Neo-cons can rest easy: Prejudice is alive and well in our liberal university system. Take Laura Elizabeth Morales, executive director of UTSA’s new Young Conservatives of Texas chapter. Her group trumpeted its presence last week with a PR gambit straight out of Phyllis Schlafly’s quiche-slinging manual: “Border Crossing,” an outdoor sculpture on the UTSA campus by renowned Texas fiberglass artist Luis Jimenez must be removed.
Jimenez, an El Paso native whose work is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, died while working in his New Mexico studio last year. “Border Crossing,” on loan to UTSA, represents the experience of many Americans and their ancestors. “This is a memory to share the struggles that his family did,” says UTSA Art Specialist Arturo Almeida, “not only his family but a lot of families who are now Mexican-Americans who live in the United States.”
But in the Young Conservative’s playbook, universities aren’t about the free expression of ideas. It’s an “artistic representation of an illegal action,” Morales says, and it has no place “on a public university where a public university will have to use its funds to keep it up.”
Under the leadership of President Ricardo Romo, UTSA has built a collection of more than 400 works by South Texas artists. Is YCT going to police every painting, drawing, and sculpture to make sure the university isn’t expending resources on any other “representations of illegal action”?
“If need be, then yes, we’ll do it,” says Morales.
The absurdity of YCT’s proposal is immediately apparent (responses from various family members and co-workers include: “How do they think their ancestors got here? On the Hindenburg?” “Did somebody from the Kickapoo tribe stamp Colombus’s passport?” And “I guess we’ll have to get rid of all that Boston Tea Party art, too.”). MashUp suspects that it’s a desperate cry for attention in an Anna-Nicole-Smith saturated world; it’s not every day that the Current’s email address appears in the same “To” line as [email protected] and [email protected]
“It’s not so much a publicity stunt,” says Morales, but at its Wednesday press conference, YCT does want to draw attention to HB1403, signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in 2001, which offers in-state college tuition and financial aid to undocumented immigrant children who have earned a state diploma and resided in Texas for three years. Houston Representative Debbie Riddle has filed a bill this session that would rescind those benefits.
That a Latina is heading up an organization that wants to pull up the ladder behind it is perhaps a sign that American Latinos have fully arrived — so much so that some of them would like to carry on like the Mayflower Society.
“I understand some people from Mexico which are now here, it’s like they don’t want to be reminded of that,” says Almeida. “`But` I know that `Jimenez` did it just as a tribute.”
YCT’s objection to Jimenez’s sculpture bears a sad resemblance to the ongoing Virgen censorship issue at Centro Cultural Aztlan. Since we last visited this topic `Mashup, January 24-30`, the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a public petition to Centro asking them to come clean on their curatorial practices. Perhaps most telling of all, though, was a letter from Centro staffer Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez, published January 31 in the Current, in which he recapped Centro Director Malena Gonzalez-Cid’s assertion: Centro didn’t censor Anne-Marie Lopez’s “Virgin” painting (or Alma Lopez’s before her), but it does strive to meet community expectations about portraying the Virgen with respect.
I don’t want to overstate the issue, but this is akin to arguing “it’s not genocide; we’re just ethnic cleansing.” Nonetheless, this would be a non-issue if Centro were a private arts organization, but it is funded heavily by the City and resides in a City-owned building.
Centro is a deservedly well-respected Westside organization, which may account for the lack of public response from its peers and the Office of Cultural Affairs — despite the fact that three artists, including the 2006 show’s lead artist and co-curator, have accused Centro of censorship. A version of NCAC’s petition forwarded to the Current by Anna-Marie bears just over 40 signatures, including ACLU and Texas Commission on the Arts boardmembers.
Missing was the support of another San Antonio cultural institution that has sometimes been derided as not truly “art” — Urban 15. Artistic Director Catherine Cisneros instead chose to denigrate Lopez’s painting in a harshly worded email to the artist, placing herself in the same camp as YCT’s Morales, who, benefitting from her predecessors’ sacrifices would now like to deny other American hopefuls the right to be judged on effort and merit.