Latino Spotlight: Lalo Alcaraz

Art, satire, politics. Lalo Alcaraz, Chicano cartoonist and political satirist, discusses these issues via his popular political comic strip. Earlier this year, Latinitas was able to attend one of his talks at the University of Texas at Austin.

To his online readers and motivating conferences, he always delivers clever jokes and often describes the importance of his political cartoons. Alcaraz’s “La Cucaracha” is the first political Latino daily comic strip published nationally. The comic provides a necessary Latino voice in publications nationwide.

“You can use satire to teach critical thinking,” Alcaraz said. He uses humor as a weapon against social injustices aimed at Latinos. Many of his cartoons focus on Latino-centered issues, such as immigration, education, politics and racism.

Alcaraz is a supporter of the DREAM Act. “I love the dreamers and the civics lesson they are teaching everyone,” Alcaraz said. He has drawn cartoons depicting DREAMers in graduation caps and gowns. Alcaraz also supports Latina Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In honor of Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court, Alcaraz drew a cartoon of a young Latina aspiring to be her when she grows up. Sotomayor has a copy of the cartoon in her office.

Having two children, a son and a daughter, has inspired Alcaraz to write a children’s book based on them. He is thinking of titling it “Little Moco.”

“It’s a nickname my daughter gave my son. It’s like a reverse ‘Dora the Explorer,’” Alcaraz said.

Alcaraz, the son of immigrant parents from Sinaloa and Zacatecas, claims he grew up experiencing racial inequality and wanted to do something about it. According to Alcaraz, his great cultural epiphany came when he was 13 years old, as he stood in front of the Aztec calendar.

“That’s where I became Chicano, in Mexico City,” Alcaraz said.

Recently, Alcaraz has been most well known for his creation of Mexican Mitt Romney, a satirical Twitter account created in response to Romney’s anti-immigrant stance during his run for President in 2012. His other satirical characters include “anchor baby news” and “Beandocks.” Alcaraz also has a radio show based in Los Angeles, Calif. called Pocho Hour of Power.

Documentary: The Battle for Land

The Battle for Land, the fourth installment in a documentary series directed by Juan Mejia, aims to expand on the complexities of Afro-Colombian displacement. Told through a hybrid of documentary and animation styles, it tells the heartbreaking, but inspiring stories of Afro-Colombians from the Pacific coast of Colombia who have been displaced, as they foster community and organize to fight for their land.

Internal displacement, or the forced removal of peoples from their land to other parts of their respective country, is a growing global concern. While many activist organizations discuss displacement as a result of civil war, genocide, and ethnic cleansing—all absolutely real occurrences—this analysis fails to capture the complex nature of the displacement process. Mejia’s film aims to reveal that behind the  progress, lie the economic interests that see the land Afro-Colombian communities live in as opportunity for profit-making. Mejia works to uncover the darker underside of progress by showing how large corporations exploit the conditions of civil unrest, and how Afro-Colombians have organized and resisted.

At the center of this exploitation is FEDEPALMA, a national palm oil producer featured in the film that uses local farmers, many of whom are Afro-Colombian, to grow its oil palms. Oil palms have a devastating effect on the natural environment. Despite this, palm oil is seen as a symbol of progress by the Colombian government, and is touted for producing jobs and products that will supposedly boost Colombia’s economy. Palm oil is also hailed for its “eco-friendly” biofuel capability.

The film is still undergoing edits, and has only been officially screened twice. This explains why it felt a bit disorganized in parts. Afro-Colombian displacement is an extremely complex issue, and The Battle For Land needs more editing in order to more efficiently narrate this story. Mejia sheds light on an important and tragically overlooked issue. At the end of the screening, an audience member tearfully thanked Mejia for giving Afro-Colombians a voice. The Battle For Land is definitely worth a watch, but its rawness is not suitable for the lighthearted. An official release date for the film has not yet been set.Using infographics, animation, and interviews, Mejia takes us through the lives of several Afro-Colombian community activists, as they battle systematic racism, nurture each other’s empowerment and fight to gain back their land. They have seen cruel and senseless violence destroy their people, and threaten to do the same to their culture. The testimonio-style narrative allows the viewer to become immersed with their struggle, and does an excellent job of bringing light to the strong resistance movement that has taken shape in Colombia over the last several years. Although the subject matter is tragic and difficult to watch in many parts, especially the violent animated scenes, this film is no sob story. The activists are strong and resilient despite the heavy obstacles they have yet to overcome.

