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Interview with artist Cesar Uitz’ Avala

Canvases, paints, brushes, and spray paint of various colors scatter Cesar Uitz’ Avala’s room from his desk to his shelves to under his bed. With art hanging from the walls, the living room is lined with bookshelves that are filled with Latin American History, Indigenous History and other critically conscious works that inform his art. His computer is opened up to digital illustrations for a children’s book. His indigenous flutes are ready to recall sounds of a past time.

Cesar uses indigenous themes, symbols, and images in his artwork as a way to preserve his cultural roots and the roots of many other Latinos in Los Angeles. Cesar works in all mediums, from screen-printing to murals to illustrating books and CD covers. His work reflects his own indigenous and cultural roots from El Salvador.

Cesar was introduced to art by his uncle and began his first steps as an artist by emulating him. Growing up in Los Angeles influenced his artistic style through exposure to graffiti and through working collectively with other artists. Art became a commonality that allowed him to develop friendships outside the growing gangs in his neighborhood.

Cesar only spoke Spanish and Nahuatl when he first arrived in Los Angeles, so as a child he felt isolated because of his linguistic difference as he learned English. Consequently, he sees art as a method to conserve and promote language. His art embodies his trilingual background illustrating a Nahuatl, English and Spanish hybridity. Cesar depicts culturally influenced art because of the highly commercial and competitive art scene in Los Angeles. Art should be conscious according to Cesar. His goals as an artist are to create community, encourage the preservation of indigenous cultural roots, and point out political issues relevant to Latinos.

No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla: Temporary Protected Status

Illustration by Maria Renteria.

The recent passing of the California Dream Act is a victory to many undocumented students giving financial aid to all students. Despite this victory, there are students outside of these two categories.

Liliana Leon, a second-year comparative literature student, has lived in the US since she was five months old. She came with her mother through political asylum that was granted to her when she fled El Salvador due to persecution.

She had the typical Latino American life growing up with her two younger siblings who are both citizens. Liliana was not fully aware that she wasn’t a citizen in the country she has called home.

In 2001, her mother was already trying to get Liliana out of asylum by applying for residency through her grandfather. In 2006, she realized that she was not a citizen. Her mother told her that their political asylum was going to be negated because the government would decide that the threat to her mother was not imminent. They would become undocumented if they didn’t find another alternative.

Immediately Liliana and her mother applied for Temporary Protected Status to remain in this country. Her mother believed that having Temporary Protected Status would be much better than being undocumented, because her daughter would not have to struggle. However, Liliana never foresaw the problems this new knowledge or her new legal status would bring her.

Temporary Protected Status, commonly known as TPS, was created under the Immigration Act of 1990. TPS allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant temporary immigration status to residents from selected countries that face environmental disasters, armed conflicts or extreme temporary conditions. Currently, these countries include El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Individuals with TPS are in the country legally and do not have to fear deportation by the government. However, they are not a legal resident or citizen of the US and have no opportunity through TPS to obtain residency or citizenship.

“From the stories I’ve heard it’s difficult to be in TPS because there is not a lot of information on it. [Other undocumented students] assume TPS individuals have more rights or privileges and it creates divisions,” said Professor Leisy Abrego of the UCLA César E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o studies.

They are allowed to work and pay taxes but do not receive any government aid, including financial aid to attend a university. Individuals on TPS have to continuously make sure their paper work is in order. They renew their application every nine to twelve months paying $515 to get a piece of paper stating they have Employment Authorization.

Lawyers have not been able to help Liliana and her mother pursue residency under TPS. They have now gone through two different lawyers who have taken their payment without furthering their application through the immigration system.

Almost everyday Liliana faces trouble due to the complexity of her status. She has to explain countless times what it means to have TPS.

This becomes difficult when dealing with office workers from the Registrar’s Office and the

Financial Aid Office have never heard of TPS. This was especially true when applying to UCLA, paying for UCLA and applying for scholarships. Liliana has no way to label her situation. On official documents, there is no box to check for TPS. On her UCLA student file, it says residency pending. Several times she has had to argue with the Financial Aid office to not charge her out-of-state fees.

