Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Semana Chicana: Art and Memory with Liliana Wilson

Wilson details immigrant experience

Chilean artist Liliana Wilson presented her artwork at the Yale Women’s Center Tuesday.
Chilean artist Liliana Wilson presented her artwork at the Yale Women’s Center Tuesday. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

Chilean artist Liliana Wilson is able to explain her life’s events through her paintings.
On Tuesday, Wilson presented a sample of her artwork — about 50 paintings and explanations of the events surrounding them — at the Yale Women’s Center to a group of roughly twenty-five people. Inspired by her childhood in Chile and eventual move to the United States, she incorporates the struggles of Latin Americans and immigrants throughout her work.
MeChA, a La Casa student group that advocates for Chicano unity, hosted the event as part of a week-long series on education. The organization, part of a larger national movement, has mentored high school students and worked with New Haven-based unions to advocate for the local Latino community.
MeChA President Diana Enriquez said the group has placed more emphasis on cultural events in recent years. Wilson’s art, she said, conveys the immigration experience in a more powerful way than words alone.
“The rhetoric around the immigration experience is dehumanizing right now,” said Natalia Thompson ’13, the event’s organizer.
Thompson added that Wilson puts immigrants’ stories in perspective, “and reminds us that they’re families and they’re lovers.”
But Wilson said she does not consider herself an activist.
“I’m trying to connect and communicate on a very deep level with people,” Wilson said. “More than education, I want people to communicate with each other.”
In her lecture, she referenced a chronological PowerPoint presentation to explain her thinking behind each piece of art. One piece, “El Estadio Nacional,” depicts a mass of people in a stadium waiting for their death at the hands of the Chilean government. Her final piece, “I belong here,” showed a girl sitting and holding a flag that reads “inmigrante,” a testament to the universality of the human experience.
At eight years old, Wilson began to draw while bed-ridden after a car accident. Since then, she has identified as an artist. In 1973, when Wilson was a law school student, a military junta overthrew the government and began a 17-year dictatorship. She said she began drawing everything she saw, not shying away from the horrors of death and torture.
“Suddenly habeus corpus didn’t mean anything anymore,” she said.
When she immigrated to Texas in 1977, she burned all of her work for fear of government persecution. Though Wilson still depicts subjects from her life in Chile, the paintings she created while living there are largely inaccessible.
Since arriving to the United States, Wilson has focused on the immigrant experience, though she said that none of her work has explicit political motivations. Enriquez, the MeChA president, said that many Latin American artists use surreal elements to depict the violence and trauma around them.
Despite these darker themes, Wilson still emphasizes the aesthetic of each piece and hopes to make it beautiful in its own way. She said that while she depicts the hard lives of forgotten immigrants, “in the end I think that most people are good. And if you just show them the problem, they’ll probably want to help.”
Katie Aragon ’14, who attended the event, said that Wilson’s work is especially powerful because of her emphasis on both a storytelling narrative and a pleasing aesthetic.
“Her paintings tell a human story that is so important to hear and to see,” she said.
While much of Wilson’s work was inspired by particular historical events, Deena Tumeh ’13 said she still finds it to be relevant today. Tumeh said that Wilson’s individual explanation of each piece made the experience more powerful than a traditional exhibit setting.
A compilation of Wilson’s work will be published by Texas A&M University press, accompanied by essays about her art, in the next year.

