by Ernest Hogan
Had me quite a double feature the other day -- two DVDs courtesy of Barrio Dog Productions and Latinopia that blasted me from the past and slung me into the future.
First was América Tropical. I had seen it when it was originally shown on KCET -- L.A.’s PBS affiliate -- back in 1971 when I was still in high school. It blew my teenaged mind, and influenced how I would navigate my cartoonist/writer ambitions. This telling of how a mural by David Alfaro Siquieros was commissioned by an L.A. business man, then whitewashed of its controversial content, helped me focus my concept of what it was to be an artist. The way it created a cinematic time warp to connect the Chicano Movement of the Seventies with what was going on in the Thirties plugged me into history in a way I never felt before.
It also influenced my first novel Cortez on Jupiter. I found myself daring to dream about a Chicano artist taking on a hostile society in the future, and beyond this planet. And when I faced conflicts over my own controversial material, I wasn’t completely blindsided.
The more recent, and longer, Visions of Aztlán is almost a sequel. The story of Chicano art is told -- and shown -- once again warping time, making history relevant, and reaching for the future. There are art historians -- and Arizona politicians -- who would have preferred that the history be left out in favor of showing all the beautiful art, but in this case art history and social history are inseparable. Visual storytelling is an ancient Chicano tradition. And Visions of Aztlán shows our art coming out of our history and our lives. Our art and our lives are the better for it.
Art should not be a hobby for the rich and the bored.
Or, as I quoted Picasso in Cortez on Jupiter:
Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.
Pablo deserves his honorary Chicano status for that one.
These films should be shown to all young artists -- and not just Chicanos. In the Information Age, artists can’t afford not to tell stories -- there’s too much going on.
Unfortunately, in my home state of Arizona, there are those who hear the world “Aztlán” and have sick fantasies of school children running amok with machetes. And some of these twisted minds have been given the authority to make laws. They would destroy history and culture to feed their irrational fears.
So far they have only banned books, not films. Maybe, with the right kind of art and education, videotraficantes will not be necessary.
But then, if they are, we better get ready . . .
Ernest Hogan is deciding where to submit his Pancho Villa/Nikola Tesla/airship/death ray story.