We Need Protests. And Paintings.
“UCI’s Hector Tobar examines art’s potential and pivotal role to enhance understanding about issues related to immigration.”
Published in New York Times on January 27, 2018
Author: Héctor Tobar
I am often told that Los Angeles is a “third-world cesspool,” a line of bigoted criticism that refers to my city’s immigrant population. This attitude far predates the contemporary debate over the fate of Dreamers — it’s fueled not just by political rhetoric but also by artistic portrayals that have long been misleading or lacking.
The powerful culture industries of this city have done little to undermine the idea that the real Los Angeles — the place where its swarthy masses live — is a place of violence, fear and backwardness. Film and television, especially, have done an incredibly poor job of portraying the Los Angeles immigrant Everyman and communities such as Huntington Park, which is more than 97 percent Latino and as proudly Mexican as some parts of Boston are proud to be Irish.
The average José or Juana we Angelenos know well is now a fixture in cities and towns across the United States — a Mexican Willy Loman in the Bronx or a Salvadoran-American Norma Rae punching a time clock at a chicken-processing plant in Alabama. But the absence of people like them from mass culture allows many of our fellow Americans to cling to the idea that immigrants — especially black and brown ones — don’t belong.
To defend the place of millions of immigrants and their progeny in American society, we need not only protest of political changes but also more art. We need to bring the ambitions, the foibles and the soul of immigrant America into the collective American mind. And for that we need television shows and movies, and more novels, poems, paintings and songs. High art and low.
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