OFFICE DIALOG entry 2

I sat with Tracy Spruce, poet and English high school instructor and Terry Suprean, artist/founder and director of Civic TV during my office hours on Saturday Oct 4th.

After 7 years teaching in Travis County, Tracy returned to HISD this semester. We got very involved in her teaching methods and the workshop curriculum that HISD has now adopted. Many of us recall how the typical English class was taught with a full reading, with book reports, on the classics of English literature. Boring. I scarcely remember the books we covered. This has now evolved to teaching a reading and writing Workshop where the student themselves create their curriculum by deciding the books they prefer to read. This entails the entire class reading books and writing memoirs at various stages of mastery while all being in the same grade level, in the same classroom, at the same time. Students read what and write what they are interested in and what engages them the most. The teacher honors the decisions of the students, supports classroom collaborations among the students, with a concern for and consideration with one another, and with an open-ended inquiry into social critique. The classroom becomes an extension of democratic society outside the school grounds. It is the English class as apprenticeship for citizenry. Tracy has been teaching this method for 15 years. Now the workshop has been adopted by HISD since 2014 or so.

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It’s stunning to know that HISD has implemented a new, progressive curriculum where students co-author their education over the past few years. Which means the first student body educated under the new curriculum should be graduating this year. This bodes well for our young Hispanic students who have the lowest graduating rates in the nation. Tracy teaches at one such school where a majority of the children are “at risk” and finish high school with some of the lowest levels of reading and writing skills in the State.

One student has inspired Tracy how she will work and guide her class. She refers to him as her “Spirit-Animal” child. Her students invented a new word inspired by her energy; “Spruciful.”

Terry Suprean and Alex came later in the day. Terry also teaches high school, though at a private school. It is his position that all artist serve as perpetual teachers. We serve not just as instructors, but as mentors, life examples and perhaps future collaborators. “Art is play for adults.” As an artist, he instinctively understands the importance of play in the public life and how having an affiliation and connection with artists and art classes are important for having a tolerant and democratic outlook.  It just so happened that the new statement on the façade above reads, “El Jugar es Deber”, (Playing is Duty).

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Terry contrasts his experience at his school with the another private, all boys high school across the street with no art classes. One school values diversity, the other does not. “Imagination is the beginning of empathy.”

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Terry schooled me on the ideas of Derrida’s “descensus” where discussion and even dissension is part of the democratic discourse and how the “contract” should exist for citizens in private, public as well as with the state. I came back to the concept of “choice” when hearing this.

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We both agreed that artists should have a primary role in authoring this new “contract”. But he insisted that a new, ever evolving contract is needed with room for “descensus.” I had forgotten that Terry was once a pre-law student before becoming an artist!

OFFICE DIALOG entry 1

Saturday, September 30th, was my first day sitting at my “Office Dialog” desk installation (perhaps I should call it my office hours). I received curator/writer Robert Boyd and Michael Galbreth of the Art Guys.

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Robert and I talked about his dual citizenship with Australia and the US. He was born there to American parents and left at 3 years old. He talked about how he wanted an “out” in case things go bad here in the U.S. after Trump’s inauguration. We conversed more deeply about how life can be different there than here and which place could be more life affirming. Certainly, there are benefits of staying here in the US versus what he could get there. However, there are benefits that he can receive in Australia that are not possible in the US such as universal health care and strict gun control laws for example. I tried to get him into a conversation of what would be more fulfilling as a citizen of each place, what sort of duties and obligations would be needed from him in each country and for anyone else. Personal safety and having an established safety net were uppermost in the type of entitlements that would appeal to me I admitted. However, for Robert, being 6ft, 6 inches and the body of a linebacker, a low crime rate and the threat to his personal body integrity is not what he worries about.  Our dialog meandered through the intricacies of applying for an Australian passport, to the writers Bruce Chatwin and Robert Hughes, to the artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov as artists making alterative worlds and private, theoretical utopias. This would not be too dissimilar to the heterotopic space of the art installation we sat in that day. I must go back and study their work again. Thanks Robert!

My conversation with Michael Galbreth was through our cell phones. Michael decided that calling him over the phone would be better for the concept of extra-territoriality.

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This got very interesting as we touched upon artists prerogatives and whether that can be realized by all peoples and citizens. “Space” as internal space was discussed. Artists seem to do a very good job of defining and creating extra-territorial space. Michael brought up a very good point about citizenship. For all the concepts of and the value of “choice” to realize true citizenship, we actually do not choose which states we become citizens of when we are born. I wonder how long in infancy and childhood that sense of oblivious statehood exists? There are a lot of ideas that we can expand upon. Ever the erudite person, Michael brought up Leibniz’ Nature and Freedom, and the one and many distinctions of metaphysical views; Thomas Paine’s recognition of small change, “It’s the direction not the magnitude” of our intentions that make a difference in society; and Thomas McEvilley’s Shape of Ancient Thought as something to consider when we think about where our ideas of citizenship originate. I invited him to come visit me in person. It made me very pleased that he complimented my idea for the show of an artist trying to define the internal and extraterritorial space to converse about these ideas. But he especially admired that I can have participant’s statements/notes/drawings notarized if it is truthfull. Praise from Cesar!

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ANNOUNCING THE EAST END PLAN

The East End Plan is an experiment is to discover the affects civic planning, commercial development and re-uses of the East End’s urban landscape have on its residents. Templates are given for local residents to draw with crayons. Color is associated with the participants "feeling" and “choices” toward the places, they feel safe, congregate, share, fear, wish to visit, find mysterious and to areas they cannot and do not wish to visit.

