Writings on the Wall: Piecing together graffiti art and culture

From park benches to art galleries, graffiti has moved into the mainstream, but along the way has cultivated risk, fame and controversy.

Much of the controversy about graffiti and graffiti art stems from a lack of understanding about it as culture. Luis Hernandez, a former graffiti artist, explains that, “Graffiti is an art form; that is all it is.”

The allure of getting recognized for their artwork pulls a lot of graffiti artists into the scene. Graffiti artist, Disk One explained that many artists do this to get their name out.“Artists aren’t there to threaten the government; they are out there to promote their art,” said Disk One.

Graffiti’s transition into mainstream culture has also increased its bankability.“The dream and motivation of one day becoming a rich artist or designer inspires many to tag,” said Hernandez.

Banksy uses a Westwood wall as his canvas Photo: Maria Esmeralda Renteria

Although there are many artists out there trying to make a name for themselves, there are few prominent artists who have obtained international success. British street artist, Banksy, creates art pieces in locations all over the world.

Currently, Banksy’s signed aerosol stencil of Abraham Lincoln on cardboard is being auctioned for $20,000-30,000 at Sotheby’s auction house. That is just a modest example of what his pieces go for; several of his art pieces have been sold for millions.

Graffiti art isn’t just art; there are standards and a culture that develop around it. Disk One explained that what differentiates true graffiti art from tagging is the purpose that it serves. The meaning becomes compromised when art mixes with different motives.

For some, it becomes a form of rebellion. Hernandez explained that the pull factor is being a part of a culture that deviates from mainstream society. “[Tagging] is everywhere just like rock used to be all over, kids wanted to be rock stars. Now graffiti is all over, now kids want to start tagging,” said Hernandez. He adds that when kids start tagging, they know the criminal risks involved, but this contributes to the excitement.

Graffiti’s relationship with crime and violence differentiates it from other art movements. The dangers not only come from people outside the culture, but also other artists. Graffiti artists are often part of a culture that can turn on them. Hernandez recalled that a few years ago, a member from a tagging crew he was a part of shot at him because Hernandez created a piece, which covered a portion of his artwork. The relationship between this subculture and violence still doesn’t prevent people from attempting to create what they feel is art.

The risks they take appear reckless to observers, yet the idea of rewards and recognition keeps graffiti artist active. “When you strip [graffiti] down it’s all art, it’s beautiful,” said Hernandez.

Census Shows Latinos Fuel Population Growth Sparks Discussion of Latino-Majority Districts

Within the last ten years, the Latino community has fueled almost all the population growth in the United States.

Beginning this week, the 2010 census results are being released on a state-by-state basis.

New Jersey, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia were the first to receive the census redistricting data which will be used in the process of redrawing political districts based on population and racial makeup, states Fox News Latino.

Mark Braden, former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee, states, “There are going to be a lot of additional Hispanic officials elected when redistricting is done.”

Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are four of the eight states gaining House seats and owe half or more of their population gain over the last decade to Hispanics.

Minorities accounted for roughly 70 percent of U.S. growth, and Hispanics made up about 40 percent.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), says his group was expecting to see “a minimum of nine additional Latino-majority House seats,” if states comply with federal law.

This is because the 1965 Voting Rights Act levels out the chances for minority voters with those of majority voters to get their candidates into office.

The population changes will result in a shift of House seats taking effect in 2013.

Question 9

I was home for the weekend, eating dinner in the kitchen and talking to my mom about my week at school. It was last month, when the government made every effort to urge people to fill out the 2010 Census. So after seeing one of those TV census commercials, my mom told me she filled out every question of the famous survey. I felt very proud of her since I thought she would have difficulty understanding the questions—not that she can’t read or anything, but you know how complicated things can get with politics and the government. While thinking what a good job my mom had done, she then said, “but I still need to answer one more question.”  With a question mark in her face, my mom asked, “¿mija, que somos?”

