Sometimes, you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. On Monday I stopped by the historic Barrio Duranguito in El Paso, TX to discuss a piece of art that will be part of the ongoing community beautification project. The sun was going down and I decided to head back home in Central El Paso and took my traditional route through Segundo Barrio because I generally hate driving through downtown and then jumping on the interstate.
I sit and wait at a red light and, ever-so-irresponsibly, thumbed through my social media waiting for the green. I see that my friend Cynthia, a fellow activist, posted on Facebook that she was eating at The Good Luck Café and Alejandra Ocasio Cortez happened to be sitting a few tables away. ¿Pero como? The light is still red, so I re-read the post to make sure I understood correctly. I stop the turn signal and take a little detour to the café since it’s only a few streets away. I wouldn’t have even considered meeting any other politician since I’m fairly disgusted with US politics at the local and national level. This is different. I cruise by, peek into the window and see a woman wearing a white business suit taking pictures with customers. Sure enough, it’s her! I park, casually walk in, wait my turn and try to hide the fact that I was literally freaking the f**k out.
I waited briefly while she took pictures and tried to think of what to say. Should I tell her about the history of Duranguito? Maybe she can give us a shout out. Or should I tell her about my art? The restaurant is fairly empty, and she starts to make a beeline for the door—I barely catch her attention with a swift and polite tap on the shoulder. She turns to look at me and I can tell she is tired. She spent the entire day in meetings and documenting conditions of the migrant concentration camps in Clint, TX just a few miles east of El Paso. It’s heavy work and I have to make it brief. I thanked her for the voice she is providing for justice and mention my belief that women of color will change the world. She smiles. I asked her for a quick selfie, and she was happy to do it. We shook hands and she left. The entire encounter lasted less than a minute.
I started following AOC’s trajectory last summer since I subscribe to the Young Turks news outlet (you should, too). I listened to her proposals throughout her candidacy and agreed with her positions, and I felt a gleam of hope when she was elected. However, I have also observed how she has been targeted by both Democrats and Republicans who describe her as clueless and have listened to friends tell me that she is an attention seeker. I can’t help but disagree. She displays a huge amount of courage and always speaks truth to power by denouncing corporate greed and corruption. She understands that too much apathy and closed-door deals on both sides of the political spectrum have endangered the livelihood of everyone in the United States.
AOC reminds me of the farm-working students I used to mentor. She epitomizes intelligence, empathy, resilience, leadership, and a hard work ethic. Her detractors on both of the spectrum seem to be threatened by the power of her voice. Little do they know she is planting seeds everywhere she goes. This is just the beginning.
It’s interesting. I only recently met Cynthia (who posted AOC was at the restaurant) because of her activism in Duranguito. Otherwise, I would have never known about it. Call it a coincidence or call it luck. I see this as reaffirmation that I am going in the right direction. Interesting what life serves you.
Selena Quintanilla was my first pop-star crush, and I thought I’d share some thoughts since April is her birth month. I attended her last El Paso performance at the Coliseum in 1994 and had the fortune of shaking her hand. She reminded me of my sisters: Chicana, spoke in Spanglish and there were even some similarities in the way she dressed and did her hair. There was something different about Selena, her soulful voice and stage presence was more that of a pop star rather a Tejano singer. Because of her, I started listening to more Spanish music which ultimately would be a huge influence on me (in some other blog entry, I’ll discuss how Spanish rock and hip hop opened my eyes to corruption in Mexico and South America).
The day Selena was murdered my mom was so concerned that she picked me up from school to make sure I was ok. I was a junior at Alamogordo High and I really didn’t know any other Selena fans to speak of (apart from my bestie Imelda). Most of my friends listened to grunge, country or hip hop, all of which I love but there was just something about the essence of the Spanish language. I’d spend many hours locked away in my room sketching, listening to music and wondering about the outside world. For an introverted teen, music made me feel at peace and in a sense, safe.
I always knew Selena would be an icon, and I have been sketching and drawing her for over 20 years because I love what she represents to the Mexican-American community: creating your own American Dream through hard work. She continues to inspire.
I understand there is complexity in using pop culture while advocating for social change, but it is an engaging tool, especially for younger audiences. A few years ago, I facilitated a workshop for 5th and 6th graders, where I discussed Selena as role model for her work ethic, charisma and talent. During the workshop, we discussed discipline and what it means to achieve goals. It was relatable, and students loved it. They discussed who they admired and were tasked to draw their favorite role model. A few drew their parents, but there were other nods to Leo Messi and Jenni Rivera. This is a very simple example of how art, culture and media can help trigger a student’s imagination and engage critical thinking.
The importance of representation, pop culture and media can be used to teach young people about leadership, identity, resiliency and instilling a stream of social consciousness. “Popular culture can help students deconstruct dominant narratives and contend with oppressive practices” (Morrell 2002). For more information on popular culture as a critical pedagogy, click here.
The personal is political, although, there are subliminal ways to be outspoken. I want my art and philosophy to contribute to a healing energy. For it is in representation that we start a new revolution. I hope my artistry can contribute to a larger-scale cultural resistance that includes representation, pop culture and creativity. I have some work to do!
Music is golden transparencies of honey reflected in the sunlight. A Harvard study found that music heals. Now I’m not claiming that Selena is healing anyone, but I know the solace I found as a teenager listening and dancing to her cumbias. More importantly, I see a cultural resistance taking form, broadly speaking, and I couldn’t be happier that her image is always associated with it.
My personal experiences construct new knowledge. My positionality and reflections of living in the borderlands have led me to this moment.
There are few moments in my childhood that have gone unforgotten; they have served as a collection of memories that helped me understand the depths of socio-economic and racial disparities, but also of music, laughter and curiosity. My neighborhood, appropriately named Chihuahuita was/is the barrio of Alamogordo, NM where many houses continue to age and deteriorate without much effort to revitalize. Alamogordo is like any other border zone community, a colonized space dripping in military culture. Not coincidentally, it was because of the military that my parents met each other. My mom left Ciudad Juárez when she learned about job opportunities at Holloman Air Force Base. My dad, a former Army soldier, worked in maintenance and was watering lawns when he saw my mom pass by—the rest was history.
My mother often experienced discrimination even from local Chicanos close to home. I recall a cold night in the parking lot of a hobby store when a woman had been sitting in the car parked next to us. I sat in the back of the family Ford LTD and hastily opened the door scratching the car next to us. Angrily, the woman approached my mother, made note of her husband’s military ranking and basically threatened to assault my mom, hurled insults about the old car and about me. Confused and not knowing what to do, mom jumped back in the car and drove us to the police station. She calmed down, collected her thoughts and gave the officer the woman’s license plate number. The officer took our information and showed us to the door. I was young but I started making sense of this crazy world.
Saludos desde la frontera. More specifically El Paso, Texas. More specifically in Segundo Barrio. More specifically from Arcy’s Beauty Care. I’m starting this blog because I’m feeling inspired. I’m an artist who has primarily used pastel portraiture as my expression. It’s my therapy. I am also a photographer and dabble in poetry. My life has changed in so many ways in the last year and I have a thirst to share.