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Latino Subjectivity: Contemporary Artistic Convergences and El Velorio Celebration

On November 8th, Plaza de la Raza will host El Velorio’s 4th annual Day of the Dead celebration. El Velorio is a multicultural event celebrating the Mexican traditions of the Day of the Dead by featuring an art exhibition, live music, an altar installation and much more. Every year, thousands of people come together at El Velorio to celebrate the aesthetic convergence of Latino culture and heritage.

El Velorio began in 2010 with the sole purpose of creating a platform for emerging artists to exhibit their work. It quickly transcended into an event that has benefited various non-profit organizations. In 2014, El Velorio choose to donate a portion of the proceeds to  Plaza De la Raza, Los Angeles’ only multidisciplinary community arts venue dedicated to serving the Eastside neighborhoods of Los Angeles

This year’s exhibition was curated by Erika Hirugami, a recent UCLA graduate who focused on Art History and Chicano Studies. It will feature a wide selection of works in a variety of  two-dimensional media that range from painting to photography, in an array of genres relating to the Day of the Dead and its subjectivity as interpreted by contemporary artists of the greater Los Angeles area.

The exhibition will feature the hyperrealist depictions of Otto Stürcke’s paintings, alongside the suprarrealism of Isaac Pelayo’s drawings. There will also be Steve Grody’s historical view of the city’s gang culture via photographs and Miguel Angel Mejia’s modern Mexican issues in mixed media via photograph, colliding and conversing about the myriad of ways in which the Latino community is affected on both sides of the border.

Antonio Pelayo, founder of El Velorio, will display an introspection about his own aesthetic development and the footprint he leaves behind as an artist in his own community. Nikko Hurtado and Mark Mahoney, tattoo artists by trade, give us a glimpse into a wider range of art forms and converge with UCLA Chicano Master’s own Alma Lopez, Frank Romero, and Patssi Valdez to bring together an array of instances and subjectivities towards discussing greater Chicano, Latino, and Mexican American concerns of the people in Los Angeles.

El Velorio seeks to generate an alternative space where artists from different backgrounds can come together and aesthetically converse Day of the Dead and modern concerns of Latino society and heritage. By showcasing emerging artists, El Velorio seeks to celebrate the Day of the Dead in a transcendental way that allows visitors to contemplate locally produced aesthetic developments. Also, featuring some renown artists alongside these emergent artists creates a space to converse aesthetically about the Latino subjectivity within the confines of the Latino experience, free of borders and limitations, generating an artistic convergence capable of transcending the local borders of the city, time and space.

For tickets, location, and all other details visit www.elvelorio.com

Images courtesy of Ralph Guzman

Illustration by Jonathan Horcasitas

The lucha libre culture that is Latino mental health

Editor’s Note: The Latina students asked us not to use their names. But, they wanted to share their stories of how social determinants of mental health in the Latino community influenced how they wrestled with their conditions.

 

Think of it like lucha libre. The wrestling ring is like our house. Los luchadores enmascaradosthe masked fighters—brawling in the ring are us, foreign-born and first generation US-born.

 

We, the US-born, typically bend the traditional rules. We want to unmask our parents’ views because they complicate the unconventional identities that we wish to reveal.

 

“So you guys are the rudos—the bad guy wrestlers!?,” my mother says, as I try to metaphorically explain my view of mental health.

 

“Seems like it,” I say.

 

Among the lucha libre greats was Mil Máscaras—the man of a thousand masks—my mother says. He was strong, self-assured, courageous, and unfeeling. He was acrobatic and high-flying, as he brawled with the rudos. With his mask on he was a symbol of greatness, a symbol of what one should be like. People generally didn’t want to see a luchador unmasked, my mother says. A luchador who is unmasked loses respect. He faces a lot of humiliation.

 

Immigrant parents and their US-born children generally have different and conflicting perspectives. This cultural disconnection complicates the children’s upbringing. Immigrant parents may not be able to offer sufficient guidance to their child’s views and problems. What US-born may see as noble, foreign-born may see as shameful or frowned upon. This is the case when it comes to mental health in the Latino community, specifically treatment for mental health conditions.

 

According to reports found on the website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 88 percent of Latino children have unmet mental health needs. Latino children with diagnosable mental health conditions are typically told by relatives that they have anger or conduct problems.

