need we say more?

The Ladder of Hope Through the Eyes of an Immigrant

It’s easy to vocalize our artistic ideas but it’s even harder to make these ideas become a reality, no matter how large-scale they may be. Therefore, I crave to hear those stories of struggle, like that of Crescendo screenwriter/director Alonso Alvarez-Barreda-in which one is not driven by success or appearances but rather their own will to inspire others.

One might say that the American Dream is dead, but I’d like to believe that whether you are an immigrant or a struggling artist, life hands us opportunities to rise above. We are handed gifts and talents that people are waiting to witness and if by grace they do, our messages should be used in a way that ignites our fellow brothers and sisters in solidarity.

Thus, Alvarez-Barreda extends to us an invitation to cruise with him on his imaginative journey full of emotional highs and lows, realistic characters, and inspiring stories of hope that leave us pondering at the film’s close.

We are led into a world of cinematographic perspective that many directors don’t typically experiment with and we can’t help but feel that the characters were more than mere actors fulfilling their role.

Alvarez-Barreda’s characters come alive because his stories encapsulate the human experience and every feeling of sadness, joy, and pain that we have ever felt in our lifetime. Rather than leave us to dwell in the emotional turmoil that each character comes to face in his films, we realize that with every pain comes beauty, growth, and wisdom.

When looking at his work and the projects he has created one tends to overlook the taxing process required in writing and directing.

Alvarez-Barreda, as well as countless others, were not handed the opportunities on a silver platter, nor did they idly wait for the opportunities to arise. They were forced to create a new path for themselves, however scary it might have been.

Therefore, rather than take two film school rejections as an answer, Alvarez-Barreda decided to leave his hometown of Tampico, Mexico for Los Angeles, California. It was here where he would shadow his long-term mentor, Alejandro Monteverde, who later inspired various short films and projects.

Alvarez-Barreda recounts his experience and life’s unexpected pathway.

“I did try to pursue a film career in Mexico. I applied to two film schools at the time and I got rejected…I wasn’t accepted, I didn’t pass the test. It was clear to me that I had to do something. I had to try elsewhere. And life and circumstances led me to meet somebody who became my mentor and gave me the opportunity to come to the United States. After a film I did that was successful in the film festivals the opportunity arose to come to the United States which was [still] a dream of mine,” he said.

His dream of pursuing film in the United States eventually flourished into several years of dedication, persistence, and faith. For how can one pursue “passion projects” without practicing these very core qualities? One’s ideas would fall short, which is what makes a storyteller such as Alvarez-Barreda so inspiring. He actively took risks and with perpetual reminders that he had bills to pay and projects to pursue, he was put to the test and forced to survive.

“When I first got here I was basically living on people’s couches for a couple years, taking little jobs here and there. I came here with a tourist visa originally so I couldn’t apply for regular jobs…that was hard. I had to most of the time find investors from Mexico who were willing to support me or fund me for X amount of time…committing to them and turning in scripts for my projects that they were supporting so that was kind of like the key that helped me survive otherwise I don’t know what I would have done,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

As an immigrant, the constant flow of emotions that surround one become difficult to combat. What if your bills aren’t paid on time? What is happening at work and how long will I have my job for? What if they deport me? How much longer will I be able to work in California? And most importantly, who will catch me if I fall?

Everything can crumble in a matter of minutes, yet what still looms in the back of one’s mind is “I must continue on with my passion.”

While it may seem to one that is losing hope that their career might not follow in the direction that they wanted, Alvarez-Barreda remembers to tell himself that more than ever today minorities have access to opportunities in the field.

They are given opportunities to shine a light on their non-white perspective and experiences and for that now is a “great time to be Mexican.” It’s a time to use diversity to our advantage because “the industry is receiving a lot of heat for always hiring white Americans,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

With the rise of Mexican filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, and with the ever more diversifying film industry, the American audience is ready for diversity in the theater and we are ready to experience stories told from the eyes of those from another part of the world.

