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Don't Mess with Anzaldua: Tell Schwarzenegger to Stand up for Art

It was bad enough that Gov. Schwarzenegger resurrected the headline status of Arizona Minutemen who had gone fairly quietly into the night. His decision to single them out for praise has set off an ugly trend in commentary. But when Schwarzenegger then scorned a Clear Channel billboard that celebrated Mexican heritage in California, he inflated his error beyond any reasonable pressure gauge. Suddenly pro-Mexican has become anti-American.

Into this stirred up climate of anti-Mexican sentiment we have a group in California called Save Our State that has declared a “Battle for Los Angeles” to censor the writings of Texas philosopher Gloria Anzaldua and remove her words from a public monument at Baldwin Park. But we wonder if they have any idea that Anzaldua was the great philosopher of borderland consciousness who warned us that we need not choose between beautiful dreams? We wonder if they know where the name Los Angeles came from?

The 1993 monument entitled Danza Indigenas by artist Judy Baca includes this inscription:

“This land was Mexican once,
was Indian always
and is,
And will be again.”

The monument looks like an archway left over from a neglected or bombed out mission. It is part of the design for a mass transit rail station that in the words of the L.A. County MTA “traces the historical importance of the California Mission period to contemporary Baldwin Park.”

The inscription is placed in quotes and attributed to Anzaldua. But thanks to the hysteria that Schwarzenegger has stirred up, this 12-year-old monument has now become lightning rod for the anti-Mexican movement in California. Because these symbolic wars have been overtly fueled by Schwarzenegger, it is time for him to draw a line against artistic suppression in California. Bad enough that he got his Republican buddies at Clear Channel to back down on the Mexico theme. He should not make things worse by watching abstractly the protest at Baldwin Park.

Of course, we would ask this so-called artist to stand up for artistic freedom even if the offended philosopher were not Tejana. But we are especially proud to speak up in this case. During this cultural crisis we recommend more exposure to the words of Anzaldua, not less. She taught us — based on her Texas experience — that we could flourish in the so-called culture wars so long as we have the courage to carve ourselves into borderland individuals, choosing freely between neither or both. Her verse above gives voice to a dream of beauty and reconciliation, the return of land to los Indios. Dress it up as a fine Hollywood ending, and you could jerk a tear from a fossil.

So what kind of conflict do the art vigilantes at Save Our State intend to provoke when they claim that the expression of that dream, when placed even into quote marks and verse, cannot be displayed? And what nonsense do they think they have the right to reclaim in their battle for a city long ago named Los Angeles? Had they been first to arrive would they have been able to see those angels in the first place?

“IT WAS BETTER BEFORE THEY CAME” claims the monument. If the citizens of Los Angeles have had twelve years to think about that riddle, why would they choose to prove it all over again out loud? How do they recognize themselves so clearly as the ones who always make things worse? They want to tear down a bombed out mission? When will they learn that ya basta is enough?

By mopress

Writer, Editor, Social Democrat

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