Art as Resistance

“In a sick society, wellness is rebellion. Art is medicine.” – Climbing Poetree

“Any attempt, therefore, to require or suggest the certain aesthetic parameters, both in terms of subject matter and style, dishonors, I believe, the legacy of Latino and Chicano poerty’s first adherents – both living and dead. A legacy, to be sure, that involved creating art informed our community’s stories and our social and political struggles, struggles that continue today, but which are also joined by a celebration, as well as an exploration of language.” (Aragon 10).

I usually don’t think too much about art, its power or purpose. Honestly, until fairly recently I believed that art was only that which was found in a museum. Art has the ability to fuel revolutions, to challenges norms, and to uplift the people.

This blog post goes out to the artists, the dreamers, the visionaries and lovers. To those who remember that creativity is the opposite of destruction.

“ Artists are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” – Cornel West

At the Social Justice Real Justice conference at the University of Oregon in mid-February, the spoken word duo Climbing Poetree conducted a workshop on art as a means of resistance. From them I heard of the Zapantera Negra (ZPN) project. This project is a collaboration between Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, and Zapatista artists. Douglas’ graphic art was featured in the newspaper The Black Panther to illustrate the harsh realities that made the revolution necessary and to “construct a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized.” His drawings depict the struggles of the poor and working class, while also maintaining the dignity and active agency of the people. The Zaptista movement, which began as an indigenous movement in Chiapas, Mexico, has been named the first post-modern revolution and is known for using an array of media outlets and information formats to increase awareness of the movement and build solidarity.

The ZPN combines the graphic imagery style of Emory Douglas and the vision of Zapatista embroiderists and painters. The project links two movements across time and space in an effort to highlight the role of art in social movements. Revolutionary art provides not only an opportunity for self-representation, but also allows for the imagining of other worlds. The art of Douglas captured the plight of poor blacks, fueling the fire of the 139,000 subscribers to The Black Panther in 1960s and 1970s. His work was a reminder of the need for revolution. However, arguably more important is the fact that Douglas’ depiction of blacks stood apart from the servant/sidekick image present in popular media. Essentially it allowed for the Black Panthers to disidentify with the representation of blacks as simply poor, disenfranchised subjects.  The collective efforts of Douglas and the Zapatistas allow for the envisioning of a movement that is not bound by the constraints of time and space, and racial category.


“…the canvas [of Latin@ art] is now larger, its border expanded to include subject matter that is not overtly political.” (Aragon 1)

“What are the possibilities of politicizing disidentification, this experience of misrecognition, this uneasy sense of standing under a sign to which one does and does not belong? It may be the affirmation of that slippage, that that the failure of identification, is itself the point of departure for a more democratizing affirmation of internal difference.” – Judith Butler

Interviewer: “Why is this Chicana poetry?”

Lorna Dee Cervantes: “It’s Chicana poetry because a Chicana wrote it.”

Throughout the course of this class we have been attempting to deconstruct the notion of latinidad. What is included in this category? As we discussed in the beginning of the class, latinidad is, in essence, Latin@ness and this is not simply language or nationality. In an attempt to put this “ness” in a box, we frequently attempt to attribute some sort of unifying characteristics to latinidad. For Latin@ artists (as well as other artists of colors) this means that their art must explicitly address race. Latin@ artists that do not adhere to this criteria are critiqued for in some way betraying latinidad (an interesting parallel to Malitzin who is despised for speaking for herself and not her people). Not only does this limit Latin@ artists, but it also limits the audience. Viewing or reading a piece allows the audience to reflect on their own responses and interpretations. A wonderful reminder came to light during Wednesday’s class when we discussed Fefu and her Friends. Maria Irene Fornes does not include the race of any of the characters in her play. In doing so, she forces the audience to make their own assumptions. Not only did this remind me that white is still the norm in my mind if race is not specified, but it also sparked again this desire to define latinidad by the presence of the identifiable trope of explicitly non-white characters. By not identifying with the notion of Latin@ness proliferated by popular media, this work illuminates the variation of what constitutes latinidad and forces the audience to sit with our discomfort in the ambiguity.

And wonder.