As Alvarez-Barreda reinforces, our backgrounds and experiences are essential in shaping our individual mindsets.

“Being Mexican/Latino is my essence, it’s who I am. I feel like one, my experiences growing up and coming from a different country are perceived by a different brain-a different mentality, a different lens if you will. So that obviously gives you a different voice, something that’s new, a different perspective on the way you tell your stories. That’s always great because I have a different pool of ideas and emotions to tap into,” he says.

His intuitiveness allows him to understand human struggles and how they affect others like himself. It is these themes that he wishes to portray in his films.

Rather than fill our minds with negativity, it is essential that instead we expose ourselves to the messages of positivity and uplifting scenarios that encourage us to thrive in a world that is not always on our side.

We are an impactful and astonishing species and it’s that very idea that Alvarez-Barreda strives to lace through his films.

“[My] messages are useful. I like to tell stories that help people relate to one another, to be more human. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no tragedy or drama, life is exactly that, but it’s how you react to that. It’s how you choose to move forward. So a lot of the stuff I write is the harshness of life and difficult situations. I write characters that somehow find a way out of it through hope and perseverance and believing that there is goodness in people…that everything with worth in this life requires sacrifice,” says Alvarez Barreda.

For this reason, healthy messages are evermore necessary in a society where negativity and aggression often overpower. It’s a matter of what messages we invest our energy into and how we truly reflect on what those messages mean to us all.

Universal messages are more often than not the most personal messages and for that Alvarez-Barreda’s films are highly relatable and emotionally driven.

By communicating with the audience through his films he assures us that although taxing at times, our life circumstances are not always permanent. “It’s okay to go through things in life” he says. “But you have the opportunity to change the outcome of your life…the human spirit is probably the most amazing thing in the world…it is unbreakable. [My] stories celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

Alvarez-Barreda, despite viewing the world through a lens marked by struggle, maintains his resilience. As an artist, I find this both hopeful and comforting.

With our artistic mediums, regardless of how idealistic they may sound, we will continue to push forward with our passions because it is our messages that reach the hearts of others.

Forget the acclaim, the fortune, and the recognition because, as Alvarez-Barreda says, “what we define as an accomplishment is a rather loose concept.”

“How do you measure an accomplishment?” he asks. “Is it the one that you get told that people like the most? Or is it the one that has more technical quality? Film is a statement…we make films to share with somebody, to share with an audience. Through true story telling we can find commonalities and realize again that we are humans…that we are powerful, and that we have the chance to change our lives.”

Who are Film’s Addicts, Maids, and Gardeners?

While watching films and television, I’m often reminded of my youth and the days when I seriously considered acting as a career. It seemed as if drilling myself in classes and auditions would suffice but the fact that always loomed above me was my Colombian identity and my non-ambiguous look. My acting coach never failed to remind me that my acting destiny lied in rolls such as maids, newly arrived immigrants, or exotic female figures.

“It’s the reality,” he told me. “It’s what the public will expect of you right off the bat.”

However, I thoroughly question if this is a reality.

It may be an Anglo American’s perception of reality, but for millions of other Latinos like myself, it is simply a stereotype. A stereotype that continues to transcend onto the screens that lie before us when purchasing a ticket to that Oscar film or wasting several hours binge watching an enthralling television series. Thus, a rather intense feeling of discouragement and frustration falls upon me in paying an approximately $12.00 entrance fee when Latinos like us are continuously misrepresented.

It’s clear to me and the Latino community that not all Latinos are outlandishly comedic, law-breaking vagabonds, nor individuals that are destined to toil in the fields, tend to one’s housework, or sustain your next drug fix.

Rather than solely relying on my perspective in what I claim is the unfair truth within media stereotypes, I realize that there must be a larger representative voice within American society. It’s not solely Latinos that are conscious of our misrepresentation but rather other minorities that bear witness to the stereotypes that plague our screens. Being that minorities are subject to misrepresentation on the part of their respective communities be it Asian or African American, they are able to comprehend the over exaggerated portrayals of Latinos on screen.  “It is not necessarily holistic,” stated Emma Halanaka, a fourth year Biology major at University California Los Angeles. “I feel like I can relate to other races/minorities that we view negatively.”

