Sunday, February 26, 2017

Art Connects Toledo and Mexico

 At the Sofia Quintero art exhibit, Rasquache Artist Residency. Some art work from the exhibit; street paintings and murals along Broadway; artists in Mexico, maybe Puebla; super volunteer Linda greets visitors.  
Exhibit catalogue.
An artist residency in San Francisco Cuapa Cholula, in the state of Puebla, Mexico, led to a wonderful exhibit at the Sophia Quintero Art and Cultural Center in Toledo, Ohio.  The Rasquache Residency, as it's called, honors the traditions and cultures of the pre-Hispanic indigenous people of the Cholula region in central Mexico and connects Mexican and American artists across cultures.

The Rasquache residency also seeks to increase awareness of the difficult situation of undocumented immigrants in the US, now under the threat of building a wall and deportations. It's a nightmare.  A friend at the exhibit said Border Patrol agents were scouring the neighborhood, stopping people, demanding documents. "We know them when we see them," another friend said, "in their large white van with green lettering." They said the intrusions are getting worse and people who have been long-time residents are scared.

Karina Monroy
That's why this exhibit is so important.  It's a bridge to understanding and a testimony to the contributions of Latino/Latina artists to our culture. The exhibit features the works of Mexican and American artists in residence and visiting artists and scholars. It consists of installations, video projects, ceramics, poetry, digital prints and drawings. It's a fascinating mix of artistic visions and mediums.

The 2016 artists are Matthew Sibley, Christina Erives, Sa'Dia Rehman, Karina A. Monroy, Jairo Banuelos, and Federico Cuatlacuatl. Visiting artists and scholars are Amy Youngs, Ken Rinaldo, and Leo Herrera. Kudos to all of them.

Toledo's Mexican-American community has a long history. I remember when Baldemar Velasquez, from a Texas migrant family who settled here, started the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in 1967/1968. Another early organizer, Sesario, was recently honored for his work with FLOC and remains a stalwart member of the community. These were history makers.  I remember meeting Velasquez at a grape boycott protest in front of Kroger's grocery store near the Old West End, and hearing him talk about the struggle here in our own backyard. Migrant tomato pickers, who worked from sun up to sun down, were organizing to secure wages, jobs and decent working and living conditions.

Delicious tacos at Michoacana, the best. 
A walk along Broadway in South Toledo still feels like a walk down a Mexican street in a country I love and visit as often as possible, full of color, paintings on storefronts and restaurants, and fantastic murals. Even on an overcast day, it sparkles. In summer the neighborhood is ablaze with flowers and freshly grown vegetables and herbs in Sophia Quintero's thriving community garden. The bounty from the garden graces meals in private homes, businesses, and in restaurants.

And here's another reason to visit and support this important neighborhood. I think it offers the best Mexican food in the city. For authenticity, this is the place to be. My friend Teddy and I had the best tacos--fresh, homemade, tasty--at Taqueria La Autentica Michocana, a little restaurant next to where the art exhibit was held. Our visit to the barrio lifted our spirits at this time of mourning and outrage over what is happening to our government and our democracy.

Jairo Banuelos
The Sofia Quintero center was founded in 1996 by members of the Mexican American community to support Latino/a art, heritage and culture. The center is named after Sofia Quintero, the first Latina to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education.  Her life was cut short due to illness, but her spirit and determination live on through the multifaceted programs of the Center. "She is our angel, watching over our work," the director has said of her.

Last night, I think Sophia the angel was hovering over us and the neighborhood, and it felt safe and comforting.

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