For the spring 2018 primary election, RACC distributed a questionnaire to all candidates running for Portland City Council; Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington County Boards of Commissioners; and Metro Council. Each candidate was asked five questions on March 13 or 14, and given the opportunity to respond by March 30 when this story was first published. RACC will continue to publish responses from candidates even after the deadline has passed.
Here are the responses provided by Maria Garcia, running for Multnomah County Commissioner, District 2. All responses are reprinted verbatim from what the candidates sent us.
RACC: In what specific ways have you supported arts and culture in Multnomah County?
MG: In 2011, when I worked in the Mexican Consulate in Portland, in the Community Affairs Department, part of my job was to promote cultural events. I supported and organized different cultural events, including indigenous celebrations in Multnomah County.
Working with the Mayan community in the NE Cully neighborhood, I have supported, sponsored and organized together with INDEMAYA (Mayan organization in Yucatan, Mexico) a cultural event called “Vaqueria”. For the past 6 years, every September, representatives of the Mayan government from Yucatan come to celebrate their folklore, music, sell of textiles and jewelry, gastronomy and community unity as well as listening to their main concerns and problems living abroad so when they go back, they create programs of support that help the Mayan community to be connected with their families and government back home.
Another event I helped to organized together with another indigenous group from Oaxaca, Mexico, in Portland was called “La Guelaguetza in Porltand”. La Guelaguetza is an annual indigenous cultural even in Oaxaca, Mexico. This celebration centers on traditional dancing in costumes in groups, includes parades with indigenous walking bands, traditional Oaxacan food and state wide artisanal crafts such as prehispanic style textile. We hold this event 2 consecutive years. We are currently getting together to host this event again for summer 2019.
Those celebrations are important for the continuing survival of these cultures, especially those living abroad since their kids started to lose their identity and mother language.
Another cultural event I helped organized in 2010 and 2011 at the Portland Art Museum, was a gastronomic event “Sabor a Mexico”, where the most re- known Mexican restaurants were invited to participate in a fund raiser for a program called “IME BECAS”. The money was donated to local educational institutions that served Mexican milenios to pay for their tuition at Portland State University.
During my tenure at the Mexican Consulate, I organized for 2 consecutive years at The Arlington club, a 5 de Mayo celebration where I brought the “Charros”( Mexican cowboys), to performed and promote their traditions, a Ranchero singer, dances and coordinated with the chef a Mexican menu for dinner. The main floor was decorated with Ranchero items and really brought a Mexican experience to the club. It was a very well received event.
Day of Death celebration is a very important event closed to my heart. In 2016, with the support of the Multnomah County Employees of Color, I organized a Day of Dead celebration at the Lincoln Center. This is a celebration of dead and life, very close to the Mexican culture. In this event, we honored the dead a young man of color killed by police brutality, Christopher Kalonji. His mother, Irene Kalonji, set up an altar with pictures of Cristopher and his favorite cookies, made by her. Don’t Shoot Portland was present with an altar name “Black lives matter”, where the pictures of the most national known African American young men were killed by police brutality too. Donor life organization was present with an altar. They talked about the importance of donating organs after dead.
A recipient of the Governor’s Arts Awards, artist Arvie Smith, participated too building a great altar where he brought the African roots together with the religious Catholic believes of this celebration. One more participant was a famous local photographer, Paulina Hermosillo, who was a reporter for the most prestigious Mexican magazines many years ago She brought her collection of pictures of all the social justice movements in Mexico which was part of my Revolutionary altar.
Another talented young artist, Ameya Marie, brought beautiful artistic pictures of known activist all over the world and the images of young men killed by police brutality nationally too. The last participant was Voz Hispana, a pro- immigrant non profit organization with an altar honoring immigrants crossing the borders.
In 2017, together with Mexican muralist, Hector Hernandez, I organized a Day of dead celebration at PNCA, where the event was hosted. Artist Vojislav Radovanovic, came from LA to present his version of pagan celebration of dead. Teressa Raiford, from Don’t Shoot Portland, set up an altar with pictures of African American activist through history. Donate life organization was present again and together with the sutdents of color of PNCA, built an altar honoring Latino immigrants deaths . We had Aztec dancers, Mexican coffee, hot chocolate and pan de muerto, a traditional pastry eaten in this special occasion. The Portland Art Museum participated as sponsor of the event. In June, this year, I will start organizing for the 2018 Day of Death celebration again.
On September 2017, I host a bystander intervention event at the Artist Repertory Theater where we talked about the difference of being “Latino, Chicano and Hispanic”, how we intersect with the slavery in Africa and how this gave place to a part of our Mexican-African culture expressed in some traditional dances of specific regions of Mexico. An expert in Chicano studies and artist, Hector Hernandez talked to us about the difference between “Assimilation and Inclusion” of the Latino diaspora in USA. Local dancers were performing such as Kenya Marquez, with her folcloric dance group, “Papalotl”. Kenya brought her dance group formed mainly by kids between the ages of 8-15 years old and performed “La Bamba”, famous mestizo song. Keny explained the meaning of this song and the strong African influence in Mexico. “Los Chinelos”, folcloric dance group from central Mexico brought their majestic outfits and dances. They talked about the meaning of their dances and costumes, where they are from, how strong the Spanish influence in their region is and the importance of promoting our culture in Portland.
As a community advocate, I started a beautiful project together with the Latino Club from Oregon State Penitentiary. It was a “papel picado” project. Inmates made the colorful traditional Mexican cut paper. They costume made logos, different shapes and colors were made by this men. I distributed the paper and got orders from different organizations and restaurants that supported this project. In 2015, the first Hispanic Heritage month celebration took place at the Capitolio, in Salem. Many Latino artists participated as well as the “papel picado” made by the inmates. They were very proud of knowing their work was exhibited at the same time. My intention was to bring awareness about this other part of our community.