It is undeniable that Latinos have made strides in achieving substantial roles in film and television such as Sofia Vergara from Modern Family and Benicio del Toro — who most recently stars in Sicario, thus revealing an increasing inclusivity of others who are not the ethnic majority in film/television. It shows that the media recognizes minority communities and are creating a space for us on a screen that was once dominantly Anglo centered. And while we acknowledge that we are more accepted today than years prior, Latino actors have yet to rise to the same caliber that we regard America’s star players.

This is not to say that Latinos are not as capable, but rather that Hollywood’s whiteness generates more material that revolves around “white life”, thus requiring white actors, and diminishing the opportunities available for talent worthy Latinos.

There are a plethora of Latinos that deserve to be applauded for the talented individuals that they are yet they are obligated to take a back seat and accept the limited spectrum of characters allotted to them. We are thus subject to watching actors that don’t necessarily reflect who we are in a way that we can relate to. It is true that there are Latinos that are criminals and Latinos that are our maids-like there are criminals and house workers who are White, Black, and Asian- but not all Latinos take on these rolls in society.

We are doctors and we are engineers. We are architects and we are artists. We contribute just as much to the beauty that makes our society go round as our Anglo neighbors. And it is who we are as well as our skills and talents that deserve to be put on blast for the public to see because it is conducive of true American society and culture.

We are not just one people but rather a body of individuals that have come from different walks of life, different backgrounds, and different cultures. We walk amongst the streets of Los Angeles all the way to the streets of Queens, and the streets of Miami. We contribute to the various new flavors that color our pallets and we offer something new and fruitful to the majority that might be unfamiliar with us. We are aware of our presence amongst the ethnic majority and it is this presence precisely that must be reflected before us on our screens because I can guarantee that we are here to stay and called to be heard. Yet, with the large population of Latinos that reside in the United States we have yet to see true stories of these individuals and substantial, accurate roles by way of the media.

“The entertainment industry is a business,” expressed Josh Zuniga, a fourth year sociology major.  “The entertainment industry cares less about art.”

The media does care less about art and more apparently about filling the theaters’ seats. The idea of making a quick dollar with little regard for accurate portrayals or quality storylines overrules a Latino’s reality. It is through these inaccurate portrayals that further propel stereotypes outside of the theater and reside in the minds of those who are ignorant to our truth.

We want to be able to enter a movie theater, watch a Latino actor, and think to ourselves, “Wow, what a great performance. I’m proud to be Latino and I’m proud that this individual reflects who we are in an accurate manner.”

We want to be comfortable walking out in public knowing that most of our American counterparts recognize the depth behind our cultures and peoples, and that we are beyond the stereotype that Hollywood tries to sell to us.

Who we are cannot be bought and if our representation can be, I want my $12.00 adult admission to go further than the seat in the theater. I want it to travel all the way to Colombia, to Cuba, and circle back around to Mexico. I want it to travel to the ears of our ancestors so that they may feel pride that we are being represented for the beauty and truth that we are. I can taste our time coming soon but the seed grows from honest hands, and it’s those honest hands that must plant it within the soil that is Hollywood.

Night of the Blaxican

Now that we got yo undivided attention 📷:@murderhim #TheUnderworld #WHORUNTHEUNDERGROUND

A photo posted by AFRO INDIGENOUS ON TONGVA LAND (@elmemoblaxicano) on


The vinyl sits in a crate on a table next to the disc jockey’s LP player. Speakers on each side exert a forceful sound which reverberates through the swaying bodies wishing to remember—to dance like no other for this night.

This is the Night of the Blaxican.

