By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
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By Monica Alonzo
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By Robrt L. Pela
In the United States, images of dusty fields, day laborers, and images of neglectful political leaders defined the Great Depression. The government's propaganda posters and slogans were often parodied during both world wars. Uncle Sam's "I Want You" was turned into a "Wanted" poster; even Rosie the Riveter wasn't safe from distortion.
Visualized civil unrest was perhaps at its loudest during the Chicano and civil rights movements and throughout the Vietnam War. Mexican Americans unified under street art popularized by Mexican murals, as well as the images and words of César Chávez and Che Guevera.
Groups of African Americans utilized peaceful protest, images of Martin Luther King, "Power to the People," and, later, a simple raised fist. They were followed by thousands who painted "Make Love Not War" and gathered to sing and dance to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Today, visuals often get lost in the crowd on the Internet, and some argue that art created today solely for protest isn't constructive at all.
"We have to remember that most of the art world is progressive, socially and politically," says Cochran. "So there is a sentiment, especially during protest with a built group of participators and audience members, that you're really just preaching to the choir."
Playwright and journalist James E. Garcia agrees, to some extent. Garcia's heavily involved in the Latino community in Phoenix. His award-winning plays include The Tears of Lives, The Crossing, and American Pastorela: Show Us Your Papers, to name a few. He's also the founding editor of Latino Perspectives Magazine and was the first Latino affairs correspondent for the local NPR affiliate, KJZZ.
"My goal is not to think that one of my plays or performances is going to change the world," he says. "But I have to believe that my work is doing its part to push back."
Garcia remembers sitting in his car in a parking lot one afternoon in 2008 listening to an episode of This American Life.
It was about an undocumented woman in Los Angeles who was attending college but didn't have enough money to rent an apartment. She slept in the library, kept her books in her gym locker, and even after four years of education, still wanted to somehow practice medicine.
She became the inspiration for Garcia's Dream Act, partially because her story was so compelling, but also because Garcia, who teaches at ASU, realized that he probably interacts with students in similar situations.
"I thought, I know these kids. I've taught them; some have probably been my actors," says Garcia. "My process of writing these plays is never a conscious decision, if it was conscious, it might come across as contrived, or inauthentic."
Garcia's big on authenticity. It shows in his plays and in his writing. He says it's what separates effective and ineffective reactionary art — what creates impact and what falls flat with an audience.
"I think the challenge for artists is to try to say, 'Here's my medium; what you're looking at has an authenticity and a clear political viewpoint,'" says Garcia. "And maybe it won't be a political treatise, but it will hopefully infuse the politics of the moment in that artist's voice."
The politics along 16th Street are clear. The predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that stretches from about Adams Street north to Thomas Road is your best bet for authentic Mexican crafts, fútbol equipment, and a strong margarita — if you can keep your eyes off the murals that seem to pop up on a weekly basis.
"Murals create community," says Silvana Salcido Esparza, who owns Barrio Café near Thomas Road on 16th Street and is in the middle of a large-scale Mexican mural project, in response to SB 1070, along 16th Street in downtown Phoenix. "And that's exactly what we need."
Esparza was enraged when SB 1070 passed — and it wasn't just the legislation.
"When TV crews came to Phoenix in the middle of all this protest, they were taking video of our streets and our neighborhoods, specifically our Mexican neighborhoods, and they looked terrible," she says. "I couldn't believe what I saw, because for such a beautiful community with legals, illegals, whatever, we should have more to show."
So she started taking names. She signed up local artists with neighborhood businesses. She covered the cost of paint, and the painters — many of whom are Mexican, but plenty of whom are not — donated their time.
Artists Gennaro Garcia and DOSE painted the project's first wall, on the side of Deportes America, on 16th Street. It's hard to miss; a large face of the Virgen de Guadalupe is chiseled in plaster and surrounded by bright, colorful flowers. The two artists hope it welcomes more visitors to the street; they call it Bienvenidos a Arizona.
Esparza's hoping to cover every wall she can on 16th Street, or Calle 16, along with better maintenance of neighborhood corners, stronger enforcement of the speed limit — even mariachi nights, which she's currently pursuing with ASU's Herberger School of the Arts.
Esparza's also a big fan of Nomas' art. It's up in her kitchen, and the two often have long talks about street art and SB 1070 before Nomas has to go home to make dinner for his wife and kids.
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