Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture – September 28, 2007

While in Albuquerque waiting to connect with Karen and Antonio who would take me to the people who were going to host us while we took part in the traditional medicine and healing gathering, I met up with Linda who was in Albuquerque to take part in a Civil Rights event at which her uncle, a champion for civil rights in the Hispanic community, was being honoured.

Linda took time out of her busy schedule to visit the Mayan textile exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre (NHCC) and I met up with her there. The NHCC was launching an exhibition of Mayan Textile Art, which showcases “Mayan textiles which, as works of art, reflect the splendor and continuity of the Mayan culture.” There were two other related exhibits opening at the same time - Threads of a Different Colour: Guatemalan Textiles from the John Shaw Collection, a collection of very colourful hand woven huipiles, or blouses, from Guatemala, and as well, an exhibition of the photographs of Linda Montoya called Mayan Indians – Weavers of Colour, which documents Linda Montoya’s journey to Chiapas Mexico to connect with Mayan Indian women and children.

The textiles were exquisite. Each colourful and intricately woven piece was only surpassed by the neighbouring piece, each a work of art with delicate traditional and modern patterns with detailed designs. Each of the vibrant red, green, yellow, blue and white pieces spoke to the time and patience involved in weaving the fabric and putting together the blouse. Each one was a testimonial to the creativity and artistry that lives in the Mayan soul that is expressed so beautifully, so colourfully in each piece – each similar, but at the same time completely unique. The vibrant colours and intricate work reminded me of the yarn art and the beadwork of the Huichols that I had visited with in Real and the Sierras. The vibrant colours and the designs of the Mayan, like the Huichols, are a reflection of their spiritual beliefs and their view of the world. Art for them is not something to only hang on the wall to be admired, as these pieces were, but art is practical, art is an intimate aspect of everyday life. In fact, art is life, as clothes and colours are life.

After a brief tour of the textile exhibit, Linda had to leave to rejoin her family before flying back to San Antonio. I stayed for a video presentation and discussion of latinos in WWII. This was an aspect of history that I knew nothing about and was interested in finding out more. While waiting for the film to start I met an interesting woman who told me she was a historian. She asked me where my Spanish ancestors were from. The truth is I don’t know, but I said that I thought they might come from Toledo given the connection I had to that city while I was in Spain. I had not felt that connection in any of the other places I had visited in Spain. Putting her historian hat on she began to explain the history and meaning of the name Toledo. We talked for a while and as the mathematics would have it, in a crowed centre, with many people in beautiful outfits present for the opening of the Mayan Textile and the video presentation, I would connect with someone who had an interest and knowledge of holistic medicine and natural healing. She talked to me about curanderas and about three herbs with incredible healing properties, one of which was the common culinary herb rosemary. She herself had used rosemary when she had broken her arm, which she had set herself after she had treated it using rosemary to draw the swelling, blood and toxins from her arm, so that she could set her arm She had not gone to see a physician and her arm, which was still sporting an adjustable support was healing nicely. I suspected that she had more knowledge than she let on, who knows, maybe she was a curandera herself, but I did not have too much time to talk with her as the film was starting.

The session was opened by Eduardo Diaz, the director of the NHCC and featured Hector Galan, who had been producing programs for public television documenting the works of Latinos. He produced the 2 clips that were shown. The first was part of the story of latino mineros and their struggle for fair wages and equal pay and told the story of their role in WWII. The second clip was from a 14 hour PBS series on WWII. Galán noted that when it was about to air there were no latinos featured in the entire series and the reason he was given for that was that no latinos came forward when they were looking for stories. Sound familiar? No doubt wherever the call went out for stories it was not in Spanish, and did not appear in any of the Hispanic media.

When Galan reviewed the footage, he noted that there were many latinos in the WWII footage but they had no voice. The piece he showed featured two latinos talking about their experiences. It was shown at the end of the first show of the series. He noted that the battle of omission had been won but the war wasn’t. Many people were still very unhappy about how the latinos were placed and the fact that there weren’t more in the series. An all too familiar story of the dominant culture eyes that do not see what is outside of their field of view and why the struggle for representation and for social justice is as important now as it has ever been.

The clip that was shown was an eye opener for me as it recounted that, unlike the situation with the African American and Japanese American troops, the Hispanics shared barracks and eating quarters with the white personnel. This was the first time that many of the Hispanic and white boys had experienced that type of intermingling and it changed both groups of men. One of the latino veterans mentioned that even though when he came back to the US he still faced the same discrimination that he had when he left, he had been changed because he had risked his life and fought for his country and knew that this country was just as much his as it was the property of the white servicemen he had fought alongside.

What an evening it was from Mayan textiles to the latino presence in WWII. The events at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre cleverly intermingled art and social justice, colour and beauty. It was a veritable feast for the eyes!

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