When the California Dream Act passed, Liliana was hopeful that she would be able to receive financial aid previously unavailable to undocumented students. However, these scholarships, including one from UCLA Academic Advancement Program (AAP), are only available for students with AB 540 status.

When I interviewed AAP assistant director Chante Henderson, she stated that AAP will award scholarships to an estimated 70 students, each with a value of $2,500. However, since Liliana’s UCLA status says residency pending, she does not meet the qualifications of the scholarship.

Liliana will still apply for the scholarship, but there is no guarantee she will be given one.

“The Financial Aid Office said they had to be AB 540. It had to be a quick turnaround to give the scholarships but in the future, when there is more time to organize, it will hopefully change in the future for other statuses,” Henderson said.

The director of the UCLA Financial Aid Office Ronald Johnson echoed the same sentiments when asked about students with TPS and financial aid.

“The financial aid office is only designating scholarships for AB-540 students. If she has AB-540 on an application, she should be able to apply. We are trying to help students who are undocumented. Since I am not an immigration specialist, I am not sure how financial aid will work. There is a really fine line and she may be eligible,” Johnson said.

Henderson and Johnson hope that the financial aid process will become open to more statuses in the future. Despite the passing of the California Dream Act, both individuals were not previously aware of TPS and how it affects obtaining financial aid.

Recently, the Registrar’s Office has asked Liliana to re-clarify her residency status for winter quarter. Under TPS regulation, she can claim AB 540 status. An action that Liliana is considering in order to avoid the confusion of her residency as well as make it easier to apply for scholarships.

“I have to show my work authorization card to co-workers so they can see I have a legitimate status and every time I apply for a scholarship or other jobs the question about my legal status pops up and every time I become self-conscious of how different I am.”

When I asked associate registrar Cathy Lindstrom via email about statistics regarding UCLA students with TPS, she responded that UCLA does not keep records of students with this status. Their residence deputies have not dealt with students of this status for the last year.

When I interviewed Liliana, she expressed a common sentiment many Latinos feel,

“No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla,” as composer Facundo Cabral once said.

“I feel I am being labeled as an outsider. Not just because I was born in another country and have a different cultural experience from everyone else, but I am physically being labeled and targeted as different,” said Liliana.

Her citizenship may belong to El Salvador, but in her own opinion she has no connection other than her mother to her native country. She has lived in the US her whole life, but she cannot claim American citizenship.

If for some reason their TPS is not renewed they will become undocumented and easily deported because ICE has records of them.

“I’ve heard of many cases where individuals with TPS who are one day late with their renewal application are immediately deported because the government has all their information,” said Professor Abrego.

For Liliana, it leaves her struggling to figure out how to pay for school without any aid, having to commute and work long hours, as well as having to justify herself to people who do not understand.

“My situation is so obscure I feel a bit marginalized because people label things. Either you are here legally or you are not. They don’t see the gray area that immigration system has created. They don’t understand that they can’t send you back because you feel political persecution but at the same time they don’t want you, so they put you in a marginalized place where you don’t have a lot of political representation.”

Obama to visit El Salvador

photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov

President Barack Obama will visit El Salvador on March 22 and 23 to discuss immigration and the spread of Mexico’s drug violence  with President Mauricio Funes.

While El Salvador is Central America’s smallest country, U.S. policy makers need to consider the rise of violence and drug trafficking to El Salvador’s neighbors Honduras and Guatemala. With one of the highest murder rates in Central America, El Salvador has pleaded with the U.S. for aid.

El Salvador’s economy currently relies on remittances sent from the millions of Salvadoreans working in the United States. According to a Washington Post article, El Salvador’s foreign minister Hugo Martinez stated that investing in the local communities of migrants would offer alternatives to out-migration.

Festival Latino 2010

On April 3 the Latin American Student Association (LASA) held its twelfth annual Festival Latino, which took place on campus at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza. The strong winds did not stop LASA nor student volunteers from putting the festival together early that morning, and it certainly did not stop spectators from attending.