 

Talking about mental health shows Samantha’s more vulnerable side, like I’m speaking to her without her mask on. She said the anxiety condition that troubled her life went undiagnosed throughout her childhood. Her foreign-born parents forced her into counseling with the idea that she had behavioral issues, but her condition was only repressed.

 

Transferring to UCLA drove Samantha’s anxiety to overwhelming levels. She had extreme moments of self-doubt, questioning whether or not she could be successful at UCLA. Unaware of her condition and afraid to unmask her emotions, she suffered in silence. “(My parents) are not my go-to people,” Samantha said. “They can be judgmental; they simply cannot understand. They just say, ‘Get it together.’” Her parents related her problems to weakness and incompetency. So was the case throughout her childhood.

 

Foreign-born Latinos generally disassociate from mental illness, stigmatizing it with a shameful image of locura—craziness. Families dismiss dialogue and professional help, self-diagnosing mental health conditions as nervios—nerves—or other negligible moods. However, one in five children, birth to 18 years of age, has a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to NAMI reports.

 

Lack of knowledge about mental health drives this stigma, over which many US-born Latinos wrestle with their parents. However, Latino cultural stigma is not the only story said Francisco Javier Iribarren, mental health researcher and Assistant Director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. “We must acknowledge the differences that make the Latino community unique.”

 

Other social determinants, too, are shaping Latino mental health experiences and views. Barriers for immigrants to access mental health treatment include poverty, undocumented status, rates of incarceration and deportation, English language proficiency, discrimination and underrepresentation in mainstream media, and higher education disparities. There’s an interlocking of factors that impact Latino mental health outcomes. US-born youth, like Samantha, don’t grow up with any emotional literacy due to the lack of access and knowledge in their communities.

 

Help is actually something that Latinos want, Iribarren says. However, there is so much to wrestle besides the stigma. A cycle of not seeking help is easily passed on.

 

Jennifer’s anxiety condition, too, went undiagnosed throughout her childhood. She developed severe anxiety issues at age 7 when her foreign-born parents divorced. She grew up in a complicated financial and familial environment. , According to reports on NAMI’s website, 21 percent of low-income children ages six to 17 have mental health problems.

 

She knew she had anxiety problems, but they were dismissed–something common among Latino families–Jennifer said. “I heard things like: ‘You’re just sad, you’re having a bad day, or you’ll get over it.’”

 

Coming into UCLA, Jennifer’s anxiety flared to levels of crisis. She experienced severe insomnia and unease over exams, rent and financial aid. Unable to focus in class, her academics suffered. The new culture and work difficulty at UCLA added to Jennifer’s anxiety.

 

Acculturation plays a huge factor in US-born perceptions. College, too, functions like an awakening to Latinos who’ve had a traditional upbringing.

 

“I didn’t know I had it (anxiety) until someone recommended UCLA’s CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services),” Jennifer said. Similarly, Samantha said she did not understand her emotions or how to manage and express them. Her US-born relative encouraged her to try counseling.

 

Jennifer said, “I told (my mother) I went to CAPS—she freaked out—she thought I was crazy, or going crazy.” Hesitant about professional help, Jennifer questioned if maybe she was over-exaggerating or being over-dramatic. She doubted the therapist and the method of talking. “Everything about the stigma of society started to play a role,” Jennifer said.

 

Not knowing what she was doing, Samantha described her first session as overwhelming. She felt lost. It was a new experience. She didn’t feel like she was getting better. Samantha was unable to connect with the therapist, and stopped going for a while before she returned and met with another Latino culturally sensitive therapist.

 

Over arguments about trying to get her parents to understand her emotions, Samantha grew disconnected from them. Emotional support, she says, was not there. At stake if not addressing this emotional illiteracy is the disconnection between families and the continuance of troubled Latino youth.

 

There are many gaps in the Latino mental health field: one in four Latinos lives in a linguistically isolated household, NAMI reports say; and there are about 29 Latino mental health professionals for every 100,00 Latinos in the US.

 

“The mask makes one feel safe, like they belong, especially within a traditional family,” my mother said when I asked her if she understood my metaphor. “But, underneath they’re feeling the opposite. There’s a communication gap.”

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Practice, Practice, Practice…

Practices have been packed, tryouts have been exciting, and song selections have been handed out.