Also named the “Kickback for the Ghetto,” the proclaimed party movement that occurs on select Friday and Saturday nights — with locations announced through Instagram — has had an exponential rising in both popularity and relevance for the generations of Raza wanting to experience a lost era spanning from the 60’s to the early 90’s. A time where our parents and their parents lived for themselves, this party was una noche de recuerdo in the City of Watts on Grape Street.

People roll in nonstop, dressed to impress, the style a mixture and in limbo between Pachuca/o and contemporary fashion.

These lost souls, la Raza, occupy this space filled with color. Its music is oldies, but goodies; it’s nostalgic of a time where Rucas y Vatos partied the night away—the Brown and Black energies coalesce for a sense of community, of a space for Chicana/o oldies memory.

Entering through an alley, the disco rainbow lights penetrating in all directions in ecstatic motions, the sounds of surface noise from spinning records, you get the warm feeling of home. In the Soul, Funk, and Doowop, from the G-Funk of Snoop Doggy Dog to “Lookout Weekend” by Debbie Deb, the music is the conduit to a transcendental sense of belonging—all of us Brown and Black folk belong in this space.

El Memo Blaxicano—a growing community activist of South Central, Los Angeles, self-identified Afro-Indigenous—is the creator and head of Night of the Blaxican. The life of the party, Memo is a colorful personality as he has a deep love for both his community and gente.

As a social media personality, the growth of this House Party has reached unprecedented numbers, giving fame to this local community organizer as he provides a space for anyone willing to dance. He is passionate for his gente, and he speaks of the streets in a fervor of spiritual connection to Brown and Black unity.

Night of the Blaxican, Memo’s cultivated project, voices the emotional attachments to the hoods some of us grew up in, but more the life some of us never lived and choose to remember—we consider the barrio life, the life of Vatos and Rucas, and we dig deep in community memory a life still here along side us.

And when will this house party movement stop? When will the DJs stop spinning 45s and long LPs? When will the bottles stop cracking, the smoke start clearing, and the sweat begin drying? Will the Night of the Blaxican ever stop? Will it continue forever, as we reminisce of the past for a daring present, for a future filled with oldies?

Who’s to say when this party movement will stop? All we can draw from it are the powerful energies hoping to create something from nothing, to provide an accessible space for gente of all ages and economic standings.

Night of the Blaxican is a testament to Brown and Black familia in Communities of Color, and it will remain in local history as a night to remember, always.


UCLA Students Keep Dia de los Muertos Tradition Alive

Bad weather conditions did not stop UCLA students from celebrating Dia de Los Muertos.

UCLA Professor Martha Ramirez-Operaza, in collaboration with UCLA’s Chicana and Chicano Studies students, organized a Dia de Los Muertos event that took place this past Sunday, October 30th, at the Social and Public Art Resource Center historic headquarters in Venice Beach, California.

“Dia de Los Muertos” is a festive holiday celebrated in Mexico and in various parts of the United States where there is a strong sense of Mexican heritage. For many, November second is often viewed as a day of celebrating–rather than mourning–the dearly departed. It is believed that on this day the spirits of the ancestors will visit the altars and enjoy the ofrendas, which consist of food and other objects with sentimental value that they enjoyed during their lifetime.

More than ten colorful altars representing different regions of Mexico surrounded the Social and Public Art Resource Center. Pictures of the departed, sugar skulls, papel picado and flores de cempasuchil (Mexican Marigold) were some of the various ornamental elements used to decorate the altars.

The event began with a ceremony traditionally carried out to invoke the spirits to join the celebration followed by ten minute presentations by UCLA students at the altars, where they explained the significance of Dia de Los Muertos and other special traditions.

The attendees were able to enjoy the traditional pan de muerto, champurrado, and ponche, among other typical Mexican dishes.

For many, Dia de Los Muertos highlights the idea of community. Hector Sanchez-Perez, a fifth-year Biology student at UCLA, cherishes the strong sense of community that such a significant celebration brings, which is strongly encouraged by Professor Ramirez-Operanza. “[Professor Ramirez-Operanza has] is really driving home the theme of the community.” Professor Ramirez-Operanza is often called “temachtiani,” which according to Sanchez-Perez, means “teacher of great things”—a testament to the respect and admiration she has garnered from her students and the wider UCLA community.

