MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Desert Voices: Perspectives on Chicano Communities

I was tickled to witness justice served when earlier this year First Lady Laura Bush cancelled the poetry symposium, "Poetry and the American Voice." When ex-librarian Laura Bush learned anti-war poetry would be read at a scheduled symposium, she called the entire event off. The Bush's (Laura, husband and father-in-law) attempted to define poetry by removing politics or any political remnants from all textbook references. This in turn created a tsunami of anti-war writings and submissions spearheaded by Sam Hamill, an invited guest to the previously cancelled event. February 12, 2003, started out as a comfy celebration of American literature and was soon declared by Hamill and other poets throughout the country as a day of poetry against the war. Now this is poetic. And justice in the eyes of millions of Americans who are grateful for poetry and believe it is important to defend and support writers and their license to speak out on issues difficult for mainstream America to digest. The provoking news here is that if you find the words are disturbing, perhaps it is because hidden amongst the letters is punctuated truth.

Honestly, Laura Bush is a terrible fundraiser for libraries. Her recent decisions and lack of actions however, fire-up a dialogue and assist in creating texts that just may find their way to public libraries throughout the country. Members of the public can draw their own conclusions to questions such as, "Does poetry have a place in a political arena?"

Personally, I think it's great that poetry made national news and now more than ever it is necessary to support our author friends. Desert Voices is a program produced by SRIC that supports writers from of our communities. The New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities (NMEH) has awarded a small grant for the 2003-2004 program which is a series of interactive presentations featuring four accomplished women (Chicana) writers, poets, scriptwriters, and filmmakers - Demetria Martinez, Ana Consuelo Matiella, Pat Mora, and Carmella Padilla. Martinez, Matiella, Mora and Padilla speak to a depth of experience and wealth of knowledge from the heart of community, they are our desert voices.

One theme each woman tackles is moving between, through, and around languages, cultures, and world-views. For example, Demetria Martinez's work highlights the sanctuary movement and New Mexico's role in providing refuge for immigrants due to war, poverty, and inaccessibility to resources such as food, fuel, and potable drinking water in Central America. In many cases it is women and children who suffer the costs of such devastating impacts to communities in developing countries. Martinez brings to the table an understanding of this issue through her experiences and her novel, Mother Tongue. Audience members will learn how writing can be used as a tool toward social change. Demetria notes, "Writers have a responsibility, to speak for those who do not have a voice." This underlying philosophy is the basis of Martinez's presentation and helps bridge awareness of community needs across boundary lines.

Consuelo Matiella's foto-novela presentation brings forward the notion of living between borders (Arizona/Mexico/New Mexico) as she draws upon her experience based in a family torn apart by a desert and an international boundary line. Pat Mora's work is a journey into Nepantla, or place in the middle, as her poems and stories deal with people and their attachment to a barren land where only the hardiest of cacti and fiercest of humans survive. Carmella Padilla, most noted for her work in print, produced a film about the worldviews and values of what is considered high art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Padilla gives audience members an overview of what one "world view" considers a lower art form, elevating the creative expression of four male "artesanos" to a status that can be accepted and valued by mainstream art society. Thus, she builds upon understandings of art.

This project provides an overview of the various perspectives of Chicano communities through the works of Martinez, Matiella, Mora, and Padilla.

Each woman provides audience members myriad layers of culture with a goal to seek understanding in difference within the world in order to come together as members of community and to become better citizens of the world. Public audiences at four locations throughout the middle Rio Grande and Central New Mexico are invited to attend. Check your local newspapers, or www.sric.org, for dates and times.

Frances Ortega

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"When uranium mining and processing became big business during the Cold War, the federal government subsidized the industry. Most of the United States' uranium came out of Navajo ground. The Navajo people had a nominal say in the process at the time, but have endured all of the consequences since then. The land was torn open for our nuclear arsenal and the Navajo people are still dying from the cancers and illnesses that it caused.

I do not want a fourth generation of my people to suffer from the physical, psychological and cultural devastation caused by predatory energy practices. The lack of tribal consent contained in the Indian Energy title means that the federal government could override the Navajo law that prohibits uranium-mining activities on our land."
–Joe Shirley, Jr. President, Navajo Nation
"Senate Energy Bill Exploits Indian Resources"
Albuquerque Journal, July 18, 2003

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