For more information on this film, visit the film’s site: http://www.battleforland.org/BFL/language.html

Honoring Gloria Anzaldúa

Gloria Anzaldúa was instrumental in the Chicana/o Movement as an activist, writer, teacher, cultural and queer theorist, and feminist. She was born in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas in 1942. After receiving her triple Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, art and education from Pan American University in Texas, her writing became a central part of her activism. Her most influential work was “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,”  a mix of biography and theory that includes several literary styles, from poetry to art, in a blend of English and Spanish. “Borderlands,” belongs to a genre all its own: autohistoria-teoría. It is a truly inspirational work.  Anzaldúa died of diabetes complications in 2004.

As a part of the Chicano Movement, Anzaldúa noticed the sexism that plagued it. Women were not allowed in positions of leadership within the Movement, despite being crucial to its advancement. Anzaldúa did not think the feminist movement was anymore inclusive, having experienced classism and racism from white feminists. Anzaldúa focused most of her writing on addressing these issues, and in 1981 together with Cherríe Moraga, co-edited “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.”

Honoring Anzaldúa:

A celebration to honor the Chicana activist’s life, legacy, and work was done at the 2nd Annual Gloria Anzaldúa luncheon, held at the University of Texas at Austin. UT’s Queer People of Color and Allies (QPOCA), a student organization for the education, empowerment, and visibility of queer people of color, organize the annual luncheon. The luncheon was started because QPOCA students felt Anzaldúa was not sufficiently recognized the way other activists of color were on campus, such as Barbara Jordan or Martin Luther King Jr.

Kim Crosby, a grassroots community educator, brought an inspirational energy to the conference, declaring, “Our anger at injustice is a powerful catalyst for change.”

Recently, the Librotraficante created an Underground Gloria Anzaldúa Library to help raise awareness about the Arizona ban on ethnic studies. Other celebrations of Anzaldúa’s life has taken place across multiple campus, including the creation of the  Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldua.

Anzaldúa’s work and legacy is important because it provided Latinas, especially lesbian/queer Latinas, new levels of visibility. More importantly, Anzaldúa inspired a new generation of Chicanas/Latinas/Tejanas to produce theory, art, and writing that resist oppression. Anzaldúa helped inspire future activists, such as Crosby, to continue theorizing and participating in revolutionary politics.

Beyond the Canvas: Latino Museums

Museums are keys to analyzing our past and understanding our present. Museums document and provide an enriching and educational look into culture. Few museums in the United States are dedicated to Latino culture and studies, yet those that do exist are rich with Latino cultural artifacts, art and are dedicated to educating their communities about their raízes. Gather your friends and family for Latinitas’ own museum walk.

Courtesy from Mexic-art.org

Mexic-Arte — Austin, Texas
Mexic-Arte
is Texas’ official Mexican and Mexican-American art museum, located on Congress Avenue in the heart of downtown Austin. Founded in 1983 by artists Sylvia Orozco, Pio Pulido and Sam Coronado, it gained non-profit status in 1984 and has been featuring exhibitions ever since. Mexic-Arte holds annual summer and fall exhibitions. Summer exhibitions feature a Latino artist under 35, and the Fall exhibition is
Día de los Muertos-themed. Mexic-Arte is pan-Latino, meaning they feature artists from all Latino identities. They recently held an exhibit called “Masked: Changing Identities”.

“Mexic-Arte caters to a community that is underserved,” said Claudia Zapata, curator of exhibitions and programs. Education programming is a large part of the Mexic-Arte mission. Students learn how to screenprint and use other computer software. Mexic-Arte has helped foster other non-profit projects, such as The Serie Project. Mexic-Arte is an important asset to the Texas Latino population.

Courtesy from Brownpride.com

El Museo del Barrio — New York, New York
Located in New York’s Museum Mile, El Museo del Barrio has a history originating in the Civil Rights Movement of 1969. Founder Raphael Montañez Ortiz, an educator and activist, opened El Museo in response to African-American and Puerto Rican parents and activists concerned that their children weren’t receiving an education that acknowledged their heritage. Originally a museum primarily for Puerto Rican art, it is now open to showcasing and preserving all Latin American and Caribbean cultures. The museum recently exhibited the “Superreal: alternative realities in photography and video.”

El Museo prides itself on its community outreach, educating the community through bilingual programs, festivals, and its vast art collection. According to their website, part of their mission is to “enhance the sense of identity, self-esteem and self-knowledge of the Caribbean and Latin American peoples.