Similarly, Sra. Maria Conde, a participant of the event, believes that community is very important. “Visitar a los amigos que tienen sus ofrendas puestas, poner la mia y visitarnos unos con otros es mi tradición favorita,” Sra. Conde said.


Individuals of all ages, who commemorate the spirits, have traditions that make this day even more special. Some people like setting up the altar and ofrendas, others making sugar skulls, or simply the idea of honoring their loved ones.

For third grade  Broadway Elementary student Karla Gonzalez and fourth-year UCLA student Veronica Martinez, the experience of setting up an altar is at the top of their favorite Dia de los Muertos traditions. “The best thing about making an altar is honoring the person that has passed away and most importantly, making this event be about the celebration of life, and having a happy connotation to death rather than the darkness [and] sadness typically associated with death, ” said Martinez.

“My favorite tradition of Dia de Los Muertos is when you make the altar, because I like setting up pictures of people who passed away and setting up the food,” said Gonzalez.

In many cultures, the skull represents a sign of death. For Dia de los Muertos, this holiday symbol can turn into a fun and creative activity. For Zac Reyes, a second-year political science major at UCLA, face painting of the half-skull continues to be his favorite tradition.

“[The half-skull] is supposed to show the quick transition between life and death,” said Reyes.

Likewise, Rosa Contreras, a second-year student at UCLA, enjoys the sugar skull and face painting aspect of the festivities because she “really likes being creative.”

UCLA educators and students understand the importance of maintaining tradition alive. By conducting the celebration of Dia de los Muertos every year, they continue to preserve the memory of their beloved while informing others about the beautiful customs of this significant day.

Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever

On Saturday October 29, many gathered at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to celebrate its 17th annual Día de los Muertos festival.

Dia de los Muertos originates from indigenous cultures and continues to be practiced today within families and across communities. It is a day in which both death and life are simultaneously celebrated, exhibited perfectly with the setting and celebrations that took place at the venue.

Hollywood Forever is the only cemetery that allows for a Día de los Muertos festival to occur on its grounds. This yearly festival began as a way to celebrate the holiday while bringing communities together. Modern visuals and traditional altars created by the Latina/o community bring tradition and the contemporary together.

This year’s theme, “El Arbol de la Vida,” filled the venue with excitement and vitality.

The day began at noon with altar exhibits, folklorico, Aztec dances and rituals, arts and crafts, and an abundance of musical performances. The event was filled with a multitude of people dressed in their very best costumes and Catrina attire to celebrate, remember, admire and enjoy Día de los Muertos, their ancestors, and loved ones.

As people entered the event, they were greeted by a multitude of food, flowers and other excited patrons. Alongside the cempazuchitl filled pathways were altars created in remembrance of family members, friends, and poets.

Among the musical performances was a special tribute to the late singer, Jenni Rivera. The musical tribute to Jenni Rivera created anticipation among the crowd as the stage was closed off from the public’s view to prepare for the surprise. The crowd waited anxiously as the screen revealed a hologram of the singer performing “Cuando muera una dama.” Fans revelled in surprise as they Jenni Rivera’s voice.

As the night continued, the beautiful Tree of Life performance by Long Red Feather narrated traditions of Dia de los Muertos. The performance depicted Aztec mythology of the underworld and life through dance.

Mexican singer Julieta Venegas arrived to an excited crowd. The singer, known for her bold accordion, took the stage alongside her band. The set opened up with “Esperaba,” a song off their latest album Algo Sucede. Julieta Venegas’ contagious charisma and dance moves moved through the crowd. The singer’s setlist consisted of other new songs, among them “Ese Camino” and “Buenas Noches, Desolacion.” Old favorites such as “Limón y Sal,” “Eres para Mí,” and “Amores Platónicos” were also performed. Julieta Venegas’ funky folk tunes resonated throughout the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

As the singer and musicians walked away at the end of their set, the crowd chanted in unison for an encore. After a couple of minutes filled with praises and chants, the musicians appeared on stage for a final song. The singer finished off her set in an upbeat tone with a fan favorite, “Andar Conmigo,” a single off of her Grammy nominated album, Si. All across, fans joined in singing along with the artist.

