Friday, January 30, 2009

Balmy Alley Mural: Josué Rojas

Video by Walter Lopez & Chris Vargas for YO!TV

Inspired by the book Enrique's Journey, about a young Honduran boy's quest to reunite with his mother, Josue Rojas is working on a mural in San Francisco's famed Balmy Alley. YO! caught up with him to discuss his inspirations and what it means to be a part of the Mission Dictrict's public art scene. Walter Lopez is a contributer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

It's been a grueling process...truly, though this is a labor of love, so I'm taking my time.

I've been reading a great book, Enrique's Journey. It's all about the travels of a child in search of his mother. It chronicles his journey–– not unlike may youngster's journey across the length of Mexico on the tops of freight trains.

It's probably one of the most moving pieces of literature I've ever touched–––and it speaks on something close to my heart, the reality of Central American Immigrants. It's one thing to be an immigrant to the US from Mexico, and another entirely to be a Salvadoran, Honduran, Nicaraguan or Guatemalan going through a foreign land, filled with bandits, gangsters and crooked police to reach another foreign land filled with, border patrol, minute men and racism.

Needless to say, the imagery of this journey has captured my imagination, so when the opportunity came to make a mural, it wasn't hard to pick a topic.

Here are images from the process:The truth is, I'm in love with my friends and family. So they're my models.
Isaiah, my nephew is seen here, he's my main character. 

The lovely Maria Elena, my good friend since Jr. High School (Potrero Hill, what!?) is the beautiful angel looking out for him---the symbol of God's protection.

There's meant to be a depiction of a mother with open arms, waiting for the arrival of her son. The model will be my Mom, I haven't gotten to that part yet.

When I originally envisioned it, I though of a child who's going through all these crazy circumstances, yet through all he faces, he has two things going for him: His faith and his imagination.

His faith is illustrated by the angel who follows him (whom he can't see, but the viewer can).
His imagination is illustrated by his stance: He's pretending he can fly (an ability all kids still have, but somehow grown-ups have forgotten). This ability is granted by innocence.

Truly, that's at the heart of the matter in this mural; innocence and how that is either retained or lost by what the children who make this journey see and experience.

Another thing I should add, is this is based on another painting, I'm not sure what it's called,but it depicts children crossing a broken bridge and a large, angel protecting them as they go.

I know this piece hangs over many immigrant families' dinner tables and living rooms,  it hung over my bed for years. Just to look at it... I can't tell you how safe I felt before I fell asleep every night. Obviously, the painting wasn't protecting me, but it reminded me that God was always with me.

What a comforting thought.

Hope that comes across...

This is a work in progress.

Publick: "Iraqi ass comment"

Publick: FOOD

This is a throw-back Publick Gritty Urban Surrealism.
Publick is a the birth-child of myself on visuals, and writer Russell Morse.

It's urban, surreal satire. Publick first showed up in late '02 on the back cover of YO! magazine.
We did somewhere in the vicinity of twenty five cartoons.

There's so much I can say about the Publick concept; what it meant to represent, One blog entry isn't enough.

Enjoy Publick (thanks Rosco!)

I'll post them all slowly, here's a memorable one in the meantime. The concept: food.

click image to enlarge

Borderland Trailer: The Border Tribe and the Subcomandante

This is a trailer for the Movie I've been working on with Russell Morse & Ryan Furtado. Editing props to CLiff Parker for this one!

Hope we can one day finish this, in any event, here's the trailer.

Marcos on the Border:
The Tohono O'odham tribe has always had it rough. The territory of their reservation is literally cut in half by the imaginary we call the American/Mexican border.

Since the militarization of the border, use of force against immigrants has surged. The injustices the immigrants face are also the problem of the Tohono O'odham tribe (who've been here since two thousand B.C.).
Juxtapozed between three nations They speak three languages (English, Spanish, and O'odham). Their features, unmistakably American.

In the fall of '07, the O'odham hosted delegations from Indigenous Nations from Canada to Colombia.
Also in the midst of the group was the EZLN, and their leader, Subcomandante Marcos.

In this trailer, listen to the Sub's assessment of the problem and what people can do to help.

