Black History Month is a time for reflection and a call for action. Without having my art practice rooted in community, I do not believe I would have taken a leap to explore cultures beyond my own because, honestly, I was naive and isolated.
In 2015, I developed an insatiable hunger for history. I was a participant in the University of Houston’s first iteration of the Interdisciplinary Art minor before it became popularized across the country. I was no longer confined to studying only Photography, as most areas of collegiate study are siloed. I was exposed to the concept of “art as activism” and “community as practice” where I realized my artistic practice did not have to be defined by a single discipline.
The academic work was embedded within art spaces in Houston’s historic Third Ward. This opened the door to a deeply personal and intimate exploration of what was once described as Houston’s segregated Black neighborhood. Through this history, it’s home to some of the City’s most celebrated Black creatives and civil right leaders who continue to make an impact like Rev. Bill Lawson, Rick Lowe, and the one and only, Beyonce.
The neighborhood became a classroom and I fell in love with learning. We learned about important places that imagined Black and Latino liberation, education, and expression. We were given the chance to create collaborative projects that transformed the community by centering the experience of Black queer youth and opening spaces at the university where they could share their stories through photography. Everyone was welcomed to the table. I learned valuable insights from my peers who were Black, Latino, Jewish, queer and transgender.
Fast forward to working for the LCAC, I am most excited about building Las Bodegas, where we can embody our core values of Latinidad and Cultural Courage. As we activate the Cultural Campus, my hope is that we can become a coalition that welcomes diverse perspectives to transform the health and wealth of communities.
As I looked for inspiration from diverse coalitions working in solidarity, I found the historic “Hunger Wall” mural created by occupants of the Resurrection City. The temporary tent encampment was held for six-weeks on the lawn of the National Mall in 1968. It was composed of multiethnic demonstrators with the Poor People's Campaign, one of Dr. Martin Luther King's final and most ambitious visions to combat poverty and racism.
The late 1960’s were a transformative period in American history, as the Civil Rights Movement began addressing human rights issues across boundaries nationwide. At the center of the city was this mural depicting the soul of the movement. It captured the varying voices of 3,500+ people who descended from all parts of the nation.
Statements of solidarity such as “Join the Black Liberation Front” and “Latinos Unidos Para Siempre” were inscribed throughout, reminiscent of what Dr. Martin Luther King once said: “Our separate struggles are really one – A struggle for freedom, for dignity, for humanity." This mural and Resurrection City were an example of what we can accomplish when we build solidarity through social justice and art. We can amplify our cultural power and heal division even when it feels really hopeless and dark.
This is the type of unity I would like to see at the forefront of Las Bodegas and the Cultural Campus. A multiethnic coalition that reflects the evolving identities found in our families, friends, and classrooms. In this way, we can learn about more stories like the Resurrection City.
So why would a Chicana from Texas celebrate Black History Month?
As I look back to who I was as an undergraduate student in Houston, I see how far I have come. Not only geographically but emotionally and spiritually. I have learned that it is important to look outside of yourself for knowledge – to have the Cultural Courage to learn from histories and people different from yourself. You can learn something new about yourself and your place within your community. By exposing myself to the unconventional and the unknown, I found a home within myself wherever I am.
My vision is that we will all find a home at LCAC and at Las Bodegas too.