I am the former president of Don’t Shoot Portland, a community action organization focus in social justice and art. I can proudly say that I did influence the arts and culture emphasis of the organization. I believe social justice can be express through art and influence at young age is best. Now, Don’t Shoot host a Kids arts and Culture Council where kids, all ages, participate creating banners with profound messages. In this council, kids can express their vision of social justice. They learn about activism and how to express their surroundings and life trough art. We support local pop artist who have learned how to turn their art into business.
I am a current board member of a local theater company, Boom Arts, and a supporter of this organization. On Sunday, March 11th, I host a work shop with a Mexican theater company brought by Boo Arts. We invited Latino women living in Porltand and together with the director of Linea de Sombra, the Mexican theater company, we talked about the challenges on immigrant women living in USA and how art has influence our lives and/or the people we have worked with. They goal of this workshop, was to support the work of the theater company transforming our stories into hopefully a play. Since it was a wonderful and unique topics, I decided that I want to hold a monthly meeting open to the public, where people can come and have substantial conversations about the importance of art and how to promote it.
RACC: Artists and arts organizations add measurable value to our region’s economy, our education system and our quality of life. Yet there are a number of pressing needs in Multnomah County that often compete with arts and culture for attention and investment. How would you describe the importance of arts and culture in our community, and what should Multnomah County be doing to support this sector?
MG: Arts and culture are the result of all the collective effort that identifies society and its life style. Culture identifies specific social groups and art generates artistic expression using different symbols, techniques and materials that an artist produce. Art take us to different worlds without living our own space.
Multnomah county has an abundance of artists and diverse cultures that should be paid more attention to. Promoting our diverse neighborhoods, by inviting the different diasporas living in the county to bring their gastronomy, arts, folklore, music, art and crafts and more to everybody into their neighborhoods will be a great way to connect and learn form everybody’s culture in a very safe and organic way that can built community. It is important to build pride in the neighborhoods because they are the fabric of community. When one neighborhood is in decline, the whole community can be at risk. Neighborhoods, whether official or perceived play a critical role in the success of local housing and infrastructure policy. Strengthening and promoting existing neighborhoods can stabilized the housing stock and contribute towards community ties. These ties produce a stronger community that can effectively react to problems such as crime, litter or deterioration. Dealing with these threats in a proactive and forceful manner can ensure the vitality and property values of a community. Promoting living, shopping and special events within particular neighborhoods increases community pride, communication and social interaction. All this can be done promoting arts, culture and diversity. Let’s take China town in San Francisco or New York as an example, or “La Placita Olvera” in Los Angeles among may other diverse ethnic centered neighborhoods. They bring culture, gastronomy, cultural activities and pride to their neighborhoods, adding a touristic aspect, very important for local economy. District 2 can be the leader in culture and community pride.
RACC: The region’s affordability is a serious concern for everyone in our community. What are your plans for making housing and creative spaces more affordable for artist, nonprofit arts organizations and arts-related businesses?
MG: I believe that working closed with City council, specifically, Commissioner Eudaly and Fish is important. The 24 recommendations of the Arts Affordability plan to promote arts and culture should be applied to Multnomah County too. I truly believe in direct communications with community members that are very active in this arena (arts and culture) is important. Inviting them to participate and share their work and places already existing is important to know. Closer partnerships with already established institutions such as Portland Art Museum, OMSI, PNCA, small galleries that can work together to support local artist and community based cultural events, This is an affordable way of support and promote local talent. The housing crisis is a bigger issue than what we think, and a prompt solution should be taken into action but those are long negotiations at state level where the non-cause eviction has to be banned as first move so we can keep people housed to avoid more shortage of housing. Extending human services at the county level is important to help people in need to pay for their utilities and rent. The housing issue is a big cycle that is beyond not just paying rent, but a poverty problem and lack of understanding in how fast and bad planned the city has grown. What is happening now is the result of many years of investment in high priced housing and lack of attention to the needs of the community.
RACC: How can RACC and Multnomah County do a better job of providing arts experiences for East County and other underrepresented communities?
MG: I think of my answer in question 2 will cover this question too. For our underrepresented communities in particular, the kids need to be influence more into all forms of arts and culture pride. Many kids are losing their identity because there is not reinforcement of it. Because of racism too, many kids are rejecting speaking their mother language now. Parents work long hours, sometimes up to 3 jobs (experiencing myself that issue many years ago), and have no time to bring that cultural awareness to their kids. So schools, in this case, working through the SUN School programs, is an effective way for affordable or not cost approach to arts and culture. Bringing neighborhood pride to all this undeserved communities by allowing locals to express themselves through art is empowering. Allowing the creation of murals that tells the story of the neighborhoods can bring pride and a different approach to art. Partnering with Jails and detention centers is important too. Providing the artistic education is important. I advocate for Latino incarcerated men and I know many talented men creating beautiful paintings and crafts. They learned inside jail because they never had an encounter with arts before. Maybe art could have save them? Perhaps. Graffiti is a form of art, tatoos are an expression of art, art is everywhere but we are not understanding it because there is not part of our life.
RACC: What are some of your other priorities for Multnomah County that would be of interest to artists, arts organizations and arts educators in our community?
MG: I bring cultural awareness, eradication of Institutional racism, accountability. I vision a Multicultural center built in D2 that houses all forms of local arts and promotes diverse cultures, creates a safe space for our local artist and communities. I vision a rich, colorful, vibrant cultural center that will be a sacred home of arts. It is not impossible, is doable and necessary.