This year’s Festival Latino had positive changes, according to several members of the LASA committee. “Our goal was to establish unity among Latino organizations at UCLA,” said Elba Solis, director of Festival Latino.

Solis explained that in the past, Latino organizations have never truly been united nor have they truly supported one another. LASA board members collectively decided to use the festival as a method of establishing unity with other Latino student organizations by inviting them to participate. Unity within the student Latino community is important to the LASA committee because it provides a safe space for Latino students to become conscious of issues that pertain Latina/o communities. This is why it took committee members all of last summer, fall, and winter to plan and organize the event.

The committee attended meetings with Latino organizations to invite them to assist with the festival while establishing a union with them. The participating organizations included Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success, Latinas Guiding Latinas, MEChA Calmecac, Hermanas Unidas, and La Familia. Most of these organizations collaborated with the LASA committee by promoting the event or by volunteering that day. Additionally, the LASA committee formed alliances with the Latino Greek council, which consists of Lambda Theta Nu, Phi Lambda Rho, Lambda Theta Alpha, Gamma Zeta Alpha, and Nu Alpha Kappa (NAK) who supported the festival with funding and volunteers.

“It was a really good experience and I would definitely participate again,” explained Alfredo Calderón, a NAK member. Calderón participated during the event by assisting children to color in the outlines of works by Diego Rivera at a children’s station. The point of this station, he explains, was for children to learn about Art and Diego Rivera while having fun.

The day of the festival the students volunteering guided performers, assisted decorating the plaza with Latin American flags and a fake wall known as the “walk through,” which displayed adornments representing countries in Latin America. The festival included performances by Mariachi UCLAtlán, Pilar Díaz, and Banda Flor de Piña among others. Most spectators mingled while dancing to the beats and rhythms of the music. The delicious food was the most popular attraction with food stations representing countries like El Salvador, Columbia, Cuba, Peru, Mexico, and the U.S.

Festival Latino provided an opportunity for Latino student organizations to unite in solidarity. It was not just a regular day on campus; it was a day to celebrate the Latino culture and most importantly a day for these students to work together.

El Salvador: Healing wounds, new and old

Earlier this month, El Salvador suffered heavy rains and landslides resulting from Hurricane Ida. According to the National Police, the death toll is almost 200, many more are without homes. Most of the damage occurred in the eastern San Vicente region where many crops were destroyed. President Mauricio Funes declared a national emergency and seeks to deliver aid as fast as possible. According to Funes, lack of risk prevention and disregard for the deteriorating environment are partly to blame for the crisis.

In other news, Nov. 16 marked the 20th anniversary of the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter while they slept, a brutal attack by members of the army during the height of the country’s civil war. President Funes presented the victims’ families with the country’s highest honor attempting to atone for past governments who historically downplayed or denied its suspected connections to the killings.

For more information on El Salvador’s current weather crisis, see the link below:

http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/World/Story/A1Story20091116-180190.html

For more information on the anniversary of those murdered on Nov. 16, 1989 see the link below:

http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=347484&CategoryId=23558

Reconnecting Broken Links

Entering a concentration camp at 13, Benjamin Waserman, a Holocaust survivor, moved to the United States in hopes of starting a new life, yet a big chunk of his past was missing. His daughter, Kastle, with the intent of learning more about her ancestry decided to do something about it.

She proceeded to contact the Red Cross of Los Angeles and submitted a Family Tracing Services request. Family Tracing Services is provided by the Red Cross free of charge to anybody in the U.S. looking for a close relative in another country. In order to qualify, separation or loss of contact needs to have occurred because of armed conflict or a natural disaster.

Kastle’s efforts proved fruitful as her father was reconnected with his long-lost cousin who relocated in Paris, restoring a link within the family history.*

Now imagine similar success stories from the countries devastated by blood-thirsty civil wars such as the guerrilla filled mountainous regions of El Salvador or the grim jungles of Guatemala.

*The Wasermans’ full story and more information can be found at www.redcrossla.org