965,000 citizens. Ponte al Dia reports that 60,000 Latin American owned businesses have generated 34 billion dollars in Arizona in the last five years. The same article claims that the state of Arizona boasts the fifth largest birth rate of Hispanic born children – following New York, Florida, Texas and California and that as the Hispanic population is more optimistic about the recovery of the U.S. economy in general, they are the largest consumer market in Arizona at this time – many of those interviewed listed material or luxury items such as computers, digital cameras, televisions and package holidays as things they were planning to buy in the next six months.

So reports of an exodus of 100,000 Hispanics since the bill was written into law has given businesses and politicians a genuine cause for concern. After U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked some of the measures within the law on constitutional grounds some opponents of the law, like U.S. Rep Raul Grijalva, called for an end to the boycott. So far, this seems to have fallen on deaf ears, with sports and music ventures still opting out or simply not adding Arizona on their tour dates for the foreseeable future.

However, supporters of the bill have said that these short term costs do not outweigh the long term costs of illegal immigrants. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Arizona will pay 2.8 billion dollars on the health care, education and incarceration of illegal immigrants in 2010 alone. Time, and legal proceedings, will tell.

Meanwhile, controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio has been joined by some well know names from the entertainment industry to create the Maricopa County Sheriff’s 60th posse of illegal immigrant fighters. Steven Seagal, a deputy in New Orleans, and Lou Ferrigno (of “Hulk” fame), a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, were sworn in last week. They were also joined by actor Peter Lupus (from “Mission Impossible”), a man named Wyatt Earp – nephew to the famed lawman – and a retired Chicago police officer named Dick Tracy. Of the 56 new members 33 are already qualified to carry weapons. Arpaio hope the “high profile” of these recruits will help raise awareness of the illegal immigration issue.