From now on all practices are mandatory! We have to be there everyday of the week, as we now work in smaller groups. ROYCE MODE is in full action. And, I suspect that some of the first year dancers will realize what we all mean over the next week, and the closer we get to the performance.

A few weeks ago elections took place. Many of those returning stood in front of the whole group and had the daunting task of explaining how committed they were to the group and the plans that they will have for next year. This was going to be the last year I would be fully involved in Grupo, or as a fully involved member. It began to dawn on me how after four years of sitting through practices and learning footwork, half of which I do not remember, it will soon come to an end.

However, the great thing about those elections was that it showed me how many of the members are fully committed. And I believe it says a lot about the group and how much of an impact it makes on certain people.

 In simple terms, it was great knowing that although many of us who saw the group grow are leaving, the group is left in competent enough hands that will continue to improve the group and allow it to flourish.

Tryouts were the week following elections. Yep, tryouts. You review all songs on Tuesday, sign up for the dances you wish to perform at Royce, and then on Thursday of the same week perform them in front of the group against others who are fighting for the same spot.

Deciding who gets what depends not only on the tryout, but also on the number of costumes the group has, the need to share costumes, and your status as a member in good standing. With more than 70 members, I don’t envy our Artistic Director job.

Overall, tryouts were great, people were amazing, and it got everyone really excited for Royce. If people were that good in dances taught during Fall quarter, I can only imagine their awesomeness after three weeks of only focusing on a few dances.

I am not going to lie, I only tried out for three, and all in the same region compared to others who tried out for five or more spread throughout five regions. I don’t stand a chance in hell to get those dances but it was a blast dancing the ones I love among my friends.

Tuesday of the following week we were informed of our dances. Most got one or two, some got three, and my status on NOT being a member in good standing only got me the senior dance. I am not complaining–in fact, it was the one I wanted.

 Since last year, graduating seniors who have been part of Grupo for two or more years have the opportunity to dance a Lifelong Member song at Royce. I understand that my other commitments prevented me in the last two years from being as involved in the Grupo as before, hence I did not expect any other dance. It is fulfilling to know that I exit a group that has had a profound impact on my UCLA experience with my fellow seniors of whom came on with me and helped create memories that I cherish.

Now we only have a few days to look and sound perfect…OFF TO ROYCE!!

 

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Night of Cultura

Last time they impressed an audience, they left them wanting more. This year, they are back and are trying to bring something bigger to the stage! UCLA’s Night of Cultura holds auditions and prepares for their performance of the year!

Night of Cultura is an “organization that strives to create a yearly theatre, dance, and music production that unites and empowers the Chicano/a and Latino/a community on campus,” as their constitution states. Each year, they attempt to not only entertain their audience, but also open their eyes to various issues that are important to the Latino community. Issues such as politics, gender, nationality, and history are present in their yearly productions.

Their first production in 2004 was a great success, and so was every following one. However, in 2008, because of the lack of funding their productions came to a halt. This changed in 2011, when several students decided to bring back the club. After realizing the success of their production, they decided to keep their yearly production going.

 

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Race: The R-word: Cultural sensitivity and dialogue; their absence in UC campuses

After suffering what she considered a great social injustice, Alexandra Wallace got on YouTube and ranted about how Asians were too loud in the library. Within hours, the video went viral and it was immortalized on the Internet.

Should I or anyone else, be surprised, seeing as the persistent trend of racialized incidents in UC schools?

Numerous racist attacks such as the “Compton Cookout”, thrown by a fraternity at UCSD, or the noose found hanging at a UCSD library, and the swastikas carved into dorm doors at UC Davis indicate that UC campuses have a long way to go in fostering environments of tolerance and cultural sensitivity.

Instances of racial and ethnic intolerance have initiated response from many student groups, but their impact on campuses still resonate deeply.

Here at UCLA, Wallace’s comments sparked numerous emotional responses.

At first glance, Julie Pham thought that the Wallace video might be a joke but realizing it was not, she became enraged.

“I think that Wallace’s comments [proved] her to be very ignorant,” Pham said, “Asians are not the only ones that are loud. These are stereotypes that perpetuate hateful thinking that do nothing for social change and understanding.”

Victor Chan, a fourth-year biology student, is of Asian descent and identifies as Latino. His grandfather emigrated from China to Columbia, Chan’s birthplace and home.

