Opinion: Is It Racism Or Art Censorship in Holyoke?

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The artwork that some in Holyoke thought was inappropriate.

 
By David Flores
On Saturday, September 19, 2014, my mural celebrating the Puerto Rican diaspora in Holyoke, MA was scheduled for installation as part of a set of pieces created in conjunction with the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project. Before the piece could go up, the owner of the building on which it was to be installed decided that it could not be displayed on her property. She said that my piece would do more harm than good to Holyoke’s Hispanic community, and that in order to display it I would have to change it to make it “more diverse.”
The mural consists of an 8’ x 16’ Puerto Rican license plate with HOLYOKE written across the center. Whereas many Boricuas throughout Holyoke proudly display similar license plates that point to their hometowns on the island, my project intended to claim that Holyoke is part of Puerto Rico. Holyoke is the community with the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (44.70%), yet Puerto Ricans are deeply marginalized in almost every aspect of the city.
Although the building owner had approved of my design and seen the finished project well in advance of the scheduled installation, she caved to pressure from nearby business owners and others who seek to prohibit public displays of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke. Thus, the decision to exclude my mural from this public art exhibit is emblematic of the wider suppression of Puerto Ricans and Puerto Ricanness throughout Holyoke.
With my mural, I hoped to contribute to efforts toward claiming public space in solidarity with Holyoke’s Puerto Rican community. However, this building owner’s decision and logic amount to the race-based exclusion of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at best and the censorship of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at worst.
While the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project has supported my mural, the decision to collaborate with a bigoted building owner on this project reflects the fundamental problems with this “revitalization” initiative. In fact, like other “revitalization” efforts in Puerto Rican neighborhoods and communities of color throughout the U.S., such projects end up participating in processes of gentrification despite their organizers’ best intentions.
As a Mexican artist born and raised in Chicago, I have been deeply inspired by Chicago’s Puerto Rican movement, particularly the strong Puerto Rican leadership in schools, community organizations, elected positions, and artistic initiatives. This community also taught me the value of Mexican-Puerto Rican solidarity, as expressed through joint efforts to combat educational inequality, gentrification, and (im)migrant stigmatization. This solidarity is most clearly represented in a chant that is often used in Latin@ political demonstrations in Chicago: “!Boricua y Méxicano, Luchando Mano a Mano!” This solidarity represents a form of diversity that exceeds the imagination …..
To read full article: http://hush.fluxmass.org/2014/09/27/racism-and-censorship/#.VCmlLCJ0z5q

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