NALAC calls on the Latino Arts Community to Sieze the Moment NOW

by Armando Huipe
National Correspondent

pLAywriting in the city

The National Association of Latino Arts & Culture (NALAC) held their 8th Annual National Conference in Philadelphia this past October 17th through 21st. The central theme of the conference “Seizing theMoment NOW”, is particularly germane in this political climate, when the Latino vote proved to be in high demand in this year’s presidential election. With the amount of resources and capital invested in reaching the Latino community both politically and commercially, we stand at the genesis of a great change in demographics; it is simple arithmetic. According to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, the Latino electorate is likely to double by 2030. Though Latinos make up 17% of the population, they only contributed to 10% of the electorate on November 6th, according to exit polling. Age demographics will play a big role in the future of the electorate as well. Latinos carry a median age of 27 years, compared to 42 years for white non-Latinos. This is a powerful indicator that the Latino’s percentage of the population will markedly increase through generational replacement alone. NALAC has caught onto the changing demographics in our nation and recognizes that the community is due for a coming of age.

The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Armando Huipe

NALAC hosts events that are invariably inspirational; the organization attracts some of the most talented and innovative artists in the country. NALAC’s membership is a multi-ethnic, multigenerational, and interdisciplinary community that includes thousands of Latino artists, professionals, and organizations. If the various collaborative activities, showcases, and performances were not enough to leave the audience wide-eyed, the keynotes and panel sessions did.

On opening day, E. Carmen Ramos spoke about a trend to include Latino Art in all of the Smithsonian’s museums, a sense of validation spread throughout the room. She is the Curator of Latino Art for the Smithsonian American Art Museum which is responsible for putting together the Latino art pieces are included throughout the collections. Her upcoming exhibition, “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” will present and interpret major works from the museum’s pioneering collection of Latino Art in 2013. She is negotiating the tough question: “What is Latino Art?”  When a community consists of a tapestry of different ethnicities, cultures, and geographic backgrounds, it is a difficult task to curate a collection that values and represents all of its constituents. Many will be looking forward to seeing America’s museum present an exhibition about a community that has long been neglected.

Alumni of the NALAC Leadership Institute, Class of 2012 from
Left to Right, Armando Huipe, Javier Hurtado, Jesus Barraza, Rio Yanez

Quiara Alegría Hudes, who received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Water by the Spoonful, delivered a beautiful and candid keynote in the grand Millennium Ballroom at the Loews Hotel. Listening to her speak about her humble beginnings and her burgeoning success is to listen to the American Dream at its best. It could not have been easy growing up in Northern Philadelphia for a girl of half-Jewish and half-Puerto Rican descent, but Hudes went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University and a Masters in Fine Arts from Brown University where she studied with Paula Vogel. Many in the Latino community come from similar humble backgrounds; Quiara spoke to the group about a new up-and-coming generation that is experiencing an unprecedented access to privilege.

Another study done by the Pew Hispanic Center delineates that in 2011 the number of 18-24 year old Latinos enrolled in college exceeded two million and reached a 16.5% share of all college enrollments. Latinos are now, for the first time, the largest minority group across college campuses. Negotiating this acquired privilege with the past proves difficult, but necessary so that this generation can give a voice to the previously voiceless. Some, in this country, are still unaware of the third world conditions present within U.S. borders. The Latino community must seize the privilege it has gained and share it with others in the community, so that the contemporary American stories and struggles can be told accurately.

The movement within the Latino theater community toward forming regional alliances was not without its place at the conference. Kinan Valdez, Producing Artistic Director of El Teatro Campesino, led a session on the subject. Updates were provided on the progress of the respective regions, painting an exciting picture of the movement from a national perspective. It would appear that teatristas are moving forward. With New York City and the Greater Los Angeles Area forging ahead, the community is exploring models that will change the face of Latino theater and update the American theater narrative.

NALAC’s last keynote speaker was María Hinojosa, an award-winning journalist who is dedicated to bringing to light the stories of unsung heroes. She witnessed the events of 9/11 unfold along with people the world over, and knew that there must have been undocumented immigrants who fell victim to the horrible acts of terrorism on that day.

Hinojosa discovered Julia Hernandez, the widow of Antonio Melendez who worked at Windows on the World, a complex of venues on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  She covered the widow’s story for CNN only days after the tragedy.

In her speech, Hinojosa recounted how in December 2011, she received a phone call from a white-gay-hairdresser in Maine, whose church raised thousands of dollars for Julia Hernandez and her four children. As Hinojosa continued to cover the story; she accompanied AJ, the hairdresser, from the airport to the Bronx where he could deliver the Christmas gifts to Julia and her family. Hinojosa shared this story to highlight how in dire circumstances people are able to come together and that borders can suddenly disappear.

Hinojosa subscribes to the belief that we all share a core capacity to see ourselves in the person most unlike us. Hinojosa, the other speakers and the conferees are all a testament to the sense of familia ever-present at NALAC.

Cheers to all the Nalaqueros!