After the last verses were sung, Julieta Venegas and her band gathered at center stage to take a final bow marking the end of Hollywood Forever’s musically infused Día de los Muertos festival.

On The Hill: Dia de los Muertos

Hand crafted paper mache flowers, yummy sugar skulls, and numerous altars of deceased celebrities adorned Covel Grand Horizon on The Hill Sunday, October 30th.

The event was in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Organized by the Chicano/a residential floor, they showcased student artwork and hosted live entertainment with their overall theme of Day of the Dead.

According to Catholic beliefs, Dia de los Muertos kicks off the month of November that is dedicated to the souls of purgatory where believers pray for their dead.

Dia de los Muertos is influenced by Mexican indigenous culture and Spanish Catholicism. The holiday is observed on November 2nd and it provides an opportunity for family and friends to honor and commemorate their deceased loved ones.

The holiday is not one marked by sadness but is filled with joy as people remember their loved ones with music and food. Families often remember their dead by setting up altars with offerings of the dead’s favorite objects. People celebrate by making sugar skulls and decorating graves with colorful flowers and by spending time with their deceased loved ones.

Despite being held early, the Dia de los Muertos on event on the Hill, was a complete success. Attendees had the option of making sugar skulls, paper-mache flowers, or just sitting down and enjoying pan de muerto.

There were also altars of deceased celebrities, such as singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez and actor Cantinflas, and paintings related to el Dia de los Muertos for people to admire.

Additionally, there was was a Day of the Dead themed photo booth for people to have their pictures taken. This gave many the opportunity to model the festive face paint offered at the event.

After an hour, UCLA’s Grupo Folklorico took the stage and performed for 30 minutes. They danced beautifully to traditional Mexican songs.

Mariachi de Uclatlan followed Grupo Folklorico. They filled the room with their vibrant music and wooed the audience.

Among the UCLA students attending the event was second year biology major Eveline Garcia. She said her favorite part of the event was watching the performances because the dance performances “depict how the celebration itself brings an uplifting mood rather than a sad mourning one.”

The event created a sense of community on the Hill and welcomed students to celebrate their loved ones while learning about Dia de los Muertos.

Photo by: Mayra Vanessa Lopez

Altares at Grand Park

Header photo taken by Mayra Vanessa Lopez

Under the beautiful moonlight in Downtown Los Angeles, I strolled through Grand Park to see the various, dazzling altares/ofrendas set out in remembrance of lost relatives and ancestors. There was a display of fascinating, colorful calaveras painted on large wooden cutouts of traditional Día de los Muertos skulls.


This captivating art installation took place on October 31st. Extending four blocks, this Día de los Muertos exhibition allowed community members to experience the traditional, as well as modern day, ways of celebrating those who have passed and memorializing the past. It is a day in which the curtain between our two realms—of the real, present world and of the afterlife—is lifted and so that we may share the day.

The Altares at Grand Park, held directly in front of City Hall, were decorated with various ofrendas, or offerings, both by the master altar makers of the exhibition as well as by community members. People were encouraged to bring photographs, write notes, and/or sign their names on some of the altares. Men and women dressed as catrinas/os visited the altares, dressed in traditional clothing with their faces elaborately painted.

I made sure to write a special note to my godmother who I lost several years ago; as I wrote her name, I automatically felt in touch with not only her spirit, but also to my culture.

The first altar I saw as I began my tour of the art exhibition was one dedicated to Trayvon Martin—a 17-year-old African-American male who was fatally shot and killed, yet received no justice for his murder. We see here the bridge between the Latinx community and African-American community, making a powerful statement of solidarity.

