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(Barbed) Wired for Controversy

Symbolic Sculpture by Native American
Rejected by the University of New Mexico

The University of New Mexico has rejected a sculpture it had commissioned from a Native American artist because his final product includes barbed wire

The work, "Cultural Crossroads," by Native American artist Bob Haozous, "is not the work we commissioned," says Peter Walsh, director of UNM's Fine Arts Museum. "It is substantially different."

The model that Haozous turned in is different from the final product, says Walsh. And while a number of changes were made from the original model, it is one change in particular that has raised the ire of the university; the razo wire that sits atop the work.

The sculpture depicts a migration scene from an old Aztec picture book. Three Indians are shown migrating toward Albuquerque in the United States. According to Haozous, the work depicts a border crossing.

"Everything in the work is a symbol, says Haozous, explaining that the full title of the work is called "Cultural Crossroads of the Americas." The barbed wire, which appears both in his work and along the U.S. Mexico border "is a dehumanizing part of our lives," says Haozous. The work depicts a border crossing, he says. "It's tremendous symbolism."

As to why it was not part of the original model, he says: "The work matured in the studio."

Censorship or Contractual Obligations

At the moment, the university is withholding payment to Haozous and is attempting to get the artist to remove the wire from the work. One of the other alternatives is to remove the sculpture altogether from the university grounds, says Walsh, who insists that the issue is not about censorship.

"It depends on your point of view and I admit there are other points of view," concedes Walsh.

If the barbed wire remains, it would be both subverting the process and unfair to the other artists who submitted their works, he says, because they participated in a competitive process.

"The piece he delivered may be better than the one he proposed, but we really want that piece [the one approved]. The one he delivered is significantly different," complains Walsh.

The issue, says Walsh is about respecting the integrity of the process. More than 200 people from the public approved the model. "Next time, when we ask people to help us choose, they will wonder: "why should I bother to vote?' I encourages cynicism."

"We know art is controversial," says Walsh. "I love his work because it is controversial. The wire gives it a different bite and meaning."

Haozous believes the controversy is not about the process, but rather about the message. People object to in the work is the fact that it's not decorative art -- not Southwest Indian art that whites have become accustomed to seeing, that they have come to expect from Native American artists, says Haozous.

"They don't want to see the holocaust against brown people, about what they're doing to them on the border," accuses Haozous.

Public Discussion Proposed

The commissioned work is actually a joint venture between the city and the university. Jane Sprague, assistant coordinator for the city's public art program says the city found the work to be acceptable. The city's art board she says, found the work to be a "social, cultural and political commentary, within the context of what he [Haozous] proposed. It was his type of artwork and the board found it acceptable."

Sprague says there is no precedent for handling such a dispute. The city approves and the university disapproves. She notes that the sculpture is on university property and that UNM has committed more money to the project. The city's portion is $15,000 and UNM's is $65,000.

Sprague says that the city's art board believes it is important to have a discussion so that the campus and surrounding community can address the issue. The Native American Kiva club at UNM, the Albuquerque Arts Alliance and the Washington DC-based Morning Star Foundation, a Native American civil rights organization, have suggested having a forum to deal with the issue.

Walsh agrees that a forum is appropriate and says that its purpose should no be a referendum, but "as a way to allow different people a chance to talk and listen. To think it over. Maybe it will reveal if something is fundamentally flawed with how we are dealing with each other. It's a terrible situation."

However, Haozous says he doesn't know what the purpose of the forum would be To him, the issue is quite simple; creative expression vs. censorship. When dealing with issues such as censorship, there is no place for a compromise, he says.

Putting it to a Vote

Walsh says that as soon as the work was delivered,, members of a joint ad-hoc University of New Mexico Public Arts Committee were upset. A meeting was convened shortly thereafter and the committee voted unanimously to reject the work. Sprague says three other members were not present and have indicated that they would have voted in favor of it.

