November 7, 2003

A Red CalacArts Dia de los Muertos

By Raymond R. Beltrán

Last Sunday, November 2, Chicano Perk Café in Sherman Heights overflowed with people from all over San Diego to witness the Red CalacArts Collective’s (RCAC) first annual El Dia de los Muertos Commemoration. Poets and artists from various organizations and areas provided a multidisciplinary arts agenda for this jam-packed venue. RCAC co-founders Mariajulia Urías and Sara Durán, co-founder of Taco Shop Poets Miguel-Angel Soria ignited the stage with a cross fire of slam poetry, spoken word, and a bit of teatro cucaracha from East L.A. writer Olga A. García.

Under the auspices of Calaca Press, the Red CalacArts Collective is a nascent activist/artist organization comprised of San Diego publishers, writers, activists and artists that have come together to produce various genres of art directly pertaining to themes that ignite a sense of social consciousness in their audience.

“Art reflects society and it’s problems, and more people are open to it,” says Red CalacArts Vice-President Mariajulia Urías. “We don’t want art for art’s sake. There are enough places for [that]. This is about opening eyes and minds, and it’s about revealing social inequalities.”

East L.A. poeta Olga A. García, painted as half Calaca, reads poetry in front of a sixty person audience at Chicano Perk Café last Sunday night for the Red CalacArts Collective’s first annual Dia de los Muertos Commemoration.

Since their Communiqué #1 was released on October 7, the Red CalacArts Collective has received overwhelming responses of appreciation from artists and activists throughout the country, including an extended hand of solidarity from New Jersey’s Black Telephone Workers Union.

For their first annual Dia de los Muertos event, an astounding sixty people filled the medium size Chicano Perk Café. In beginning a tradition of socially conscious events, Christian Ramirez from the American Friend’s Service Committee commemorated the dead with a stunning lecture on the U.S./Mexico border, including facts and statistics about the death of migrants and the border itself. Songwriter and literary funnyman Victor Payán, co-founder of the Save Our Centro Coalition and the Keep On Crossin’ movement, closed the night with humor and folksongs while the crowd enjoyed Chicano coffee and a giant Red CalacArt’s cake.

“It was exactly what I’d hoped for,” says Vice President Urías. “We were able to support Chicano Perk and bring them business, and we were able to [promote] social consciousness all at once while keeping in the Mexican tradition of remembering the dead.”

The Red CalacArts Collective doesn’t have an art studio of their own just yet, but has hopes of opening up a venue for barrio artists in National City. Until then, they have already booked future events at places like Memorial Junior High in Logan Heights, Casa del Libro in Hillcrest, and The ICE Gallery in North Park. Urías says that the benefit of beginning an organization without a studio lends them the ability to take their events into the community and reach the people that might not have attended an arts venue. She also says a place in National City is a prime objective because it’s where there is a prevalent number of injustices, such as “police brutality, racism, gentrification, unaffordable housing, unlivable wages, and [National City is] just where the people are at.”

Community residents that couldn’t fit into the café, sat in their front yards to listen to the show last Sunday. With calaca candles lit and an original Dia de los Muertos pinball-like table constructed by Chicano Park muralist Sal Barajas, an extremely diverse crowd came together to honor those that have passed on in struggle and celebrate this very deep-rooted Mexican tradition of commemorating the dead. Calaca Press co-founder Consuelo Manríquez hosted this all star, five-performance event. Miguel-Angel Soria placed a jar with cups of water in front of his performance space so people could pour libations for those they would like to honor. Olga A. García invited a friend on stage to take part in an interactive satire about the lives of cucarachas and their struggle to survive in a brutal world. Sara Durán read passionate pieces from her first chapbook, Machetes y Mariposas, and Mariajulia Urías read poems in commemoration of the legendary civil right’s leader El-Hajj-Malik-El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) and those that have passed on in the recent occupation of Iraq.

“We are a Chicano organization, but as long as the art promotes social justice, we are not going to limit ourselves to just the Chicano opinion,” says Urías. “There’s an abundance of artists, and all it takes is just us getting together. We hope to collaborate with the Raza Right’s Coalition, the American Friends Service Committee, and we are also planning on a writing workshop at King/Chavez Elementary [in Barrio Logan] with the artist Mario Torero and the group FUERZA.”

With this first event such a success, the Red CalacArts Collective has four more events already in the making. The next of which is the book release for Calaca Press’ soon-to-be published La Revista Calaca, which will be held at the ICE Gallery (3417 30th St. and Upas), Saturday December 6 at 7pm.

“I would like for twenty more Red Calacas to come out of this,” comments Urías about her hopes for this new group. “We would like to reach out to the kids also, so they know what’s going on ahead of time, in order to change their destiny. It’s all about building bridges.”

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