Remember the Alamo, Part II | The Nation


Remember the Alamo, Part II

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Mejor puto que joto. At least he's not gay, my mother would answer when I would complain about a brother'spromiscuity. The consummate political rebel, my mother would let my brothers be men, sighing as she served them another velvety tortilla, which they devoured like their women. Our glorious Spanish language includes a bouquet of words, seductive as flowers, to pick from as we denigrate someone who is homosexual. I have heard these words all my life. If two tortillas stick together we call them tortilleras, the name for a lesbian. If a woman denies a man's attentions, we assume that something must be wrong with her, and if she decides to be with a woman, well, there are plenty of men who want to teach her a lesson. Women are conquests, simple as tortillas.

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Bárbara Renaud González
Bárbara Renaud González is a newspaper columnist and commentator for NPR in Texas. She is at work on a...

That's why the Esperanza's decision to sue the city expresses a courage that can come only from those who have been less than those who are already nothing. It could only have happened in San Antonio, as the Esperanza proves it has the tripas to fight for its name in a battle that could prove to be bloodier than the Alamo. The center's attorneys are engaged in discovery and a trial has been set for October. Amy Kastely, an attorney of record for the Esperanza, notes that pursuing the litigation renders the center ineligible to reapply for funding from the city.

It may become the first test of its kind since last year's Supreme Court ruling in NEA v. Finley, which arose when a conservative Congress recoiled from provocative art. Karen Finley, you will remember, was the performance artist who smeared chocolate on her nude body, offending the sensibilities of Congress (they are a moral bunch), which didn't understand the treatment of women as objects. Then there was Andrés Serrano's crucifix in a jar of what appeared to be urine, Piss Christ, which Congress considered an obscenity against God. In the Finley case, the Supreme Court upheld Congress's right to require the National Endowment for the Arts to consider general standards of decency in making funding decisions. The Esperanza based its lawsuit on the heels of the Court's decision, arguing that the government, decency and all, could not discriminate against groups that promote "disfavored viewpoints." It is the first such action nationwide since the Court's ruling last June.

The cuts that the Esperanza has endured are not isolated incidents, remarked Dr. Yolanda Leyva, a historian who led a panel of poets and writers at the Esperanza in November. "The attacks on bilingual education, immigration, [on the arts,] all these are interconnected.... The things that are happening, happen over and over again, are a continuing conquest...costing silence." Latinos may think the Esperanza is radical, and, indeed, that night artists challenged the status quo as they imagined a city built on something other than the past repeating itself.

Recently there has been better news: The Esperanza received a prestigious $50,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to bring diverse communities together through culture. That was followed with a Richard Nathan antihomophobia grant of $30,000, bringing the Esperanza's budget to a total of $300,000. The Esperanza will continue its fight for hope in San Antonio. "It's the principle of the thing," says Sánchez. "We have absolutely nothing to lose.

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