Ted Jojola, professor, school of architecture and planning, a member of the joint committee and former director of Native American studies, says the vote was fraudulent. In a letter to Gordon Church, coordinator of the Albuquerque Public Arts Program, Jojola states:

"...It is my conviction that the Committee vote is fraudulent as it was obtained without due process, As a voting member, I had only been notified verbally that a meeting was being convened to discuss the merits of the issue. Because of teaching conflicts I was unable to attend and was consequently requested to communicate my opinion to your office (which I did by telephone on the morning of September 25th). I was not, however, notified that a formal vote would be conducted by the members in attendance nor was I offered a proxy vote in the event of a legitimate conflict.

Based on this violation, I am requesting that the Albuquerque Public Arts Program dismiss the Committee's vote, without prejudice, from its deliberation. Failure to do so may result in litigation, particularly if Mr. Bob Haozous is required to compromise or remove his sculpture..."

Jojola says he became aware after writing the letter that the committee he was serving on was merely an advisory committee. Walsh confirms that the committee is advisory and admits that the worst-case scenario is if this dispute ends up in the courts.

Jojola says that despite his advisory capacity, he believes the determination of the committee "represents the skewed view of a 'privileged voice" and isolated minority on campus. "

Jojola further states that the notion of having to get further public input "reminds me of those neo-colonial fascists who made binding treaties with Indians and then reneged in the face of their non-ratification at the Congressional level."

Haozous says: "I gave them the best piece I've ever done. They want to hide things in the closet, but compare the borders with Canada and Mexico," he says. The disparate treatment on the borders shouldn't be allowed to happen, he says. But it happens because the people coming across the Canadian/U.S. border are white whereas those those coming across the U.S./Mexico border are brown.

Walsh says that the other changes are understandable and permissible. One change involves replacing a star with an 'end of the trail' cowboy. Also, a horse was replaced by three rings, which Walsh says probably represents the old Mayan ball games. "Those are allowable. However, the wire on top is totally a new element. It goes contrary to the spirit and letter of the contract. It's not just a legal document. It's a social contract."

Haozous says he is convinced that the issue has to do with expectation of what is Native American art? "They want art that is quaint," he says. "I want to make an honest statement."

In the meantime, Haozous says, "Everybody's talking and I'm hungry."

Putting the Lie to 'At Risk'

We've all heard the adage that if you expect failure, it will find you. Sometimes as a society, we get hung up on words, and sometimes words or labels become self-fulfilling prophesies. We thought about this recently while discussing what it means to be "at risk."

The topic came up in the context of Philadelphia's plan to label some police officers as "at risk" of being violence-prone. Somehow, it didn't seem right. Any officer that is "at risk" of being violent doesn't belong in uniform. Today, the term is normally applied to youth. We figure that if some people think "at risk" officers don't belong on police forces, others may think that "at risk" students don't belong in school or college.

Yet nowadays, everyone seems to fit that category. In fact, according to some think tank types, our entire nation is "at risk." But of course, the question is, at risk of what?

The pat answer is gangs, getting pregnant while young and unmarried, getting killed, dropping out of school or going to prison. Failure in general.

As a society, we never seem to view these same youngsters as "at risk" of becoming professionals or raising wholesome families. Or, as a friend remarked, "at risk" of being loved or of smiling.

A generation ago, as a society, we looked at youths from troubled background and viewed them as having a high potential. There was an expectation that they would, or at least could, succeed. Now, unless there's intervention, w expect failure. This labeling and expectation begins even before the child has started school.

What accounts for this change in expectation?

Despite the different terminology, the definition of being "at risk" or having "high potential" is the same: anyone who is poor, from a large or a single-parent family, someone who lives in a poor neighborhood, an immigrant a student whose first language is not English, who did not attend preschool, and whose parents did not go to college.

That describes virtually every person of color we went to college with. Yet none of us viewed ourselves as potential failures. We all believed we could succeed. And virtually all of us did, partly because we believed that society expected us to fail.

One program that exemplified this attitude was the High Potential Program (1969-1971) at UCLA. Roberto Sifuentes, professor at California State University at Northridge and one of the cofounders of the program, says that they recruited and admitted Chicano/Latino and African American students to UCLA from the ranks of ex-prisoners and gang members and those who had dropped out. "A high school diploma was not a requisite. We recruited people who were active in their community and who had the ability to lead."

