I am freshly home from a trip to Cancun and Oaxaca. My heart could not be more full. I had the opportunity to stand by a high school friend as he married the love of his life. I got to visit Tulum with my loved one as a spring storm battered the Yucatan Peninsula - we even jumped into our first cenote! Everywhere we walked we were in awe of the artistic and intellectual accomplishments of our Mexican ancestors.
A few days later, I got to visit Oaxaca on behalf of the LCAC - to carry on relationships and networks of artists, galleries and museums that were formed over 20 years ago. I spent time with Master Ceramist, Carlomagno Pedro Martinez, who carries forth the Barro Negro tradition, and with Master Photographer, Ariel Mendoza Baños who was among the first to bring the Afro-Mexicano perspective to the fore in the 1990’s. I had the pleasure of meeting Lidia Silveira, Director of the Galería Arte de Oaxaca, Adan Esperanza and Beto Morales from the Fundación Cultural Rodolfo Morales, named after his uncle who was among the most celebrated painters of the last 50 years to come from Mexico.
One of the most meaningful moments came from the lunch we had in Ocotlán de Morelos that transported me back to my Momma’s kitchen on the Westside of Denver. Discussions flew out about history and politics, art and potential partnerships! We laughed about our misfortunes and toasted with mezcal in the name of our lost ancestors, pledging to carry forth a legacy of excellence and community building. Maestro Morales dedicated his wealth to remodeling historical buildings across Oaxaca and creating apprenticeship opportunities for women along the way so they could learn skills that would contribute to our shared heritages and enter well-paying careers. Workforce development with a cultural twist.
This trip was the first time that I had gone to Mexico on my own initiative. Throughout, I walked with a profound sense of pride and was continually inspired, especially after losing my Mexican immigrant parents back-to-back. I had only ever previously visited the agrarian villages where my Mom and Dad were born in Chihuahua and Durango respectively. Back home in the US we have been bombarded with negative stereotypes and tropes about Mexicans - which beat down on people's psyches over time. If you tell someone enough times that they are not good enough, eventually many will break down and believe it. Writers like the Algerian psychologist, Franz Fanon, write about this extensively if you are interested in learning more.
I have learned that if we come to any conversation with an open mind and with an open heart, we have much to learn from seeming strangers. Did you know that if Mexico had not supported the Union during the Civil War, the confederacy would have won? What about the Maya inventing the concept of zero? Mexico’s past, present, and future is tied to that of this nation. Es tiempo de celebrarlo / It is time we celebrate that.
It was an honor to be among accomplished artists who dedicated their careers to building others up. They instilled a sense of pride in elders and youth alike who had previously been shamed into rejecting their roots. At the LCAC we are driven by the dynamic identities bounded by Latinidad, a shared heritage that overlaps the Indigenous, Afro, Asian and European.
There has to be a better way of coexisting in our many differences because fighting about it isn’t getting us anywhere. I think it starts with refusing to categorize everything and everyone, and shunning that which does not fit neatly into a preconceived mold. Instead, let’s see difference as an invitation to dig deeper because there is more that unites us than not. Through my travels and everyday engagement with people from a place of discovery I have learned that ALL peoples aspire for the same outcomes: Safety. Love. Creativity.
This first trip to Mexico will surely be one of many. In the coming months and years, these seeds will bear fruit. People across the Americas, and indeed the world, will come to Denver to experience what we did together at the LCAC. Join us now in celebration and joy if you haven’t already!