On September 17, 2014 the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), in collaboration with Radio Bilingüe and Building Healthy Communities Boyle Heights (BH-BH), produced a day of dialogue and participatory arts engagement around displacement. Dubbed ActivARTE, this is the first of three events focused on arts engagement around BH-BH campaigns.
Inspired by the presence of the Latin@ MacArthur Fellows (Macarturos), youth and adult leaders from the Boyle Heights Building Healthy Communities collaborative engaged in an afternoon of interaction focused on the pressing issue of displacement. The day began with a forum produced by Radio Bilingüe, the national public radio network, on "The Latin@ Education Crisis" held at CASA 0101. This forum was broadcast live locally on KPFK 90.7FM and syndicated nationally.
Shortly thereafter an intimate dialogue was held at the Boyle Hotel Community Room, where youth and adult leaders were able to give testimonials and engage the Macarturos in thinking about displacement, with a particular focus on its effects on youth in Boyle Heights. Approximately 40 community members participated, including leaders from Inner City Struggle, Legacy L.A., Immigrant Youth Coalition, Latino Equality Alliance, East L.A. Community Corporation, Comité de la Esperanza, L.U.R.N, Youth Build and CASA 0101. Many examples of displacement were shared via testimonials. The dialogue ended with poem by community artist Karen Anzoategui that synthesized it all:
All our lights cannot be extinguished by fright
All our roots cannot be uprooted
Our souls will not be polluted
Our paths will cross and we will make a beautiful dance
On that stolen land
Making offering for the next generation
To stop the incarcerations, displacement,
LGBTQ hatred, criminalizations, profitizations of the human race
One love, one community
Doesn't go out of style
But is a lifestyle
Until corporations stop having my rights
And stripping our life to become machines
Lets play a different tune
Tuned in to our humanity.
Anzoategui's poem was a perfect transition to an evening that featured five workshops held on Mariachi Plaza where the dialogue on displacement continued through the lens of participatory arts processes. The workshops included Silkscreening, Library of Memories, Testimoniar!, Altar Making, and Photo Booth.
The Altar making workshops led by Ofelia, Rosanna and Elena Esparza invited participants in building an outdoor altar, which addressed the concept of place and belonging in their community. The silkscreen workshop, facilitated by Omar Ramirez, gave an opportunity for youth and youth advocates to reflect on the realities of redevelopment and how it affects communities of color and low income households through a visual narrative. The library of memories workshop, designed by Espacio 1839 collective member Elisa Garcia, engaged residents in the collective reading of The House on Mango Street by "Macarturo," Sandra Cisneros followed by a discussion on how the book relates to their vision for Boyle Heights.
"Macarturos" Ruth Behar and Pepon Osorio facilitated "Testimoniar!" by challenging participants to think concretely about the big issues of displacement and belonging by reflecting on a sense of identity and home, which resulted in the creation of lawn signs. Las Fotos Project provided a Photo Booth Workshop where participants were prompted with a series of possible questions about their community such as "Describe the community of Boyle Heights in one word" or "What are three things you like most about your culture?" The answers were written on a dry erase board and photographed along with the person.
Also onsite was a community chalkboard provided by Self-Help Graphics, where residents could write or draw ideas and concerns about the future of Boyle Heights.
The evening closed with a ceremony around the collective altar that emerged on two large sign points on 1st Street. In closing, Amalia Mesa Bains commented, "What this altar is about is marking the place that is yours to remind other people, however it may be perceived by those on the outside, that it's a place of spirit, heart and home."
This marks the third year of ACTA's "Activating Cultural Assets Program" in Boyle Heights with the BH-BHC. ACTA's work in Boyle Heights is guided by a task force of community residents and organizers, including Isela Gracian (East L.A. Community Corporation), Abel Salas (Brooklyn and Boyle), David Valdez (Weingart YMCA), Eddie Padilla (Casa0101) and Fabiola Sandoval (Maternal and Child Health Access).
Watch a video of the event below: