Grateful Sunday

Gratitude. I’m so glad to have these weekly moments to reflect. This week I am grateful for:

  • My sister, who has been taking care of me since the day I was born and still does.
  • Honesty.  People willing to share themselves wholly and fully, and all the beauty and pain that comes with it.
  • Old friends in new places.
  • The majesty of mountains – having just arrived yesterday in the beautiful city of Portland to be welcomed by the majestic view of Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens watching over the city.
  • Fabric, and all its possibilities.

This is just a short list that could include so many other things.  Please use the comments section to share what you are grateful for this week!

New directions

I am over halfway through with my trip, and I am beginning to experience a bit of travel/research burnout.  It’s not that I’m tired of learning about new organizations and new methods of using the arts with communities; it’s more that I’ve been spending so much time listening/observing/learning over the last two months that I haven’t left much time for CREATING.

A recent attempt to feed the creativity monster

Indeed, isn’t the creative process the reason why I turned to this work in the first place? After spending four years outside of the art world I felt a strong need to re-engage, to create, to get my hands messy, and – apart from the first month in which I was heavily involved with EPIC International’s work – I haven’t done much of that on this trip.  The tricky thing about this hop-in, hop-out form of learning is that you ultimately remain much more of an outsider than an insider, observing at a distance.  It’s been wonderful to discover all these amazing organizations, but it’s time to devote a little more time to creating.

Thus, I’ve come up with a little project for myself. Being constantly on the road means that I don’t currently have a consistent community to work with – but I do have myself!  As I learned from Little Women, the first rule of thumb for creating is to work from what you know.  Since I can’t work with others to help them create from their own experiences (and since I think I should probably use myself as a prototype) I am going to work on developing my own story. 

I’m still figuring out exactly what this will look like, but I think that I will start with an idea I learned from the Neighborhood Story Project in New Orleans: journal, regularly and frequently, until you begin to have a picture of who the key players and what the key events have been in your life.  For me, however, because I am drawn to visuals and enjoy creating with my hands, I think a lot of this will take the form of collaging, visual mapping, etc, in addition to writing.  Ultimately, I hope to come up with a combined visual and performance piece as a finished project: a story.

This is likely to take me quite a bit longer than the length of this trip, and I have no idea at this point how it will end up, but I’m excited to begin!

Spotlight: Moviemiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana – San Jose, CA

It was just a handful of youth, but the words coming out of their mouths were powerful, funny, heart-breaking, inspiring. Gathered under the shade of a few trees in a small park bordered by city streets, these youth fought the noise of a nearby construction site to make their voices heard. They represent the multicultural population of San Jose, California, and they are part of MACLA – Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, an “inclusive contemporary arts space grounded in the Chicano/Latino experience that incubates new visual, literary and performance art in order to engage people in civic dialogue and community transformation.”

This past Saturday I attended Mi Palabra, a monthly youth-run open mic series that just recently got started at MACLA.  Though the group was small, it was very welcoming, and there was a variety of talent to be seen.  Most people shared spoken word pieces, and two youth collaborated on a song.  They even invited me to perform, though I hadn’t come prepared (that’s where cell phones and websites come in handy…).


After the event, as I sat in the office chatting with Rhiannon Beltran, Programs and Curatorial Assistant, one of the youth came in, and they started discussing the low attendance at the event.  She was concerned that no one was coming because it was the timing was bad, but Rhiannon was insistent that they just needed to strategize and do better outreach so people would know it was happening.  She told the girl (paraphrased), “Let’s work on this together. You and I and the Program Coordinator need to sit down and rethink our recruitment strategy. I’m going to make sure you have access to all the resources we have and that you have everything you need to make this a success.”  It amazed me how with just a few words she made the girl an equal partner in the process, gave her a large amount of responsibility, and also an offer of complete support.

MACLA is an organization that, like a few of the others I’ve visited, serves a variety of functions, and operates in many senses like an arts-focused community center.  In addition to their youth programs they have an art gallery, they have a black box theater that serves both as a presenting space for touring performers and community events as well as a performance venue for their own productions, and they run a variety of programs that do community development through the arts.

They have an interesting history, in that they were created in the late 80’s as “the result of a broad community mobilization in the City of San Jose and nationwide on behalf of multicultural arts” (MACLA’s website).  Around that time someone realized that, though a fair amount of money was being set aside for the arts in San Jose, the bulk of that money was going to for-profit, high end arts venues that 1. primarily served an elite population and 2. didn’t really need the money, as they had a strong foundation of private donors.  As a result, MACLA was created out of some of that excess money, to fill the need for a strong local arts organization focusing on the multicultural community.

So if you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, be sure to check them out!

Grateful Sunday: Father’s Day edition

When pondering my “grateful list” today, there was one thing (or, I should say, person) who popped to the top of the list.  Who, might you ask? Why, my DAD of course! It’s Father’s Day, silly! (well, barely, but it still counts).

In performing the annual reflective exercise of why I am grateful for my dad, my newfound context of story-telling came almost immediately to mind.  While it was my mother who instilled in me a profound respect for the written word, my father was the one who gave me some of my most vivid memories of the oral tradition.  As children, my siblings and I would beg our dad to re-tell some of our favorite stories from his childhood.  My dad’s stories  always included plenty of gruesome-yet-hilarious mishaps such as the time his snowball downed a giant icicle only to have it smash him in the face – he got six stitches, if i remember correctly.

To us kids, my father’s childhood was a land of hilarity and adventure, and we longed to have lives as interesting as his so that we too could regale our children with stories someday.  We never thought we could possibly have such fascinating stories to tell. I’m happy to say, however, that as a grown adult, I am quite busy living a life full of fodder for interesting stories.

So Dad, thanks for giving me a foundation to build my stories off of.  Thanks for encouraging me to dream and imagine, for always believing in me, and for teaching me how to laugh at myself when all else fails.  I love you Dad.

Happy Father’s Day!

Yes, that would be my dad gleefully learning how to butcher a pig...

Some overdue highlights from LA

Despite the fact that I have been in the Bay area for a week now, I just loaded my most recent photos onto the computer and realized how much I never wrote about LA!  So here are some highlights from my time there, for your viewing pleasure.

Also, please take a look at the (recently updated) Directory of Organizations page to learn more about all the wonderful organizations I’ve been coming across, as well as my new Photos page, where you can see the complete collection of photos from each city I’ve visited so far.  Enjoy!

Casa 0101 - a theatre company based in Boyle Heights, started by Josefina Lopez (of Real Women Have Curves)

The wonderful Boyle Heights farmer's market, complete with a young, hip group performing traditional Mexican music. That neighborhood is really undergoing a cultural revival!

ArtShare Los Angeles - another great youth-focused arts org. They offer classes in theatre, dance, and visual arts, focused on developing youth as professional artists.

Free movie by the Echo Park Film Cooperative's Film-Mobile! We saw a great movie (Hito Hata?) Filmed partially on that very spot 30 years ago.

Rizza, my new friend from couchsurfing, and I at the free movie in Little Tokyo (and enjoying our free Pocky snacks!)

Protection, or barrier?

This past Saturday, I visited a youth program run by Teatro ChUSMA in Los Angeles.  It was a group of young teenagers who are all connected to arthritis or cancer in some way – whether they are fighting the disease themselves or a relative of theirs is.  They have spent the past 10 Saturdays together, playing theatre games and practicing creativity, learning how to make their voices heard and how to make the best use of their bodies for expression.

And yet, there were still so many of them who could not perform in an improv game without giggling – if they got up the courage to join in, in the first place.  It reminded me of how self-conscious we all are at that stage of life, how fragile our egos, and how concerned we are with every step we take, for fear that someone will see us trip. We, in our efforts to appear “cool,” walk through life with our fists up, prepared to battle off any potential offenders, or at the very least to provide a shield to protect ourselves.

In doing so, how many opportunities for discovery and wonder do we prevent ourselves from seeing?  Spoken word poet Sarah Kay addresses this topic beautifully (among many others) in this TED talk I came across yesterday, which I highly recommend that you watch.  It is so important that we help our young people take their guards down, at least a little, both so they can see the beautiful things in this world but also so that they can develop healthy modes of expression. Many of us eventually grow out of this guarded, fists-up way of navigating the world, but I have met too many – particularly young, urban men – who never learn other ways of seeing things and remain unable to express themselves truly.