Arte es Vida
Arte Es Vida is an ongoing program of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center that addresses issues of cultural equity and democracy and examines “the role of artistic and cultural expression in a society that inherits the deep wounds, economic and political disparities, and continuing practices of injustice that are the legacy of cultural domination in the United States.” It explores cultural grounding–the concept that a strong sense of selfhood and identity, rooted in creative expression and cultural practice, is necessary to empower marginalized communities and individuals to participate actively in public dialogue and civic life. To this end, Arte Es Vida programming assists local Mexicano/a and Chicano/a communities in recovering their histories, art, culture, language, stories, and traditions, with a particular focus on the contributions of sabias (wise women elders). Arte Es Vida participants include youth in the Esperanza’s ArtEscuela program and women in its hand-built ceramics cooperative, MujerArtes. Participants develop skills of writing and video-taping, photo documentation, and other material collection methods so they can preserve their histories. Eventually, the Arte Es Vida collection will be available for use by all community members. On a regular basis, the project produces larger community cultural and educational events that bring together hundreds for celebration, remembrance, and learning. The two most successful productions have been An Altar for Emma and the Lydia Mendoza Community Tribute. An Altar for Emma was a performance piece about the historic and (s)heroic struggle of San Antonio’s pecan shellers, led by Emma Tenayuca from 1933-1938. The Lydia Mendoza Community Tribute was a celebration of the legendary Tejana musician on her 85th birthday. The event was held in a public park, and included book readings and traditional music performances.