Activists use art to transform their community

Julia Vazhenina

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Chicano community activists shared their life experiences of being immigrants in this country and how art helped them survive Thursday.

The book “Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams: How the Arts Are Transforming a Community,” which was written and published by collaborative efforts of different people from the Chicano community, is a compilation of memories, essays and pictures of people whose lives were a continuous struggle with the world and how the art had become a turning point and even a lifeboat in their lives.

The idea of the presentation was not only to share the book with the audience, but to show students the importance of art in everyone’s life and the lack of access to it in the Northeast San Fernando Valley part of Los Angeles.

Luis J. Rodriguez, award-winning writer and contributor to the book and big activist in the Chicano community, said he thinks people are not in political or economic crisis, people are in a crisis of the lack of creativity.

“Arts are taken away from people,” said Rodriguez. “There is a whole neighborhood that you can’t find a single bookstore or art gallery where local and trade art is displayed. The big cities like Chicago, LA has only malls, houses and roads, but there is an art over there that is hidden.”

Rodriguez talked about the times when he was young and how the art had turned his life into completely different path away from gangs, stealing and fighting, away from doing heavy drugs and spending time in jails.

Once, out of rage, Rodriguez tried to graffiti the walls. And he enjoyed it. Then he met a mentor who agreed to teach him mirror painting and Rodriguez opened his eyes to a whole new world.

“I was saved by arts,” he said.

Another Chicano activist and contributor to the book, Yaotl Mazahua, the lead singer at Aztlan Underground, shared his story about growing up in a gang, having alcohol and drug issues, almost dying in his teens and how art literally helped him to see himself differently.

“Art is pushing your consciousness in other ways that nothing else does,” said Mazahua. “I saw a band playing and knew that I should be doing it, I can do it.”

Rodriguez and other activists from Tia Chucha’s got the grant from La County Arts Commission Create and Cultivate to publish the book. They also produced a film that they plan to show next week, which is based on ideas presented in the book.

“Creativity is inexhaustible energy,” said Rodriguez. “Everything has to be renewed and that’s what art does. Now is the moment to wake up and do something and that is what the book is about.”