The statement becomes even more effective as you look over the altar and see Los Angeles City Hall helping illuminate the already vibrant memorial. Ten elegantly designed calaveras, five to each side of the altar, were displayed to illustrate another important piece of the Día de los Muertos’ tradition. The calaveras have come to symbolize the revival of an individual into the next stage of life. One calavera, in particular, grasped my attention almost immediately. It was one representing Brown Pride, which was initiated during the Chicano movement of the 1960s; with this skull we can see the connection between contemporary and traditional empowerment through the Latinx culture—contemporary in that it reflects a recent social movement for Chicanx pride and power, and traditional in that it reflects a long-established spiritualistic custom to convey the unity between the two very different, but still socially and culturally relevant ideologies.

Apart from altares and calaveras, there was a large art piece entitled “Till Death Do Us Part…”—symbolizing the classic wedding chapel scene decorated in wedding glass boxes. This scene is meant to portray eternal love, as the bride and groom are elegantly dressed calacas. The materials used to create this artistic installation were re-purposed plastic—an ode to the notion and belief that love lasts a lifetime and that the spirits of our passed loved ones will always be with us.

I have never felt so in touch with my culture and community; various men and women around me joined together by emotionally and physically engulfing themselves with the art exhibition. Witnessing the Altares at Grand park was an eye-opening experience. As Grand Park seemed to purposely place this installation of important aspect of Latino ritualism and culture within the heart of the city, it appeared to hold an underlying proclamation: the raza is present and we are not going anywhere.

The Disappointing History of Photography Legend Cindy Sherman

The unfortunate and jarring realization I made about the art community through a female photographer’s racial bigotry

My first week here at UCLA, I was eager to begin utilizing the amazing resources now at my fingertips: books, professors, and discussions composed of intelligent people who were eager, just like me, to begin a journey of self-discovery and learning. So, on a sunny afternoon during Week 1, I paid a visit to the arts library.

As an art major, I made visiting the arts library a top priority. Photo books are a source of motivation and release and I find a lot of comfort in them. I scanned the long hallway of photo books, particularly hoping for a good selection of female photographers, and picked up three works, one of which was by famed fine art photographer Cindy Sherman.

Cindy Sherman, a female photographer, is best known for her self-portrait projects where she takes on an array of human identities. She is well known in the photography community and has been someone I looked up to a lot, as a female photographer myself.

The book has a collection of some of her most provocative projects. I reached a collection of scans of some of her photoshoot notes, when a line in her jumbled writing caught my eye.

In explaining what models she’d like to use for an upcoming project, Cindy describes them as “stupid looking model-types (but ethnic-dirty).”

Photo by: Gabrielle Biasi

Sherman’s photoshoot notes, published in “Cindy Sherman: Retrospective” on page 119. Photo Credit: Gabrielle Biasi

It took me a moment to comprehend what I had read. Was Cindy equating ethnic people to looking stupid…to being dirty?

I decided to investigate.

I googled “Cindy Sherman Racist” and was greeted with 685,000 hits. Among those were various articles on a photo series she did in 1976 titled “Bus Riders”, where she portrayed 15 different characters she saw at bus stops. Five of those characters were black, which she decided to portray using blackface.

Upon viewing the nauseating images, I knew I had unfortunately discovered the classic trope white artists often use in their artwork.

Time and time again, whether through orientalism, primitivism, or exoticism, white and western artists have used non-white identities as props: Gauguin and his works of Tahitian women, Matisse and his works of Moroccan women, Edward Curtis and Native Americans, are all classic examples of this worn out custom.

In uncovering Sherman’s blackface portraits and ethnic offenses, I felt the beginning of a difficult journey for myself as an artist unfold. I began to reevaluate the female artists I considered admirable: Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Annie Liebovitz. They are all women who overcame the male dominant field of photography, but they are all white women.

