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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I remember the first time I saw the Brown and Proud poster (pictured left) and I also remember that I had two completely different reactions, one right after the other.  First, I thought "How cool is that?" only seconds later to think "What a shame."  The artwork was fiercely cool (not to mention up my Brown Girl alley) and represented my feelings of pride exactamente; but the reason the artwork existed in the first place was shameful and painful and like millions of others, made me fiercely angry.  On April 23, 2010, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration (SB 1070) into law with an aim to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants.  It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there would be a resurgence in racial profiling, among other injustices.  (Deep, deep sigh.)  Millions of protestors around the nation (including the President) took to the streets, media outlets, and their art forms to protest.  Melanie Cervantes was one of them.
Melanie Cervantes is the Xicana activist-artist that created the Brown and Proud poster that you have likely seen in protests across the nation.  Her role, as she sees it, is to translate the hopes and dreams of justice movements into images that agitate and inspire.  (It certainly got me inspired.)  Melanie’s work includes black and white illustrations, paintings, installations and paper stencils, but she is best know for her prolific production of political screen prints and posters. Employing vibrant colors and hand-drawn illustrations, her work moves those viewed as marginal to the center -- featuring powerful youth, elders, women, and queer and indigenous peoples.  Her most revered mentor is her partner and fellow printmaker Jesus Barraza, with whom she formed Dignidad Rebelde, a collaborative graphic arts project that translates stories of struggle and resistance into artwork that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it.
Curious as always, I asked Melanie how and why she came up with the Brown and Proud graphic and she was pleased to oblige:  "In order to create a message of cultural affirmation and pride, in a climate where being brown means you are a target of suspicion and abuse, I created this design using the slogan Brown and Proud. The illustration I created of the main character in my poster is a portrait of a young Xicana from Oakland (CA) named Leslie. I also wanted to use a stylized butterfly that is based on glyphs found in Azcapotzalco, an area of what is now Mexico City. I used the butterflies to symbolize how migration is reflected in the natural world. The "Todos Somos Arizona" sub-slogan was influenced by the collectively focused Zapatista slogans such as Todos Somos Ramona. Our world view is heavily influenced by the uprising of the Zapatistas social movement against the rise of Neo-liberal politics."

I typically steer clear of posting about my political point of view, but I'm all over this.  Isn't Melanie fierce?  Someone needs to do a portrait of her...

3 comments:

Renney on: June 17, 2010 at 6:11 PM said...

I had those same reactions to the poster/picture as you did! I am glad others feel the same way as I. Great post & thanks for always bringing interesting facts & issue's to light!

Jill on: June 17, 2010 at 10:22 PM said...

You can get a t-shirt with this design on it at www.liberationink.com. Half the profits go to support the Puente Movement organizing in AZ, while the other half support local organizing for racial, economic, and immigrant justice in the SF Bay Area, where Liberation Ink and Melanie are based.

Angela on: June 18, 2010 at 11:59 AM said...

Thank you so much for posting this...I showed my co-organizer (who is Mexican) and she almost started crying when she saw the poster.

Thanks to Jill, also for the info.

 

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