Sifuentes says that they mentored these students for a year, but the key to their success was believing in them. "We expected them to succeed and they did."

Today, they're engineers, professors, teachers, social workers and bankers, says Sifuentes, proving that the "regular" admissions criteria of the university served only as a barrier to education. "It takes a lot of intelligence to survive in the streets," Sifuentes points out.

While the UCLA program was unique, similar programs sprouted around the country in the belief that no one was hopeless and everyone could succeed.

Sifuentes says he could replicate such a program today. When he hears the term "at risk" applied to students, he says he gets "the feeling that they're about to fall into an abyss of ignorance. People who call them that don't understand the reality of human beings. The potential of all human beings is incredible."

Today, we run into youths all over the country whom society has deemed "at risk," yet we don't view them as such. We're thinking of students such as those from Bell Multi-Cultural High School in our nation's capital. It was they who ran the national office of the recent Latino march on Washington. We see them as individuals with great leadership capabilities.

A bureaucrat somewhere probably considers Andrea Serrano, a senior at Valley High School in Albuquerque, N.M., at risk. She doesn't accept that designation and neither do we. She is a member of the El Puente Raza Youth Leadership Institute at the University of New Mexico, comprised of some of the brightest students in the state. Yet their brightness stems, not from their grades, but their commitment to better their community. Serrano, who plans to be a journalist, says that being labeled "at risk" is like categorizing people as being part of throw away society.

Sometimes, youths who are labeled "at risk" start believing it, says Serrano Perhaps it's time we dropped this view of the world--and the label--lest we come to believe in the hopelessness of society, rather than the infinite potential of all human beings.

Students Play a Major Role at Historic
Latino March in Washington

College and university students were not only a major force at the first ever national civil and human rights march & rally to concentrate on Latino issues. The two-day event, which included a march and a student conference, was held in Washington DC, earlier this month.

Leticia Villareal, a student at Vassar and the administrative chair of East Coast Chicano Student Forum said: "Latinos were finally given a voice that was heard on the front pages of the Washington Post. I had a lot of pride in seeing a lot of brown people around me, marching for justice. It was incredible."

The October 12 rally brought Latinos from across the country to essentially protest the anti-immigrant legislation and sentiment sweeping the country. According to most observers, at least half of the tens of thousands of protestors were students.

Although they mostly came from California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois and New York, virtually every state of the union was represented. In fact, the travel aspect of the event was all the more significant because Washington is so far from where the majority of the nation's Latino population live. Census data shows that most of the nation's 30 million Latinos live in the southwestern states of California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

As the three-mile march snaked through Washington's Latino barrio, one could see the surge in pride in the eyes of its residents. One could also sense that no longer would Latinos, locally or nationally remain in silent about the anti-immigrant sentiment they face and no longer would they consider this nation's capital as alien country.

The event was sponsored by Coordinadora '96, which presented a seven-point platform to address concerns of the nation's Latino population. The platform included:

* Amnesty for undocumented immigrants who entered before 1992 and the speeding up of the naturalization process

* Enforcement of labor laws and a $7 minimum wage

* Establishment of Civilian Police Review Boards

* Health care for all

* Quality education for all

* Equal opportunity for all and support for affirmative action

* Human and Constitutional Rights For All

Against all odds and lacking a tradition of national marches in the nation's capital, Coordinadora '96 -- made up of human, civil and immigration rights organizations -- organized the march without the support of most major national Latino civil rights organizations. In fact, despite a unanimous, but late endorsement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, only four Congressional representatives spoke at the event. The four Congressional representatives who spoke were; Rep. and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Ed Pastor (D-Arizona), Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY), Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois).

Prayer and Pilmigrage

While the march was billed as a Latino and immigrant event, it was more than that. It was a day which celebrated the fruits and labor of those men and women who pick the crops, place food on our tables, clean the offices, ten to other people's children and who literally help sustain our nation's infrastructure and economy. Most people also saw it as a prayer and pilgrimage.

