Boyle Heights Cultural Treasure Project: Healing the Community, Honoring the Past, Believing in Convening, Making Treasures Last

ACTA - Posted on 19 August 2012

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Master altarista Ofelia Esparza (center, standing) leads a paper flower workshop at the Boyle Heights Cultural Treasures celebration hosted by ACTA and Building Healthy Communities-Boyle Heights."Cultivating gardens
With the beauty of tradition
Mind, Body, Spirit
The discovery of change
Finding poetry in family
Artist instigation
Trust, the promise of youth
Building a new generation

"Healing the community
Honoring the past
Believing in convening
Making treasures last"

--Collective Songwriting Workshop 7/28/12, Self-Help Graphics, Boyle Heights Cultural Treasures Celebration

ACTA, in collaboration with Building Healthy Communities-Boyle Heights (BHC-BH), has established the Boyle Heights Cultural Treasures Project which aims to facilitate a space where the community engages in its own process of looking to its cultural resources for the purpose of defining self-health and sustainability.  Unlike efforts where policy makers are making decisions for communities, the above lyrics reflect Boyle Heights residents' first voices.  Through song lyrics they envision and plan the way to "healing the community."  The collective songwriting workshop is an example of the kind of participatory art making that can function as an agent of change.  The process itself becomes a reclamation of space (physical, spiritual, ideological), as well as a cultural and/or political affirmation that ushers a community into accountability.

Unfortunately, the arts have often been dismissed simply as "extracurricular" or "entertainment."  As a Chicano artivista (artist/activist) who came of age inMaster artist Cesar Castro leads a fandango jarocho workshop. the early 90’s, I  found myself, time and again, arguing with my parents’ generation over the importance of art and culture in social movement.  The general understanding in the 60’s and 70’s was that the arts were of peripheral importance, an enhancement to the “real political work” at hand.  A decade later a parallel argument was used to justify the decimation of arts curriculum in Los Angeles public schools as well as throughout the United States.  The absence of arts in the school curriculum was especially detrimental to communities like Boyle Heights.

The Boyle Heights Cultural Treasures Project provides an important opportunity to articulate the relationship between art & culture and community health and begin implementing collaborative work to make lasting changes that will impact community health locally.  Through the work of local volunteers and willing participants, over 100 cultural treasures were identified through a survey process in consultation with Boyle Heights residents.  A task force of members of the Boyle Heights community then selected six cultural treasures from this list to be featured in mini documentary pilots.  This list included Father Greg Boyle, Ruben “Funkahuatl” Guevara, Self-Help Graphics, Proyecto Jardin, Jose Ramirez, and Casa 0101.  Please see and to learn more about these cultural treasures.

On July 28, 2012, an event was held at Self Help Graphics to share the results and celebrate the Cultural Treasures of Boyle Heights.  This multi-generational event held at Self-Help Graphics in Boyle Heights attracted over 150 participants.  The tenor was set by the quesadillas de huitlacoche (corn fungus) and flor de calabaza (squash blossom) provided by street vendor and identified cultural treasure Caridad Vasquez.  The mini documentaries were on view in a makeshift micro movie theater space.  The program included testimonials and performances by Boyle Heights Cultural Treasures: Ruben Guevara, Cihuatl Ce, Trio Los Machos, José Ramirez, and Joel “Rage” Garcia and Rosanna Esparza Ahrens.  Performances were followed by participatory workshops by Martha Gonzalez (collective songwriting), Eddie Padilla (children’s theater), Ofelia Esparza (Martha Gonzalez (right, standing), lead singer of the band Quetzal, leads a collective songwriting workshop.paper flowers), and César Castro (fandango jarocho).

The organic energy of this event was the perfect segue for ACTA and BHC-BH to continue building relationships and designing new collaborative work in a community where art and culture provides hope and health for the future.

"Boyle Heights has been characterized by its culture and artistic legacy.  Artists have something special to share as it relates to the future of Boyle Heights and the world.  Maintaining the role of ‘artist as leader’ is important for our community.  Using art as a way to transcend some of these challenges in our local and international communities is something we need to continue to explore."

--Evonne Gallardo, Executive Director of Self-Help Graphics

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