I found it interesting, or better yet, annoying and irritating, to see that race and Hispanic origin are separated into different categories.  Not only do we have to decide if we are of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, but we are asked again to classify our race.

Allow me to problematize these questions. First of all, Latino, although it sounds nice and even exotic, is a term used exclusively for people who come from Spanish speaking countries south of the border. But doesn’t Europe have Latinos too? After all, Italians, French, Romanians, etc. are also of Latin origin.  Secondly, one can come from a Spanish speaking country but not be of Hispanic/Latin heritage. Most countries have Indigenous communities that are secluded or excluded from the greater city life and have to learn Spanish as a second language.

The census also left me in awe whe I saw Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, listed as races next to white and black. So I ask: do they want to know our country of origin or our skin color?  Maybe the answer is both. Thus I find that the last option for question nine, “some other race”, is the most pertinent option. In my opinion, there should only be one racial/ethnic question next time, that way people can have the liberty to write in answers that they consider most appropriate to define themselves and are not limited to imposed options.

Time magazine reports that in the 2000 Census, more than 40% of Hispanics did not register as white or black but rather as “other.” Angelo Falcón, the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York City president and census community adviser told Time that “a lot of Hispanics find the black-white option offensive, and they’re asserting their own racial uniqueness.”  As for me, I consider myself, and most of my paisanos mestizos.

So after analyzing all these discrepancies and incongruities (which are not only applicable to Hispanics/Latinos), I laugh at myself for telling my mom we are white; I should have said what I really believe we are, mestizos.

March: To Bean or Not to Bean

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! According to the fine folks behind the U.S. Census as well as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Latinos are…white!

Caray! All those years of racial segregation, oppression, and resentment turn out to be just a big, 500-year-old misunderstanding! If we can all kindly deposit our now-void Race Cards into your designated drop-off site, gracias, the “racism-doesn’t-exist-now-get-out-my-neighborhood-Brownies!” conservatives would greatly appreciate it. Gangsters and vatos locos, to your nearest tattoo dude; they’ll laser your “Brown Pride” tat right off (maybe they’ll take care of your dragon that looks more like a dolphin, too).

Now, now, before I get too into the tarado-ness committed, maybe I should offer the reasoning behind why so many of us read “Hispanic origins are not races” on our census forms. According to the definitions set down by the U.S. Census Bureau, being Hispanic, Latino, Puerto Rican, etc. is an ethnic designation, while race is categorized by “non-scientific…social and cultural characteristics” and “ancestry” (huh?); thus, races are constructs such as black, white, “American Indian,” and (strangely enough) nationalities, too, like Vietnamese. In other words, one can be ethnically Latino but be racially black, white, American Indian, or some other race.

I suppose for many Hispanics calling themselves white will be a non-issue, a source of Eurocentric pride even. But I can’t help wondering where the majority of us Latinos – those that acknowledge both our Hispanic and indigenous roots – fit exactly. Are we still, after half a millennium of ancestry, to be regarded a mix of white and native? Are we some oil and vinegar concoction destined never to become a zesty blend worthy of our own dressing bottle? After all, the Ku Klux Klan never sent me an E-vite to one of their B.Y.O.S. (bring your own sheet!) hoedowns.

Then again, getting pissy over the narrow-mindedness of bureaucrats is like being shocked about finding traffic on the 405. But what made me really drop my taco in disbelief was seeing Mayor Villaraigosa on the local news, being interviewed about the confusion over the census’ racial question. His response? He says he personally checked “white,” because that’s what Latinos are, all while giving that slimy car salesman smirk of his. I mean, this guy got so much slack for being a member of MEChA in his original run for the mayor’s office. Slap on a headdress, make him give you that patented smile, and you have a dead ringer for Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indian’s mascot! You can practically see the cactus blooming from his forehead, for Quetzalcoatl’s sake! Qué vergüenza!

So congratulations, the U.S. Census and the most honorable Mayor Villaraigosa, March’s Tarados del Mes.