Itzel Andrea Salazar, one of the coordinators of the ECCSF conference held at Georgetown in Washington DC, summed up the march this way: "It was march of solidarity and reaffirmation. It was spiritual and it touched peoples hearts. It has inspired me to go forward."

The day began with a prayer in front of the Benito Juarez statue. Benito Juarez is the only full-blooded Indian (Native American) president in the history of Mexico (or any other government. The prayer, which was held at daybreak and began with the beat of the sacred drum, served as a reminder that it is not Latinos -- most of whom who can trace their Native American ancestry thousands of years to this continent -- who are this nation's real immigrants.

During the prayer, Nathan Phillips of the Omaha nation, noted with irony that it is those of European extraction who are questioning the loudest the right of those who are anciently connected to this continent, toshare in the bounty of their own ancestral lands.

While marchers and the students at the ECCSF conference took Phillip's message to heart, the major media did not report that message. Instead, they focused simply on the immigration debate and its attendant legislation. The media concerned itself with numbers, polls and generally missed the "soul" of the march.

The sea of mostly brown faces waved flags from all of the Americas. Very prominent were student banners from organizations such as the Mexican Students of Aztlan from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) from universities across the country. The one which seemed to encapsulate thier spirit most was the which read: "W didn't cross the borders. The borders crossed us."

"As I was walking to the park, there was this nervous excitement, seeing flags from all over the world, said Villareal.

Too Many Answer Conference Call

Almost one thousand students attended the conference sponsored by ECCSF, an Eaast Coast organization of close to 30 East Coast colleges and universitiest. However, because of limited facilities, the conference received, but had to turn away many students from across the country who also wanted to participate in its conference. As Frank Arrellanno, president of Georgetown MEChA noted: "For every one of us here, fifty of us couldn't make it. Our objective now is to channel it [energy] to our communities and to the country."

The purpose of the conference, titled "Proactive Latino Leadership for the 21st Century," was to go beyond the anger and analyze problems that afflict the Latino community and to focus on solutions.

In an analysis of the march at the ECCSF conference, students attributed the lack of support from the national organizations and the politicians to a generation gap. Some found it bothersome that other Congressional representatives did not speak, particularly those from California. While some said that the politicians were campaigning for reelection, most found that inexcusable, saying that it simply appeared that they did not want to be associated with "illegal aliens" and that some didn't want to damage the president's chances at reelection by being closely associated with the issue.

Additionally, many of the students felt there were a number of shortcomings. While viewing the march as inspirational, Adriana Cadena, a senior at Georgetown said: "As happens in Latino culture, women's issues were marginalized. Women's issues are seen as private, not public. I would have also have liked to have seen more emphasis on student/youth issues."

Participants also engaged in discussions of recent anti-immigrant legislation which has gone beyond targeting undocumented immigrant and now affects permanent residents. The recent welfare bill prohibits permanent residents from receiving welfare. Recent proposals have also called for overturning the 14th Amendment -- which guarantees birthright citizenship.

Another discussion was held regarding the recent Hopwood decision involving the UT law school and "reverse discrimination." JT Gonzales & Robert Garza of UT Austin stated that the notion of "reverse discrimination" is completely false and maintain that UT has always been segregated and continues to be segregated today. They noted that the court decision did not call for an end to alumni preference admissions.

"People are frustrated because it's a white defense team that's defending the University," said Garza, who does not believe they represent the interests of people of color.

Gonzales & Garza says they are bothered by the fact that Hopwood is discusse in black and white terms when it also affects Asians and Native Americans, especially in a state in which Mexican Americans are the predominant "minority." They say Hopwood has caused genuine fear and has united student of color like no other issue before.

Terms such as pride, rebirth, renaissance, passion, love and unity were used to describe the way they felt about the two-day event.

Veronica Narvaez, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison summed it up: "By this, some people's dreams were fulfilled -- and other people's nightmares."

by Patrisia Gonzales & Roberto Rodriguez

These Articles are Reproduced with Permission from the Authors.

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