30 Años de Amor y Chingasos
(30 Years of Love and Punches)
Mission Grafica and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission Street, San Francisco CA 94110
by DeWitt Cheng
The apparent incapacity of Americans to think outside certain circumscribed ideological boxes has become increasingly evident in recent years. Too many of us, presented with a falsely idealized status quo, vote as if programmed; President Bush's declared "sacred [gas-burning] way of life" became the rationale for a scared way of life based on denial alternating with intermittently administered media panic attacks. Even this year's San Francisco celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love amounted to little more than an exercise in Boomer nostalgia--hype notwithstanding.
Not everyone has succumbed to status quo cynicism, commercialism, and passivity, however. 2007 marks also the thirtieth anniversary of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, the largest Latino community center in the continental US, located in a former furniture factory on boisterous Mission Street. It's one of a number of community-based San Francisco art centers of various ethnicities that continue to combine community activism and education with high artistic standards. "The jovencitos are our future," wrote Board Member Isabel Barraza on the occasion of MCCLA's silver anniversary. Now headed by executive director Jennie Rodriguez, the nonprofit continues to serve Latino youth (as declared)--and adults--with extensive offerings in salsa, Capoeira, flamenco, Aztec dance, Cuban dance, puppetry, photography, theater, samba, mask-making, and African drumming; in the visual arts, it offers instruction in printmaking, photography, drawing, design, video, installation, and textile printing. MCCLA's teachers, scholars, and visiting artists preserve and transmit Mexican/Chicano, Central American, South American, and Caribbean culture to new generations in spite of the difficulties faced by all nonprofits, financial necessity sparking continual invention. (The sardonic and affectionate title of this article comes from former director Rene Yanez.)
Community-centered creativity, activism, and empowerment thrive most visibly in MCCLA's illustrious printmaking facility, Mission Grafica, its bilingual English/Castilian name symbolizing its cross-cultural aims. Founded in 1977 by Rene Castro, Jos Sances, Kay Downey, and Maria Rosa Galdamze (later joined by Simon Kendrick and Tirso Gonzalez), MCCLA's graphics department evolved into a powerhouse of engaged street art and progressive politics which has aided over a hundred artists of many nationalities in producing over 500 prints and thousands of posters, many with powerful political messages against exploitation and evictions, and on behalf of various political struggles like the Zapatistas' in Chiapas; other prints and posters have helped publicize and support cultural partners (Teatro Campesino, San Francisco Print Collective, Luis Enrique Mejia, Intillimani, Mercedes Sosa, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Carlos Santana, U2). The work of such artists as Araiza, Jesus Barraza, Josefina Bates, Rene Castro, Enrique Chagoya, Harry Fonseca, Sal Garcia, Mariana Garibay, Ester Hernandez, Nancy Hom, Isaias Mata, Amilca Mouton-Fuentes, Irene Perez, Calixto Robles, Jos Sances, Herbert Siguenza, Eric Triantafillou and Rene Yanez has been shown and published internationally, garnering prestigious international art awards in Germany and Cuba. Now headed by activist printmaker Juan Fuentes, Mission Grafica continues its political and fine-art work with continued energy and commitment, while MCCLA's Galeria Museo and Sala Inti Raymi, presided over by Patricia Rodriguez, provide exhibition space for Latino and non-Latino artists alike.
"Un taller humilde en el barrio de la Mision," a humble factory in the Mission district, MCCLA is El Corazon del Barrio, the heart of the community; at thirty it may have occasional growing pains, but it remains vital and uncompromising.
-- DeWitt Cheng 2007
DeWitt Cheng, a Bay Area artist and freelance art writer, is a contributing editor to SFAM.
Photo by DeWitt Cheng.