Marcos and the Border
BY: Russell Morse

It’s a crisp night in the Sonoran desert of northern Mexico and Subcomandante Marcos is onstage, twisting a piece of paper in his hands and calmly addressing a crowd of eager attendees. The 200 or so people gathered to hear him speak are hanging on his words, looking for some encouragement, some inspiration. His eyes--the only part of him that is visible from behind his iconic mask--are animated as he talks. At one point, he lifts his head and tells the crowd, “Our war is against being forgotten”.
He then unrolls the paper in his hand and reveals a map of the territories in northern Sonora and southern Arizona—the border region. The map is dotted with several hundred small red points, which he explains are markers for the bodies of dead migrants who have been discovered in this region. He lifts his head again to speak.

“This is what these governments have done: changed our lands into places of death. This struggle is a struggle between land and death. When we say we are fighting for land, we are fighting for life.”
There is silence. Off in the distance, a train rumbles past. A dog barks. The people gathered here tonight know all too well what he is talking about.

It’s a the final night of a three day meeting between Native American groups of the central border region and the leaders of the New Zapatista movement in Mexico. The meeting was in large part, the last ditch effort of members of the Tohono Oodham tribe of southern Arizona and northern Mexico against encroachment of their sovereignty by drug smugglers, human traffickers and the US Border Patrol.

The spike in drug and human traffic in their territory has brought with it aggression and intimidation by those who profit from these illegal enterprises. Oodham people have been threatened, intimidated and fired upon by drug traffickers.
What is most tragic and traumatic for the oodham people is the death of migrants on their land. Oodham territory is harsh, sparse desert and every year, tribal members find dozens of dead migrants on their sacred land.
In addition, the increased presence of Border Patrol has led to a number of civil rights violations, wherein native people are accused of being undocumented immigrants and subjected to an assortment of abuses.
As a result of these challenges, Oodham elders looked for support to combat the encroachment of their land and the violation of their sovereignty. Most recently, tribal members reached out to the EZLN, or new Zapatista movement in Mexico, headed by Subcomandate Marcos.

The meeting place they chose is an eco-tourism site called Rancho del Penasco outside of the Sonoran city of Magdalena. It is easy to miss off of the highway, but on the days of the meeting, there is a group of cars crowding the gate and some more parked in a ravine across the way. These are the unassuming vehicles of the Mexican Federales, who do not pass the gate, but want the EZLN to know that they’re there, watching.

Just inside the gate, there is a security checkpoint, where tribal members make sure they keep out any one who might not be welcome. One man on security detail walks up to a car, eating a stick of salami with a huge knife and tells the occupants of the vehicle, ““the feds don’t mess around down here. They’ll shoot you. They could rush this place in the middle of the night.”
Inside the compound, the energy is decidedly more pleasant. Women are cooking large pots of rice and beans in an outdoor kitchen and people are gathered to eat, talking and laughing. The site is nestled in a gorgeous desert valley, with hawks circling overhead and a horizon dotted with cacti.

As soon as lunch is over, various tribal and community leaders take the stage and offer welcoming remarks. Later in the afternoon after much anticipation, Marcos gets onstage and offers his opening words. Among them, an amusing and apt phrase “Our mission is simple: Save the world.”

As he walks offstage, he is quickly surrounded by admirers. Some are women crying, reaching their hands to touch his hand. Others are men who want to ask him for some advice. It takes Marcos nearly half an hour to walk 100 feet, as he graciously shakes hands, poses for pictures and signs personal mementos that people have brought.
Over the next two days, people gather in a tin-roofed barn outfitted with microphones to share the issues of their respective communities. Their grievances are many and dire: No health care, no hospitals, harassment by police, unfair imprisonment, mistreatment of land (pollution), no government representation or recognition, land taken away. Overwhelmingly, though, a theme emerges: the border is destroying their communities. The days of testimonials are long and, at times, difficult to sit through. Men and women cry on the microphone, people hang their heads while nodding.
During this time, Marcos himself does not appear. He is in a safe house, guarded by his comrades, meeting individually with representatives of thse communities to hear their stories.