National Museum of Mexican Art — Chicago, Illinois

Courtesy from rediscoverthewindycity.com

Chicago’s largely Mexican-American Pilsen neighborhood is home to the National Museum of Mexican Art. The NMMA was founded in 1987 after Carlos Tortolero organized a group of educators who shared his vision of art, education and social justice. The NMMA boasts a large collection of works by Mexican artists from both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border. The NMMA has traveling exhibitions across the U.S. and Mexico, adhering to their philosophy of Mexican culture being sin fronteras. 

With one of the largest art collections in the country, the museum’s education programs reach more than 60,000 K-12 students each year, according to their website. The NMMA also has acclaimed performing arts programs that highlight rich Mexican music, dance and theater. Admission to the museum is always free. They have hosted exhibits like artist Sergio Gomez’s collection “Puertas Abiertas/Open Doors.”

Museum of Latin American Art — Long Beach, California

Courtesy from Molaa.com

Serving the Los Angeles area and located in the East Village Arts District of Long Beach, the Museum of Latin American Art was founded in 1996 by Robert Gumbiner. “Our exhibitions focus on the diversity of modern (early 1900s) and contemporary art (present) in Latin America,” said Rebecca Horta, Associate Curator of Education. MOLAA features only Latin American art by artists with ties to a Latin American country.

MOLAA features a wide array of programs dealing with education, art, cooking, dance and a bilingual summer art camp. The museum hosts a free Annual Women’s Day Festival in March. This year’s festival happened March 10 and featured women artists, dancers and musicians. MOLAA features multiple exhibitions at a time and has its own magazine called the MOLAA Museum Magazine. They recently launched an exhibition entitled Loteria: An Interpretation of MOLAA’s Permanent Collection.

Currently, an effort by the Smithsonian is being made to open a national Latino museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Opening the museum is an uphill battle, but the Smithsonian has begun the Smithsonian Latino Center in an effort to develop a plan of action and to help with funding the project.

Review: Washington Heights

At first glance, Washington Heights is just another canned MTV docu-reality show starring whiny young adults complaining about “drama,” and saying ‘like’ too much.  However, after a few episodes it becomes clear that this is no Jersey Shore substitute.

Set in the Heights, a mostly Dominican, low-income neighborhood in Manhattan, the show follows seven 20-something-year-olds in pursuit of their dreams. They are mostly of Dominican descent, and all but one of them are pursuing careers in the arts. Jonathan “Audobon” Perez, the primary narrator of the show, wants to be a rapper; Reyna Saldana, a singer; Frankie Reese is a spoken-word poet; Ludwin Federo recently earned his GED and is applying to art schools; Jimmy Caceres aspires to professional baseball; and Rico and Fred Rasuk are brothers who want to become actors and fashion designers, respectively.

What separates this reality series from others is the sense of community it creates, and how relatable the characters are. While Snookie and the Situation were far from models of ambition, Washington Heights seems full of heart and with a focus on real people pursuing real dreams in a practical way.  The Dominican-American culture presented provides a familiarity for Latino viewers, especially when Spanish is spoken. It should be noted that the question of authenticity is an important one on a network with a bad rap of representing minority cultures.

MTV is no stranger to sensation and the first few episodes feature gossip and girls fighting. The content is obviously edited to create drama where there is little, and some of drama that does exists seems staged. If one can get past these obnoxious reality tropes, Washington Heights is watchable, even inspiring at times.

Washington Heights is an important departure from the privilege of The Housewives, or the exploitive nature of Honey Boo Boo. If anything positive can be said about this show, it’s that the issues the characters deal with are real. These kids work hard, have money issues, confrontations with the law, and struggle with their education; all issues people living in low-income areas deal with. Jimmy has been in jail for dealing drugs to make ends meet after his father was sent to prison. He now plays ball in an effort to escape the streets. Ludwin earns his GED and struggles with his little brother who is in prison at only 18. Meanwhile, every character deals with the regular anxiety of growing up, especially in an economy that leaves many with few options.

The jury is still out on Washington Heights.  It is not the greatest thing on television, and it certainly doesn’t challenge its genre. However, it focuses on family, community, art, and culture, all of which are things that thrive in many communities of color, especially in the Heights. It’s a welcome change from the typical excess and ridiculous antics of most reality TV. It’s worth giving it a chance, but don’t expect to be amazed.