The word "exile" is shown in a google search as the state of being barred from one's country for political or punitive reasons. I was intrigued by this phrase:"...barred from one's country...". The argument can be made that one of the causes of the formation of the Chicano consciousness is the fact that Mexican/Americans and other Latin Americans as well have for a long time in the history of this country been marginalized people who have to deal with the realities of an undefined identity because of incarcerations, deportations, and even persecution at times. There are also the issues of racism and discrimination which are well documented in our history that constitute a very real sense of having for a long time been "barred from one's country" in terms of having access to full participation culturally, politically, and socially. The only difference with a traditional understanding of the term is that a person in exile is typically seen as one who is also barred physically from their country of origin.
As a member of the Coalition of New Chican@ Artists (CONCA) I went to Texas A & M University in College Station a couple of weeks ago with my fellow CONCArer, Dr. Christopher Carmona. We were invited to participate in a conference called New, Past, and Future Constructions of Latinos: Shifting Times, Shifting Identities, organized by the Department of Hispanic Studies. There we were awed by poetry from several parts of Latin America. One underlying theme of some of the poetry read was the idea of exile. Of particular note was a reference to the notion of external versus internal exile, as referenced by the artist and poet Martivon Galindo when speaking of Salvadoran exiles in the U.S. To my very limited understanding of the concept as of yet, internal exile is different to external exile because the former means being repressed, silenced, disrupted in your own land. The latter means the act of banishing someone physically from the country of their origin. As I heard the concept introduced to me I realized something, we are exiles in our own land.
For Chicanos the sense of being exiled in our own land is a real one. This is not just because of a majority actively working against our inclusion in a mainstream, but because of other "Latinos" as well, who fervently oppose anything relating to being a Chicano or Chicana. Some folks consider the term to be a pejorative and would be insulted if someone were to call them Chicana or Chicano. It seems that nowadays the problem is no longer simply a matter of obstacles toward inclusion and full participation in the mainstream. It seems that now it is somewhat of a petpeeve on the part of mainstreamers, whether white or Latino, toward the inclination by some of us to reject the government-given denomination of "Hispanic" and the loosely understood and vague, yet more accepted, "Latino" terms, and instead choose to call ourselves Chicanos, Chicanas, Chican@.
I was speaking to an older gentleman who said that his family can trace their claims to lands along the border back to a land grant issued directly from the Spanish throne. He said he has absolutely no Mexican ancestry, or connections to Mexico in the common modern sense of it, but only as a passage route for past generations of his family to come to Texas. Yet, he stated that he was also involved in the Chicano movement in the early days. His premise is that Chicanos are actively choosing to marginalize themselves by electing to promote themselves as such. That the struggles and challenges that Chicanos or any minority faced in the past have been overcome, the fight has been won. Therefore, to choose to call oneself Chicano is to engage in victimhood, being angry all the time, and lazy. I didn't argue with him about it because I believe that we are all working toward a common goal: achieving the American dream. What the American dream means to me is the very right to self-determination. If we wish to call ourselves Chicano that should not mean we are separatists (or engaging in victimhood, being angry, or lazy). Far from it. It means we would have achieved the power to define ourselves as we wish to be known without our fellow country men and women trying to suppress our voice because it carries the term "Chican@" in it. What is more American than that? The ability to manifest your own destiny. But as long as there are those who will oppose and reject that very right to self-determination, Chicanos, Chicanas, and all who have been marginalized at some point or in some fashion and now seek to find or define a sense of identity will always be living as exiles in our own land.
There are many effects and consequences that arise from the many factors that affect border communities along the Mexico/U.S. international boundaries. One of those factors is the narco wars taking place all along the border. And one of the effects of this one factor is the migration, not only of the highly publicized illegal entrants, but of the silent and largely ignored legal immigrants who are finding the U.S. side of the border a better place to live and raise families.
In the Rio Grande Valley, there are many people who have arrived looking for safety and peace. Many of these individuals coming from the frontera are entreprenuers, business owners, artists and writers. I have had the priviledge to meet some of these people. Just a few years ago, if you wanted to get some authentic "Reynosa" tacos you had to cross the border into Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Nowadays, you'd be playing with your safety if you casually cross for the simplicity and joy of tacos after partying at the clubs. It just isn't like it used to be. That is a shame. But, luckily, some of those taquerias have now crossed the river to establish themselves here on U.S. soil. And now those Mexican street delicacies are available to us without the peril of being caught in the crossfire of sicarios, soldiers, police, etc. Likewise, now there are more and more Mexican bakeries selling their delicious, unique pan dulce. What is more surprising is heading out to my parent's house, which is only a few miles away, and seeing a tortilleria along the way. Not just any tortilleria, but an authentic Mexican tortilleria with the very genuine flavor, aroma, texture, and process of production. I say this because this process involves the use of an industrial-grade tortilla conveyer machine that makes a very distinct screeching sound that conditions your mouth to water on site as you wait for those fluffy, steamy, corn tortillas to fall off the conveyer belt, stacked up and wrapped for you in newspaper-like wrapping paper. Just watching this process is a unique cultural experience in itself.
By far the most influential and impactful unintended effect of the economic, social, and political problems in Mexico are the wave of intellectual, artistic, and literary minds making their way into our communities. There are actors and theatre companies directed by individuals with degrees from universities in Mexico City, such as Lucia Macias. Her collaboration with the Pharr Community Theatre Company has brought to life plays like "Frontera Sin Fin," by Carlos Morton. This is a Spanish language play "...about undocumented immigration, the struggle with identity, love, and survival," as described on their Frontera Sin Fin Facebook page.