It is emotional map making and creates a "gestalt of place" that identifies the internal perception of the resident's living in Houston's East End with their neighborhood and its geographic features. “What are the effects on the individual perception towards open, common or private spaces that do not consider or consult with the local population?”

East End cultural map

Very happy to announce LOCCA’s emerging presence on Houston’s East End cultural map. The East End Foundation creates a map that pinpoints creative spaces, studios, venues, murals, cultural centers, historical sites, etc. as way to celebrate the East End’s designation as a Texas Commission on the Arts cultural district.  While still waiting to have a pin dropped on the map itself, at least they made a fancy cartoon of my place! It was featured on the EEF Instagram: #cultura_eastendhou More to come…..

“aquí para quedarse” and new wheelchair ramp, Jan. 30

Everything evolves, transforms, changes… So must the message of my LOCCA. I took my time after the election to consider various possible quotes. I could have painted something out of rage or to instigate a provocation. But I found one that my friends from United We Dream mentioned repeatedly in their twitters, slogans, gritas etc.

This message has a threefold interpretation (really four). It says in Spanish a message to our elected officials, law enforcement and our national government that immigrants who have lived here for so long and suffered due to discriminatory immigration policies should stay here and have amnesty. It was good enough for Reagan in the 80’s, why not now.

Second, this law office that was bequeathed to me will stay in practice. I have been working very hard on making repairs and renovations, and to ensure its safety in order for the offices to be ready for rent. I want newly barred attorneys to come here to work for the community doing family law, immigration and to provide services that are needed. This was due to my father practicing law for 55 years, and I want to be around for another 55 years to provide affordable services to this Spanish speaking, low income community.

Lastly, it is a message to many of my progressive friends thinking of moving out of the country because of the election of the current White House. There will be a lot of major issues that threaten the country. Some people are trying to divide this country, others are trying to create a more perfect union. In politics many times for every “action” there can be an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s third law of motion). The thought of leaving the US for states with more welcoming or less right-wing policies is tempting. But consider those left behind that do not have the freedom to choose to up and move to another country. I will follow the examples of my parents and previous generations during and before the civil rights challenges of the twentieth century. In spite of the discrimination they chose to make this place their home. Aqui para quedarse, y luchar!

I also had time to finish the new wheelchair ramp for the office. Now seniors and the disabled can enter more easily.

The beginning of our ERA OF RESISTANCE, Saturday, Jan 14

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The beginning of our ERA OF RESISTANCE, Saturday, Jan 14

 Yes, this is just the beginning. There was a large turnout for this small space: at least 200. Members from the immigrant rights community, labor unions, student, family and children. There were a few speeches and a symbolic demonstration of what to do with a wall erected for racial reasons: break it down!

  The best part of the day (in my view) was listening and recording the personal testimonies from people from all walks of life. They asked the mayor and city council to make this city safe for immigrants, with pro-immigrant policies and a withdrawal by our Houston law enforcement departments from the non-binding agreement (287g) with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement by agencies. Most touching was a place for children to make their own superhero capes and to emblazon (finger paint) with messages of hope.

 Thank you to United We Dream!

Nov. 3rd “The Longoria Affair” Screening and discussion with Felix E. Salinas

The screening of “The Longoria Affair”, a documentary by John Valadez, was an opportunity to shed some light on the under-recognized contributions of the American G.I. Forum and Dr. Hector Garcia who advanced the civil rights of Mexican-Americans in the 1950’s and 60’s. Felix E. Salinas, ESQ was the second executive Secretary to the G.I. Forum and worked closely with Dr. Garcia. It just so happens that Mr. Salinas is my deceased father’s partner. Mr. Salinas continues to practice here at the Sanchez Law building. This event was hosted by Mikaela Selley, Hispanic Archivist for the Houston Public Library. We were lucky to have in attendance our City Councilman, Roberto Gallegos and former City Councilwoman, Graciela G. Saenz. After a few words from the Councilman, we ended the evening by having a Q&A with Mr. Salinas and his history with the G.I. Forum. It would be safe to say that many in attendance did not know this part of United States history. I have known Mr. Salinas all my life and I never tire of hearing about his life’s story. What surprised me was discovering that his during his entire time working for the G.I. Forum to defend Mexican-American’s rights (in which his life was threatened more than once) that he and Dr. Garcia worked voluntarily and were never paid.

Oct. 27th “WHATS AT STAKE: Immigration, the National Election and Beyond"

United We Dream is the organization started by those who are known as the “Dreamers”, the large community of young, undocumented immigrants living in the United States. LOCCA’s first program invited them to talk about their experiences of life living in the shadows, and then courageously out in the open and without fear of their status as residents. Our event was hosted by Veronica Bernal, an attorney representing this community in south Texas. Invited to the panel were Oscar Hernandez, Raul Alcaraz-Ochoa and Citlalli Alvarez Almendariz all organizers for UWD. Not only did we hear about their accounts of living in fear and being discovered by the authorities, but their transformation to decide not to succumb to this condition. Due to President Obama’s executive action, children who are under 31 and without resident documentation qualify for the Deferred Action for Children Arrives (DACA). DACA allows them to get a driver’s license, have a job with benefits, get a social security number, permits them to help their family financially, etc. This program has permitted this section our U.S. undocumented community to come out of the shadows to push for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship. LOCCA’s partner, the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies, was on hand as well represented by its director, Dr. Pamela Quiroz.