While Marcos is meeting with people, we have a chance to speak with him and ask him what he and the EZLN can offer to the indigenous people of the sonoran region. He is very deliberate in his answer. “Nosotros lo que queremos es que se den a conocer. No queremos que se repita las historia que tuvimos que recorrer nosotroes, que tuvimos que tomar armas apara hacernos ver y para hacernos ecuchar.
Que es necesario construir los puentes y los canales para que nos vean, para que conozcan nuestros dolores, para que conozcan las injusticias que padezemos, y como estamos tratando de levenatarnos como pueblos indios.”
He saves some words specifically for the crisis of the border region as well. “Nosotros--- el EZLN con los lideres de los pueblos---lo que queremos es que los mismos pueblos indios que estan en la linea fronteriza, puedan espressar esto y que la gente de todo el mundo pueda conocer delante de las propias victimas por su voz lo que esta ocuriendo para que esto se detenga.”

Outside in the barn, the daily testimonies are drenched in misery, pain, failures and frustration. But on the final night, all of that is forgotten for a moment and the dancing starts. All the community members gather under an enormous silk parachute for singing, dancing and drumming, working themselves into an almost euphoric frenzy.

At this time, Marcos has come back out to watch the performances and offer some final words. He swats moths from around his head and pauses before he speaks. He shows the map illustrating the deaths of migrants. He tells the people what he’s learned from his individual meetings. And he closes by saying, “We were here, looking for something that unites us and we discovered that what unites us is pain. We will soon discover that what unites us also is life.”

Meet Jean Green

Working on a package of stories of Elders for New America. 
Jean Green is an awesome person, a senior who's confronting America's economic crisis with heart, soul & sweat. She's truly one of the sweetest, determined and dignified people I think I've ever met in my life.

This should inspire some of the younger folks who feel the weight of the grind. 

Here's a link to the Nam Story: Text by Leslie Casimir.

Reminds me of  Nas' lyrics in the song Heaven (off the God's Son Album)
"...We all in a grind, but look at the beautiful Sh* around you it's a beautiful life... I'm talkin' 'bout heaven in your own heart, in your own world, in your own existence."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

C.E.I.B.A Americas Project in HONDURAS: Mural VS. Massacre

San Pedro Sula, Honduras :
Youth reclaim public space

At the height of the "MANO DURA" trend in Central America, youths were being killed by police extrajudicially under suspicion of gang affiliation---- this video explores creative avenues for young people as an alternative for repression.

This project took place in the fall of '07. I returned in the fall of '08 to find these youths and other youngsters I hadn't even met had taken the art "ball' and ran with it far further than I ever imagined!

Narration: Mural Master, Estria Miyashiru of Hawaii/Oakland.

Here's the Story from the New America Media Feature posted in August of '08

Editor's Note: Bay Area artists Estria Miyashiru & Josué Rojas helped townspeople paint a mural at the site of one of the most gruesome massacres in the recent history of Honduras. In this piece Josué wonders if California can export more than its gang culture to Central America; perhaps it can export its artistic culture too.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Fall 2007 –– A mural is in progress. Outbursts of laughter and the rattle of spray cans resound against a wall. The sun reaches its highest point, beaming on the young artists below. Once again, we're painting –– the usual suspects: Estria, a group of kids and me.

I know this scene well, except in a very different context. Instead of being created at the exterior of a public school or rec center in Northern California, this mural is being created at the site of a massacre –– in a remote rind of San Pedro's Chamelecón –– at the very spot where three years earlier nearly 30 people lost their lives; infamous in Honduras and the rest of Central America as a place of death.

On the night of Dec. 23, 2004, in the place where we stood, 28 innocent men, women and children were gunned down as they rode the bus 35 home from Christmas shopping. The killing was attributed to "Maras" or gang members. A note was left behind at the site, in which responsibility was taken by local gangs though all the evidence (ballistic and otherwise) points towards paramilitary action.

This event was the catalyst; soon after, nothing in policy or public perception toward youth would be the same. Partly due to this event, in Central America public opinion has been irreconcilably swayed against anything remotely resembling gangs –– and consequently, the baby thrown out with the bathwater is any brand of misunderstood youth culture.

So you can see why I'm both happy and weirded-out by the sight of it –– graffiti as art in the place where one of the most gruesome massacres in recent Latin American history happened.