There are writers such as Raquel Lopez, who is also an event organizer. Her events usually go beyond the typical "poetry reading" format. In these events, there are musicians singing, painters exhibiting their art pieces, poets reciting often off the top of their head (declamando, in Spanish), short story writers, dance troupes, dramatic performances and philosophers. The event is so complex that it usually spans over two hours and is more of a cultural event than a simple reading. At first you think that anything that goes beyond an hour is a drag. But having been to these events myself, I was surprised to find out that two hours is a blink of an eye when you are witnessing entertainers give their all without timidity or reservations. These Mexicans take their art seriously. No kidding. Raquel's events usually go under the banner of Enero Rojo Lunar, a cryptic denomination that only she understands but is ready and eager to explain to interested individuals. I'll leave it up to the reader to investigate that by clicking the link to her Enero Rojo Lunar Club Literario Facebook page.
Within my immediate circle of influence is a rising star in the literary world across the Americas. Her name is Rossy Evelyn Lima. She is a member of the non-profit group, the Coalition of New Chican@ Artists (CONCA) of which I also am a member. She has one poetry book published by Otras Voces Publishing titled "Ecos de Barro" and another one in the works to be published soon by a different publisher. Rossy is a native of Veracruz, Mexico who has lived in the U.S. for the past decade. Her poetry is visually stimulating and emotionally powerful. Her use of language is smooth and seemingly effortless. It is no wonder that her work is widely acclaimed. Rossy describes herself as having felt out of place for a long time in the U.S. until she discovered Chicanism@. Through CONCA she is now able to feel like she not only belongs, but is a part of a movement geared for positive change for minorities of all backgrounds. For more about Rossy, visit her website by the same name.
These are only a sample of the influences that I see in my immediate surroundings. They are the people with whom I most have contact and collaborate with, as well. The influence of the Mexican wave of culture, art, and culinary tradition is only beginning to be felt. The full effect of its impact is still something that remains to be seen, but that promises to enrich border life beyond the current limits.
The Chicano (or Latino or Hispanic) Renaissance taking place in the Rio Grande Valley is no illusion. The concept is not of my authorship. I have heard several prominent, important people involved in the arts and literary circles refer to what is happening here as the "Chicano Renaissance". Don't let the word "Chicano" turn you off. As part of the Coalition of New Chicano Artists (CONCA) my colleagues and I attempt to broaden the parameters of this term to include any and all who come from a similar background of indigenous American ancestry and European influence.
What makes up the Chicano Renaissance is a very palpable surge of creativity and venues for artistic expression throughout the Rio Grande Valley. There are people like Edward Vidaurre, who organizes the Pasta, Poetry and Vino event, where he invites a featured poet/writer along with other poets to read and share their works. CONCA is a group that experiments and innovates with events like the Poetry Boxing Championship, the Sin Frontera Independent Book Fest, and Frontera Talks, among other projects. Raquel Lopez holds her literary club event called Enero Rojo Lunar in which she presents dance troupes, poets, short story writers, philosophers, singers and painters. It is a true production, which she accomplishes through the sheer power of her grace and broad smile.
Pedro Garcia with the Pharr Community Theatre is a powerful influence in the artistic life of the Valley. With decades of experience on the stage and screen as an actor and director he brings that essential aspect of the arts to the community which is only achieved through theater and drama. Lucia Macias is also an important influence in theatre working through the Pharr Community Theater on plays in Spanish like Frontera Sin Fin, an achievement in its own rite. Raquel Hinojosa, owner of Hinovations Art Studio in McAllen, Texas is not only a great art creator but also patron, often opening the doors of her business to stage events like the Fist In The Air, Ultimate Poetry Boxing Championship, poetry and art events in observation of Frida Kahlo, individual artist and group exhibits.
Among others in the arts scene are institutions, as well, such as the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg, Texas which holds a poetry reading event every month, often accompanied by some pan dulce and coffee, or tamales and agua de jamaica. The University of Texas Pan American, Universtiy of Texas in Brownsville, the Pharr library, San Juan Library, Carnahan Elementary in Pharr, Texas, and other entities host a variety of events such as plays, poetry readings, workshops for artists and writers, among other things.
The list of people and institutions provided here is not meant to represent those who are most important or prominent. It simply represents the few that come to mind at the moment, having been personally involved as participant, organizer, or audience member in many productions by those on this list and others. The Chicano Renaissance taking shape in the Rio Grande Valley has many facets, and it involves many people (Chicano/Latino/Hispanic and other) as well as organizations and institutions.
The course of this movement is still not clearly defined. The outcome has not been reached. Perhaps this is a good thing. Sometimes, I have heard, it is the journey and not the end that provides the most value. This is where we learn. This is where we grow. It is in the making or creating of an identity where we gain a sense of our true selves. Perhaps this will be our vehicle to finally overcome our persistent problem as a "Chicano," "Hispanic," "Latino" community: that of feeling like we are undefined. Like we are neither from here nor there. Yet also feeling like we are from both places at the same time. Then again, perhaps it should never be the aim to attempt to overcome these "problems" because maybe it is these things that make us unique, that inspire us to achieve, and that drive with great creative force the very evident Chicano, Latino, Hispanic border-life artistic and literary renaissance.
Gabriel H. Sanchez
Second attempt at posting this blog.
We are in the process of sorting out late entries for the Lost: Children of the River anthology. We want to thank those who have submitted their works of art, photography, and literature. Your contributions are greatly appreciated.
As soon as we have compiled and selected works for inclusion, the contributors names will be posted. In the meantime, please send us a comment or a question in the comments section here, or under the "Home" tab on the "Contact" tab. Thank you for your patience.
The work is only beginning. We look forward to producing an astounding final product which will make us all proud. Thanks again.
Gabriel H. Sanchez is a writer, poet, blogger, actor, and all-around artist from South Texas.
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