Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this text, Guillermo Gómez-Peña declares the new dominant U.S. culture “border culture,” and assesses how Latino culture has infiltrated U.S. culture writ large. U.S. culture has, he argues, become fundamentally multicultural, and the “border experience,” that is the dynamic process by which immigrant cultures have rapidly infiltrated mainstream Anglo-American culture, has refashioned the United States into a pluralistic context without a discernible dominant culture. Gómez-Peña argues that, through dialog and negotiation, the 1980s “culture of fear” (fear of Latinos and other minorities) in the United States can be dismantled. But, he acknowledges the difficulty of this task. The media stereotypes Latino culture by portraying artists and writers as “magical realists,” “baroque,” or, “colorful” and “passionate.” Nevertheless, all this enthusiasm for Latino culture is accompanied by a wave of political repression against Latinos in the United States, such as the dismantling of bilingual education and the militarization of the border. But, Gómez-Peña steadfastly believes that by participating in the “border culture,” by dialoguing with the cultural “other,” artists, writers, curators and other cultural workers can bring about political change by alleviating racism and separatism.

Annotations

In his writings and performances, the San Francisco-based Mexican artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña who moved to the US in 1978 articulated key concerns of a new generation of Latino artists in the United States during the late- 1980s and early- ‘90s. Savvy in use of new media, performance art, and critical theory, Gómez-Peña calls on artists, curators, and critics to take mainstream culture to task for its outdated and limited understanding of Latin American art. This text, which was written for the catalog of an exhibition entitled The Decade Show, signaled an effort among Latino artists in the United States to align themselves with other minorities in the promotion of cultural multiculturalism. Gómez-Peña quotes many key theorists of multiculturalism in the 1990s in this text, including Tomás Ybarra Frausto, Coco Fusco, Amalia Mesa-Bains, and Gayatri Spivak. In this text Gómez-Peña, along with his peers, argues against the use of mainstream theoretical terms, such as “postmodernism,” calling attention to the importance of inventing new language with which to describe the new cultural phenomena that are encompassed by what he calls “border culture.”

Researcher
María C. Gaztambide, ICAA; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
Team
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Credit
Courtesy of la Pocha Nostra, San Francisco, CA