Dreamers and Changemakers Put Art and Music at the Forefront of the Xicanx Civil Rights Movement


Sometimes there are a lot of ideas packed into a name.

An example of this is the UBC Museum of Anthropology’s newest show, Xicanx: Dreamers + Changemakers / Soñadores + creadores del cambio.

For the uninitiated, Xicanx is a gender-neutral, intersectional, and anti-colonial term for people of Latino descent in the United States. It emerged in the 2010s as a more inclusive descriptor than Chicano or Chicana, which refer to men and women of Mexican ancestry in the United States who proudly embrace their heritage.

The co-curator of the exhibition, Greta de León, tells Straight on Zoom from Lisbon, Portugal that the Chicano movement was deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s. It rejected cultural assimilation into mainstream white culture, often relying on art to promote ideas to the community.

“When you think of the civil rights movement in American history, you think of African Americans and the black movement, which I think is incredibly relevant and important,” says de Léon. “But there were also other movements that created this democracy – tapestry – of a country. So I think it’s important to recognize those stories.

The exhibit’s co-curator, Jill Baird, is MOA’s Curator of Education. The exhibition includes works by 33 Xicanx artists offering a range of perspectives from traditional to revolutionary.

When the Straight asks de Léon if there is a Xicanx version of the painter Frida Kahlo, she stops for a moment before answering “Judy Baca”.

A Los Angeles-based muralist, painter, monument builder, and scholar, Baca has centered her practice on giving voice to the marginalized.

One of his works in the exhibition, Tres Mariasshows it disguised as a pachuca or chola (a young woman belonging to the urban Mexican-American subculture), shooting a Marlboro.

Tres Marias
Judith F. Baca. Artist collection

“This is part of a series of photographs of her embodying this character – this very, very strong woman,” de Léon says. “It’s a very nice piece.”

Another artist featured in the exhibition is Alfred J. Quiroz, whose Destiny Muneefist portrays American expansionism through the eyes of the colonizers. It shows a map of the United States adorned with messages and images reflecting the widely held belief in 19th century America that the country encompassed much of the continent.

It began with the Louisiana Purchase, doubling American territory in 1803. Then Spanish Florida came under American control in 1819. Texas was annexed in 1845, and three years later all or part of the California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming joined the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This followed a war with Mexico.

But the art in this exhibit doesn’t just focus on the past. It also features Roberto Jose Gonzalez no hate no fearwhich represents a series of skeletons.

“He did this after the huge [2019] massacre at Walmart in El Paso,” de Léon said. “And the killer just said, ‘I’m interested in killing all these Mexicans.’ ”

According to de Léon, the community adopted many art forms in the 1960s and 1970s. These included printmaking using woodblocks or linoleum in a “very Mexican style”.

Revolutionary posada paintings were also popular, she adds, because they could be distributed as flyers. Then there was street art, including large murals, as well as music and theater, all of which were deployed to highlight inequalities and promote change.

In this regard, these activists relied on some of the same techniques used to galvanize support for the Mexican Revolution much earlier in the 20th century.

“Visual arts and music were really key to getting the word out,” says de Léon.

She points out that at that time, some Xicanx only spoke Spanish, while others spoke English. The art crossed language barriers, mobilizing the community, whether for farmworker rights or voter registration.

“I think art has been very, very underrated in politics in general in the United States,” says de Léon.

no hate no fear
Roberto Jose Gonzalez. Collection of the artist.

De Léon notes that John F. Kennedy was the first U.S. presidential candidate to conduct a serious outreach campaign, with his team campaigning in the community in Spanish. His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, took him to a new level when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. His campaign relied on art as part of his goal of winning Americans over. Mexican origin. RFK ultimately won the California Democratic Party primary before being shot later that night.

The other part of MOA’s title, “Dreamers + Changemakers,” pays tribute to the role of artists in advancing community interests. The Dreamers are those who arrived in the United States as children and received deportation deportations from former US President Barack Obama under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. ). In 2014, Obama expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to cover undocumented immigrants in 2014.

However, his successor, Donald Trump, reversed that. This meant that hundreds of thousands of young adults would become eligible for deportation. Many of them campaigned for the Democratic Party in the 2020 election, again using art as part of their outreach. More recently, President Joe Biden directed federal agencies to “preserve and fortify” DACA.

De Léon is also executive director of the Americas Research Network, an alliance of universities and museums founded by the Smithsonian Institution to promote greater collaboration in the humanities. Xicanx: Dreamers + Changemakers / Soñadores + creadores del cambio was developed with this in mind.

“The idea is to create projects and initiatives to spread knowledge and get to know each other,” says de Léon.


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