Semana Chicana 2012: The National Education Crisis

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Myth of the Latino Vote

ENRIQUEZ: The Myth of the Latino Vote

I genuinely look forward to the debates, the speeches at the DNC and the RNC and voter outreach programs that generate mountains of press. But nothing makes me grimace more than the discussion of the “Latino vote.” Because I wish it was that simple. Really, it’s a myth.
Even at Yale — in La Casa Cultural, Yale’s Latino cultural house — we are splintered into numerous cultural groups: all sensitive to our countries of origin and our traditions. The Latino population includes at least 19 different cultural groups; uniting groups across these disparate interests is a serious challenge to organizers within La Casa.
There isn’t a solid voting bloc here that can be won in its entirety through a speech by Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, at the Democratic National Convention. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio cannot win every Latino vote through his own version of the DREAM Act, a bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students.
I’ve watched socially conservative preachers turn out their congregations for Democratic candidates because the party made targeted outreach efforts to these communities and addressed their concerns. Senator Rubio and other political figures appeal to voters’ social concerns and immigration interest groups in Florida. Campaigns translate their ads into Spanish and hire volunteers to answer calls in Spanish and Portuguese. The election cycle is working hard to gain our attention in every venue they can.
For some of us, immigration is the main issue on the political table. Many of the students I work alongside at Yale feel a little safer because over the summer the Obama administration offered them the deferred action program, protecting them from immediate deportation. A few of them are now protected by this status and are now reaching out to other students at Yale and in New Haven who can benefit from this government program.
This bill only applies to a very small subsection of the population. For many of us, this means our families are still concerned about our uncles, neighbors or friends whose fates are less certain. We feel there is still a lot to be done.
We live under the knowledge that the Obama administration has deported more people in the last four years than the Bush administration in eight. We watch Obama speak in carefully selected sites, like Miami Dade County, a site with a well-known majority Latino population.
For years, immigration activists have demanded that President Obama follow through on his promises to our community. Through this election cycle, he has simply repeated these unfulfilled promises and his wish to keep families together.
Many of my friends in La Casa are second- or third-generation immigrants. They primarily focus on aiding their own communities here in the United States. They see disparities in education and affordable healthcare as the most pressing issues in this election. They see their taxes increasing locally, and they have a hard time saving enough money to support their families. All of these issues come up in different spaces, at different times in our communities, and we don’t always agree on the solutions.
I am a first-generation immigrant and for every day I’ve been at Yale, immigration has been the issue at the front of my mind. My time and my focus has been torn between my community in Mexico and everything I left behind there, and my community here in the United States.
But ultimately all of us are voting for candidates who address our concerns — all we ask for is follow-through.
In the same way that some members of my community will vote for the Republican ticket because they identify with the social principles they stand for, others will vote for Democrats because they hope Obama will increase access to jobs for minority communities. For the Latino community to continue turning out at the polls, our politicians can no longer throw out empty buzzwords and unrealized policies.
Diana Enriquez is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact her at .

Saturday, October 6, 2012

From Sao Paulo, with love.


I'm writing to you from Florianópolis, Brazil where I am finishing up some research for a project I'm doing on informal economies. It was an exciting adventure that I've been planning and working on for a few weeks now, and well... here I am!

Being Mexican means I really spend a lot of time comparing this and every other Latin American country to the one that I know best. To be honest, though, Brazil is entirely unlike any other Latin American country I've been to. Besides the obvious -- everyone here speaks Portuguese first, and then more likely English than Spanish -- there are a number of differences I see in the cities here that we dont have in Mexico. Maybe in a good way!

I ended up understanding Portuguese even better than I expect to. Awesome, considering I have virtually no experience in this language. I found that speaking slowly and clearing in Spanish and having the other person do the same in Portuguese has made this experience possible. It's funny though -- I look like most of the people here. Particularly in this region of Brazil because there are so many tiny German towns in the mountains. And when I say German town, I really mean German Town.

I'm trying to see if I can get to Blumenau tomorrow, which is a small village in the mountains on this coast settled by the German immigrants who came to Brazil in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is one of a few German towns in this region. Best known for its knitting products and Oktoberfest... Strange, since we always think of immigrant villages in the US as being people of color. Here, it means they are very European.

And really... they blend in pretty well.

Something that has surprised me about southern Brazil is how European everyone looks. Today was the first time I had seen villages full of people with different racial backgrounds... and trust me, I've been looking...

When I asked a local professor why Mexico has such a mixed population compared to Brazil, he answered me very plainly: The indigenous people of Mexico had jungles, mountains and other areas of the country to hide in. Most of Brazil's indigenous people did not. Save some of the still isolated tribes in the Amazon. Many of our indigenous people died during colonization (at least, compared to Mexico).

An appropriate conversation for me to have, since Monday is Columbus day. Or really, as we've come to respect it through MEChA, it is indigenous people's day. It's a chance for us to celebrate the original cultures of this hemisphere -- or really, learn more about them. Since the US does a pretty good job pretending that they dont really exist. Ok maybe that is unfair. I do remember my 5th grade class spending the year researching different tribal groups in the US, including some who lived very close to me in Massachusetts. Still, we could and should all learn more. A lot of this rich cultural history of the United States is lost and overlooked in the regular curriculum.

More reason for Ethnic Studies! (We all know that was coming...)

So Happy Indigenous People's Day! I hope you take this chance to learn a little more about the ancient history of the United States.

Tchau e tenha uma bao noite!