When Chan first saw the video, he was in disbelief.

“The first thing I did after watching the video was to make sure that Wallace in fact was a UCLA student. When I found out she was a student, it really upset me,” said Chan, “being an individual that has dealt with being part of more than one culture, I have always hoped that people would be more understanding [of] one another, and learn about one another’s cultures.”

Recently, Chan and members of his Latino fraternity, Nu Alpha Kappa, held a taco sale fundraiser on Cinco de Mayo. They overheard students nearby demean the holiday by calling it “Drink-o de Mayo” as well as saying, “Oh I love Cinco de Mayo, that’s when all the tacos come out.”

Disappointed by their attitude, Chan said, “They don’t respect the day, nor do they even try to learn about it.” All of the different people and organizations on our campus share a responsibility to begin addressing these issues, especially among our diverse student groups.

While this incident was only lived by a few members of the UCLA population, it is still a strong example of interpersonal aggressions that that promote ethnocentrism.

Changing what we know about diverse groups is essential to changing how we talk about them. UCLA students expressed their support for a more ethnically inclusive learning experience in the recent USAC election, as 62.9 percent voters approved the Communicating Unity through Education initiative, which seeks to reform general education curriculum to include a diversity requirement.  Although this change to the curriculum has yet to go into effect, UCLA is making institutional moves towards creating a critical ethnic discourse.

“If we were to start to have open dialogue about the many different cultures that exist at UCLA, then we would be able to avoid such intolerance on our campus,” said Pham.

Whether it be the swastikas carved into doors, indecent party themes, or a video that demeans an ethnic group, it is abundantly clear to me that there needs to be open dialogue to help heal the social rift of these transgressions.

The mural featured at the end of the movie was created especially for the film. Photo by Odd Lot Entertainment.

From Nada to Impresionada

The mural featured at the end of the movie was created especially for the film. Photo by Odd Lot Entertainment.

The film “From Prada to Nada” is a rehashing of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” When their Mexican father dies, sisters Nora and Mary are forced out of their Beverly Hills mansion and in with their aunt in East Los Angeles.

The marketing of the film focused on the materialism of the two girls, especially because they are forced to move to a low-income neighborhood. I feared another attempt at repackaging Latino culture in a superficial film for the masses. Surprisingly, it sweetly and comically portrays two young women learning to embrace their roots and family.

Despite having Latino servants who cook traditional Mexican food and a Mexican father with a big bigote who has mariachi for his birthday, Latino culture hasn’t actually been a part of Nora and Mary’s lives. Moving to East LA with their aunt and being befriended by a tattooed neighbor may be the archetype of Latino neighborhoods, but the portrayal of this neighborhood moves beyond the cholos and helicopters they first encounter. It becomes a hub of Mexican heritage, Spanish language, artwork, and community.

Nora transitions easily to her new home, learning Spanish, and dressing in colorful indigenous clothing. She uses her lawyer skills to take on a pro bono case defending Latino maintenance workers who were unjustly fired and eventually setting up an office to give free legal advice.

Mary takes longer to adjust, at first only identifying herself as Mexican to protect herself from cholas who call her a white girl and to impress her Mexican TA from school. In the end, she comes to accept her identity as something that is a part of her, not as something to portray.

Growing up, Nora and Mary experienced fragments of Mexican culture because of their father, but they did not have a community in which they could see all the pieces fit together and appreciate it until they moved in with their aunt.

One delightful aspect of the film is the featured street art. There is scene in which Bruno, the tattooed neighbor, teaches kids about the art and its significance (even referring to Judy Baca, a muralist and a professor at UCLA), creating the image of a flourishing community that also has beauty.

Another great perspective presented by the film is the diversity within the Latino community: their entrepreneur father, gardeners and servants in the mansion, the undocumented workers in East Los Angeles, the cholo in the low-income neighborhood, Latinos in the university, and the Latino artists. The range of Latino cast members is greater than a similarly mass-marketed film “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”, in which they only seem to exist as gardeners or in Mexico.

The last scene includes a mural with the words “Soy Americano? Soy Mexicano? Que Soy?” These are questions many Latinos—not just of Mexican background—are likely ask themselves as they experience Latino culture in an American society. This film may have felt superficial to some, but at least I cannot deny the depth it presented with those last words.

Three out of four stars.