Remember the Alamo, Part II
The mistake we Chicano activists made in the sixties was to assume that the next generation would know the story, José Angel Gutiérrez, the undisputed leader of the Chicano movement in Texas, once told me. He was bemoaning the fact that the children of those embattled leaders have not absorbed the history of struggle--even though his Aztlán, the Chicano homeland, never had a place for homosexuals and has never admitted this mistake.
We are a family, said Baldemar Velásquez, a labor organizer and MacArthur fellow, at the groundbreaking reunion of Latino Macarturos a few months after the Esperanza was defunded. Co-sponsored by the Esperanza and originated by Sandra Cisneros, the meetings of the dozenish "genius" grantees have been taken on the road, to Ohio, and the Los Angeles Times has offered to sponsor the next gathering in California. "Maybe we're a dysfunctional family," he says as we sit around Sandra's kitchen in his rage-channeled-into-peace way, "and we've been abusive to each other, but we have to reconcile our relationship. We have to be the conscience of this country.... Otherwise, we will be controlled by things we have sold our soul to." Few of the City Council members attended the MacArthur reunion, though they were invited. Only the lone woman on the Council, Debra Guerrero, was a regular at the events.
Graciela Sánchez thinks genius is found in everyone, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. To this end, she has created the Esperanza as a crossroads of critical thinking for the oppressions that wound us all. Despite her noble efforts, the public image is one of "gay issues versus justice issues," says a professor who is typical of the Latino middle class, who support the Esperanza in principle if not in fact. "The creation of the Latino underclass in this city of tourism is the burning issue...one-third of San Antonio is poor...and the Esperanza needs to address this. What happened to peace and justice?"
"You can't separate art and culture from justice and respect," says Sánchez, who has received numerous death threats and the unheavenly notice of Christian talk-radio. To Sánchez, the issues of poverty, potholes and homophobia are inextricably tied to an economy that seeks to control how we act and think. "Art gives us an identity...and that's why it's such a threat.... It gives us a sense of being," replies the artist-activist Angel Rodríguez Díaz. In a capitalist system, nothing is sacred, and culture is a product to consume. And, in an age of globalization, Castañeda says, capital is an economic system that seeks to control labor and culture.
To Castañeda, fighting for a living wage in San Antonio is the same as fighting for homosexual rights. They come from the same place, she argues, because both are symptoms of the historic colonialism of San Antonio. As she describes it, the Esperanza reality has always been one of looking at the larger context, not the fragments of oppression. If a people are denied their culture, they forget who they are and the struggle is lost. A family isn't free as long as one member is forgotten or abused, she explains. Our hope for humanity relies on the stories of our struggle, and that comes from art.
Latinos are such fascists, former Austin American-Statesman columnist Jesse Treviño once told me. We are antigay at the core, he muttered, in reference to former attorney general Dan Morales, who traveled the state supporting Texas's antiquated sodomy law. Our Catholicism has made us vulnerable to campaigns of hate, he would say in despair. "It's all connected," the Esperanza people say, in trying to explain how any kind of hate becomes an obstacle that prevents us from embracing the wholeness of our community. Isn't that the journey of our lives, they ask--to know ourselves?