How art and culture contribute to the empowerment of a community
Music, art, food and dance are all essential to cultural identity and to creating an inclusive space where community members feel connected and comfortable. What most people don’t realize is that it can also be the perfect opportunity to provide crucial information about health and social services for the community it serves.
That’s the strategy of an organization in King County, which is currently home to more than 250,000 Mexican and Mexican American residents.
“We use arts and cultural events to engage our community in increased civic participation, including voting and local issues, as well as informing the community about basic services, education and employment in an engaging environment. “, says Angie Hinojos, executive director of the Centro Cultural. Mexican. The organization also offers community conversations, lectures, and art exhibits in its gallery.
On May 1, the Centro Cultural Mexicano will hold its annual Cinco de Mayo festival at Redmond Downtown Park. This bilingual event aims not only to celebrate traditional Mexican culture, but also to empower it – with seven hours of live bands, vendors and food trucks, as well as community resources and free Covid vaccines and Covid test kits, offered. Information on resources for small business, housing, employment and health services will be available. Not only focused on entertainment, the organization will also award two scholarships to first-year and first-generation Mexican students – one for college and one for business school.
“Art also offers a powerful way to connect with each other, with cultural identity, and with one’s roots,” says Hinojos, who has been creating public art on display throughout King County for years.
She infuses her colorful and lively sculptures with Mexican culture, including folklore and modern day experiences of Mexican American and immigrant experiences. Her “Adelita” sculpture, depicting a female soldier who fought in the Mexican Revolution, was displayed at the Redmond Lights celebration of light, art and culture. She remembers a mother and her young daughter looking at the artwork and happily singing “La Adelita”, the Mexican song telling the story of the heroine depicted in the sculpture together.
She also uses art to educate and as a call to action. For example, his powerful 3D sculpture titled “Tu Voz Cuenta: Census 2020” (Your Voice Matters) was displayed at Redmond Downtown Park to encourage Mexican Americans to take the census and be counted. “I would like people to see that there are a multitude of different cultures represented in our communities; our communities offer a variety of contributions as well as the creative thinking and innovation that comes from our unique experiences,” says Hinojos. “Through art, we can make a claim and say, ‘You can’t ignore us. We’re not leaving. And also, ‘come on, join us; let me hear about your experience.
This is the underlying theme of a film recently produced by the Centro Cultural Mexicano with funding from King County Communities of Opportunity. Documenting the experience of the Latino community throughout COVID-19, “¡Ya Es Tiempo!” (The Time is Now), highlights these inequalities and shares stories from the community to help raise awareness and visibility around these issues.
A mother interviewed in the film spoke of her struggle throughout the pandemic to put food on the table and pay rent, while trying to hide it from her three sons. Not wanting them to worry, she bears the brunt of stress and worry on her own. Later, one of the boys – a 10-year-old boy – confesses to one of the crew members: “I wish I could go to work to help my mother, but I’m still too young.”
Lack of child care and elder care is prevalent in the United States for many, but for single Latino parents trying to make ends meet, it’s a crisis. Like the boy in the film, some children in these families feel compelled to help their parents at an early age, sacrificing aspects of their childhood. Despite these worries, the mother maintains her strength. “It doesn’t matter what color we are or where we come from,” she says. “We need help.”
The film has been sent to government officials, community groups and schools and will be screened this spring at Cascadia College, along with a lively conversation. There is also a book distributed with the film, highlighting the beauty of Latino culture and people.
Mexican Cultural Center focuses on empowering the Latin American community through art and culture. We strive to inspire inclusive participation of its members in all aspects of education, culture and society to continue building towards a positive future.