Sadly, whether in the public sector, clandestinely, or in jails, executions and extrajudicial killings are not uncommon. In Central America people are dying –– delinquents right alongside innocent young people. Estimates have placed the daily death toll in countries like El Salvador as high as it was during that country's long civil war.

In the Bay Area, we're familiar with violence and rising death counts. But not on this level. Not with this intensity or frequency.

As I see the kids' faces light up as they rattle the spray cans (many for the first time), my mind swims in irony as I remember a line in a book by Kurt Vonnegut I read: There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead.

Oakland, California, March 2008
In a warehouse on the border of Oakland and San Leandro used as a headquarters for businesses started by graffiti artists, Estria Miyashiro, master muralist and entrepreneur, takes a moment to give me some words. He stands in the corner of the warehouse in front of Oakland graffiti writer Vogue's aersosol rendition of Mike "Dream" Francisco (a local slain graffiti legend) as we speak.

Estria summed up his experience in Honduras. We discussed what it must be like to be young and marginalized there.

Art was my gang prevention: my non-violence. It was fairly easy to present the concept of conscious community art (aerosol or otherwise) to kids in Honduras largely because they're already into "all the things that the displaced gang members (deported from the United States) have brought there. They're into the aesthetic. But they don't really understand why."

Since the massacre, the crackdown on gangs has escalated and Mano Dura, or "Iron Fist," laws (the upgrade of which was welcomed by the public due to outrage at the Chamelecón massacre) "gave all of Central America carte-blanc to start killing off all the gang kids," Estria noted.

Judging by their counter-productivity the question rises whether these laws were really intended to solve crime or to criminalize the poor. It truly is a violent legacy.

"There's no tolerance," Estria said. "It's basically a low-level genocide where they've been killing hundreds of kids a year in each (Central American) country." Thousands in the region.

Estria explained that on the mural he worked with some youth who were all participants in San Pedro's Jha-ja (Jovenes Hondureños Activos –– Juntos Avancemos, or "Active Honduran Youth––Moving ahead together"; colloquially pronounced: "Haw-haw") one of the few non-profits geared towards gang and violence prevention. As Estria put it, it is "a program that tries to get youth out of gangs. Basically save their lives, find them a direction in life."

Estria and I set to work with them on the Chamelecón wall. We wanted to honor the people who lost their lives there. "Our concept was 'arte es la vida' ('Art is Life')," Estria stated.

We just wanted people to reclaim the space, and have it be known as a place of beauty, not death.

People really flipped. They didn't care whether or not it was a spray paint mural, or that it resembled graffiti. The mural's message came across and the people ate it up. The community and the kids who participated in its creation owned it. "For this mural to be that widely received, as a community muralist, as a community artist, it's as good as it could get."

"If I could do projects like that for the rest of my life, I would have the most successful life," Estria told me. "'Cause it's not really about money… it's about your work counting for something."

And so it goes.

San Francisco, California, July 2008
I'm loitering at a news office, mooching off the wireless, checking my email.
A little envelope icon at the top of my screen. A line from Honduras: the local papers have had a field day. Apparently, the kids of the Chamelecón haven't stopped. They've been steadily creating this whole time. Mural after mural –– they're constantly making art –– and it's all conscious themes.

I'm ecstatic. The clip reads: "Murals show the two sides of the city." I nearly choke on my bagel.

"These figures represent the violence that threatens our communities…" David Cruz, Jha-ja's mural coordinator told La Prensa. David worked with us on the Chamelecón wall.

"We are representing the face and the cross that is this place. We see the beauty of our city as well as the suffering by the residents of the marginalized neighborhoods."

If California gang culture can be deported and thrive in places like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, I wonder if likewise, could it be that creative California progressive community culture can be exported?

I don't know. But it's worth exploring.

"… Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a masscare, and it always is. Except for the birds." -- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Oscar Grant's Case

In this piece for NEW AMERICA MEDIA, I team up with Paul Billingsley and JR Valrey to hook up and speak to Oscar Grant's Family, Attorney John Burris & Eyewitness Karina Vargas to get the story of what went don on the early hours of January 1st, 2009 at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland.

Rest in power, Oscar Grant.