Because Someone’s Gotta Talk About Willamette Confessions

This past week Willamette University has been taken by storm by a Facebook page known as Willamette University Confession. The page offers a space for Willamette students to post their deepest, darkest, “please take me to the grave” secrets in a public forum with complete anonymity. As one could imagine, what has ensued is a steaming vat of sometimes humorous, but often deeply disturbing word vomit from the WU populace. There are so many aspects of the Confessions page that could be analyzed, but for the purposes of this post I will look at one actor, a Facebook page known as Willamette Justice for all People, and what is revealed about the construction of online identity, a concept taken from Queer Latinidad, and the complexities of language and translating, a recurring theme in class.

A bit of background information: On February 19th around 12pm a post on the Willamette Confessions page read,

“#54 I’m going to dress semi-offensively to the Jungle Dance just to piss off the over-sensitive ‘Justice Squad’ members.”

“Justice Squad” is a term that was coined approximately two weeks ago to refer to students at Willamette who have visibly committed themselves to social justice through association with the American Ethnic Studies department, the Injustice Anywhere column of the Collegian, or any of a number of student organizations, activities, and friend circles that engage in conversations about equity and such. The term is meant to be derogatory (although I must say “Justice Squad” sounds pretty awesome).

Approximately 2 hours after this post was made, a Facebook page was created called Willamette League of Justice for All People, which I will refer to as WLJ. WLJ commented on the post saying,

“WHOA WHOA WHOA Guys. And equal women. Lets keep all the costumes for this “Humid Boscage Party” Unoffensive and Non Opressive. AND no fur or faux fur.”

WLJ has since commented on nearly every post on the Confessions page with messages of a similar thread. It has sparked a great deal of confusion and controversy among those who would consider themselves “Justice Squad” members, those antagonistic to social justice, and everyone in between. Is this person trolling or is this serious?

As Rodriguez mentions in her chapter on the discursive arena of cyberspace in Queer Latinidad, the absence of a physical body in online forums makes it all the more present in our minds. The Confessions page sparks an obsession with the physical body. There is a desire to know the speaker, to identify the words with an individual. The nature of the page insists that we envision or speculate on the physical identity of the speaker. The identity of the WLJ is difficult to envision, making it both frustrating and intriguing. There is a desire, perhaps even a necessity, to align this person either with the “Justice Squad” or the “Antagonizers”, friend or foe so to speak.

Nominally, the Willamette League of Justice for All has associated itself with justice, and some of its posts have addressed the problematic nature of the confession. The page has chosen to present itself as an ally to the “Justice Squad.” However, the overzealous and often misguided nature of the responses, as well as the interesting choice of Che Guevara as the profile picture (which could spark a whole other discussion), has led to speculation that this page is rooted in sarcasm. The one sentence in the WLJ About page can be read numerous ways. It says that the page is dedicated to “Letting people know when they are being insensitive to oppressed people everywhere.” This could be a legitimate attempt to highlight the truly horrendous and derogatory posts made by Willamette students on the Confessions page, or it could be poking fun at all of the “overly sensitive” people who care about oppression, privilege, and equity. Since there is no physical being, no name, and no history in the physical world attached to the author of the WLJ, it is extremely difficult to determine the positionality and intent of the speaker and place him/her/ze within the Justice Squad/Justice Antagonizers paradigm.

Because I am obsessed with the article “Tradductora, Traditora” by Norma Alarcon, I am going to throw in some musings on authenticity and language. Alarcon notes that the process of translating wrecks havoc on notions of authenticity. Perhaps I am stretching here, but at times I think of writing as a process of translating. Writing is an attempt to take thoughts or spoken ideas and force them to conform to a rigid written format. As Rodriguez notes, in the process things will get lost. Tone will not be conveyed, phrases will be misinterpreted; the text is susceptible to the intentions of the intentions of others. The WLJ has been deemed inauthentic by both the Justice Squad and the Antogonizers. Perhaps the WLJ intends to troll, but has been shunned by the Antagonizers for not clearly exuding a sarcastic tone. Perhaps it is seriously committed to justice, but has been deemed inauthentic for misconstruing the intentions of the “Justice Squad”. Maybe it’s just some kid who wanted in on the chaos of the Willamette Confessions page. The world may never know.

I really, really encourage you all to comment on this post. I have barely scrapped the surface of this phenomenon. There is so much going on at Willamette involving the public revealing of private matters, trolling, and the shield of anonymity (Think of the “Hey You” as well.) Look forward to reading comments!