A recent news article quoted Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commissioner April Halberstadt as saying, “art can also exaggerate false histories—akin to how César Chavez’s name is all over town, yet his legacy in San Jose is only years of residency.”
For many, including me, this statement was problematic and carried an implicit cost to our community. While I do not know Ms. Halberstadt, and wouldn’t assume malicious intent, she minimized Chavez’s legacy by failing to give credit to the environment that shaped him and the long-lasting legacy of his organizing roots in San Jose. One of the first grocery store boycotts for farmworkers’ rights organized by Chavez was held in the 1960s at the old Safeway in East San Jose, where the Mexican Heritage Plaza now stands.
The ongoing controversy surrounding Ms. Halberstadt’s comment is a reminder of the heightened importance of representation—especially in our creative sector, where we have the agency to share forgotten histories or ignorantly reinforce false narratives.
The stakes are high, with many organizations facing substantial losses in revenue and visibility as a result of COVID-19. It’s not hyperbole to say that arts and cultural institutions face an existential crisis, and representation cannot be forgotten.
Now more than ever, it is imperative that we lean into our DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion) values.
If we do not make room at the decision-maker’s table for diverse perspectives, who will accurately tell our stories, preserve our cultures, practice our traditions, and advocate on behalf of those not represented?
At the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza (SOAC), the founders of the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI) set the stage for racial equity and representation in a significant way. Roy Hirabayshi, Tamara Alvarado and Raul Lozano shared a vision to disrupt “whiteness” in the creative sector and many individuals within the MALI network, such as Demone Carter, have continued this work for over a decade.
With a growing network of over 200 artists and arts administrators, many MALI alumni now serve in prominent positions within their organizations, boards, and government.
MALI’s impact gave way to SOAC leading a $1 million statewide workforce development initiative with the goal of supporting an inclusive workforce. The “California Arts Council Administrators of Color Fellowship,” or “CAC ACF” for short, is doing its part to increase representation in the arts administration field, which is a microcosm of the overall sector’s lack of equity and access to positions of influence.
At the SOAC, we will continue to invest in, uplift, and celebrate the diversity of our creative sector and community. How can you help?
Together, we can:
- Demand equitable representation at decision making tables, like civic commissions.
- Call on our local government and elected officials to support equity-based initiatives for our creative community (like DEAI workforce development programs).
It’s a tall order and not everyone is in a position to extend support.
Yet, as best we can, we must disrupt the Eurocentric narrative through which our history is written and remembered. Page by page, as our creative community grapples with a harsher reality, this story is ours to write.
Jonathan Borca is the strategic partnerships manager at the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza and leads all efforts on the CAC ACF pilot program. He is also an advocate for his East San Jose community, a performing artist/curator and a board member for Local Color and New Leaders Council Silicon Valley.
Applications for fellows and host organizations are available now, and the deadline to apply for CAC ACF is 11:59pm on July 31. For more information, contact Jonathan at [email protected].