As a white passing Latina, I am aware of the privilege I have, but my connection to Latino culture is embedded in my soul. Because of this, I have always felt more connected to female artists of color. Unfortunately, women of color are rarely found in art education and history curriculum and art galleries. Carrie Mae Weems, Nikki S Lee, Wendy Red Star, Ana Mendieta, Yurie Nagashima, and Pun Ho Yun are the few female artists of color I have discovered through friends and digging deep on the Internet. They were absent from textbooks and lectures despite their impactful artistry.

I still admire the white female photographers and the obvious talent and work ethic they have, but seeing the lack of women of color in photography is disheartening. I hope that the art community, here at UCLA and across the world, will join me in re-molding this unfortunate reality of art and photo history. All artists must come together and help elevate female artists of color, so that every young artist learning their craft can have the relatable role models I never had been taught.

Tapping into 2017: The Drums at El Rey

The Drums solidified their ever-growing support system in Los Angeles this past Saturday night, with the New York-based band playing to a sold-out crowd at the El Rey Theatre. The performance was in anticipation of their fourth studio album, which will give devoted fans the band’s newest product after a lengthy wait since their 2014 release of Encyclopedia.

The Drums are an indie pop band based in New York that have amassed a cult following of teenagers and young adults impassioned by their upbeat, rock-inspired sound. The group has had a precarious history; their third album was conceived despite creative differences and the departure of member Connor Hanwick.

In spite of their rocky past, the band’s fanbase continues to be solid, as tickets for their LA show quickly sold out after being distributed only two weeks before the show. A line even formed outside the venue hours before the 8:00 PM opening time.

Queued outside during the lengthy wait was a diverse group of adolescents.  In a city as ethnically varied as LA, The Drums have built a fanbase with a strong Latinx presence that has expanded beyond the community, illustrated by fan support on previous tours in Mexico, Argentina, and other Latin American countries. The many identities encompassed among fans on Saturday night allowed me to reflect about how the band’s lively music provides a blind form of self-expression through which alternative music fans can transcend the limits of social borders by simply enjoying live music among equals.

After the long line of fans filled the theatre, 9:00 PM struck and the opening act, Froth, hit the stage, performing their shoegazing songs to a group seemingly unfamiliar with their work. Nonetheless, their short performance was an endearing and easygoing beginning to what would become an amped night.

As the lights of the El Rey Theatre dimmed and the crimson red curtains were drawn once more, fans heard the familiar synth melodies of “I Can’t Pretend.” The mellow song created a relaxed atmosphere that would endure for only a couple of minutes, since the band’s long-awaited presence quickly revved up the crowd as they moved along their set.

Photo by: Sonia Ellis

Fans’ long wait time was certainly worth the effort, as the band later performed crowd favorites, like “Days” and “Money,” while also playing more recent content, like “Kiss Me Again.” Getting knocked down or smacked by a crowd surfer was not uncommon during the popular songs, as it seemed like the entire venue echoed every lyric back to the five-piece ensemble.

About halfway through The Drums’s hour-and-a-half-long set, the band played a single off their upcoming album. Lead singer Jonny Pierce introduced the song during the show by saying he was “a little nervous about releasing it,” but the crowd’s generosity had “tamed all [his] fears” about releasing the project. While fans in the venue were listening to the song for the first time, people danced along with the same passion that had been eluded throughout their entire set-list.

After playing their aforementioned new song, the band disappeared one by one, and came out following the crowd’s clamor for “one more song.” Energy remained high with the returned anticipation of the band’s stage presence, and The Drums returned to the stage.

Fittingly, the group ended their performance with “How It Ended,” a song in which Pierce reminisces about a lost relationship but assures the subject of his continual support. The song surely served as a mouthpiece for the band, as the line “I’ll always be right here” reiterates how the band’s once uncertain past has transformed into a promising future.

The group’s well-lived set proved their presence to be stronger than it has ever been. With the release of their fourth album, a loyal fan base, and enthusiasm like that illustrated on Saturday night at the El Rey, The Drums are sure to have an enthralling 2017.