Connecting with Communities: Justice, Equity, and Inclusion

November 5, 2021
A color photograph shows a woman in a green bikini reclining on a wooden lounge chair on the beach. The image is cropped above her knees and at her nose so that only her lips and torso are visible. Her skin is an iridescent bronze tone. She is wearing a gold necklace around her neck and many gold bracelets on her wrists, as well as several rings on her fingers. Her right hand is wrapped around an aluminum can. A white beach towel lays crumpled on the ground next to her chair.
P1976.114 Antonio Mendoza, American (born in Cuba), Untitled, c. 1973–79. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Robert M. Sedgwick II Fund, P1976.114. © Tony Mendoza.

This past spring, a cohort of Harvard Latinx students from Professor María Luisa Parra-Velasco’s course SPANSH 59H: Spanish for Latino Students II: Connecting with Communities worked with curators and educators from the Harvard Art Museums to explore works from our collections by Latinx artists, Latin American artists, and others whose practice engages Latinx experiences.

This advanced language course encourages Heritage Spanish speakers to strengthen both their linguistic repertoires and their global social awareness through civic engagement with local Spanish-speaking communities. In a series of reflections, current Harvard students and recent alumni consider works of art from the collections alongside their personal and professional experiences within Latinx communities around the United States, as well as how they relate to the most pressing issues confronting Latinx communities today. In the final installation of our three-part series in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, students meditate on themes of justice, equity, and inclusion, exploring such issues as the marginalization of Afro-descendant individuals in Latinx communities and the violence against women that is widespread across Latin America.

This article is published in English and Spanish.

Durante la primavera pasada, un grupo de estudiantes latinx del curso “SPANSH 59H: Spanish for Latino Students II: Connecting with Communities” dado por la Dr. María Luisa Parra-Velasco colaboró con los curadores y educadores de Harvard Art Museums para explorar obras de nuestras colecciones de artistas latinx, latinoamericanos, y las obras que reflejan la experiencia latinx. Este curso avanzado de español apoya a los hispanohablantes de herencia a fortalecer sus repertorios lingüísticos y su conciencia social global a través de la participación cívica en las comunidades hispanohablantes en diferentes partes de los Estados Unidos. En una serie de reflexiones, los estudiantes y los ahora exalumnos conectan las obras de arte de las colecciones con sus propias experiencias personales y profesionales dentro de las comunidades latinx en los Estados Unidos, así como con los problemas más urgentes que enfrentan las comunidades latinx hoy en día. En la instalación final de nuestra serie de tres partes en celebración del mes de la Herencia Hispana, los estudiantes reflexionan sobre temas de justicia, equidad e inclusión, explorando temas que incluyen la marginación de las personas afrodescendientes en las comunidades latinx y la violencia contra las mujeres en Latinoamérica.

Este serie se publica en inglés y en español. 

Celebrating Afro-Latinidad
by Evelyn Gonzalez 

One of the most important topics we discussed in class was the presence of Black communities in the broader Latinx community. We learned the ways in which Black Latinx individuals have often been erased from conversations regarding Latinx issues and have frequently experienced discrimination and racism on the part of the white Latinx community. Considering the degree of violence to which the African American community in the United States has been subjected, I chose this photograph created by Cuban artist Antonio Mendoza. The image above centralizes the body of a Black woman; she’s wearing an olive-colored bikini that complements and contrasts with her deep skin tone. This image is a celebration of the beauty and excellence of Black life, something that must be prioritized in light of the constant attacks against Black existence in the United States. I believe that now more than ever it’s imperative that Latinx communities support the African American community (whether Latinx or not). As Latinx individuals, we must deal with our own history of anti-Black racism. 

Uno de los temas más importantes que exploramos en clase tuvo que ver con la presencia de las comunidades afro-descendientes en la comunidad latinx. Aprendimos sobre las formas en que los individuos latinx de descendencia africana son borrados de las conversaciones sobre los problemas latinx y, frecuentemente, experimentan discriminación por parte de los individuos blancos latinx. Considerando el grado de violencia que la comunidad afro-descendiente en los Estados Unidos ha experimentado, elegí esta fotografía hecha por el artista cubano Antonio Mendoza. La imagen centraliza el cuerpo de una mujer afro-descendiente; tiene puesto un bikini de color verde oliva que complementa y contrasta con su complexión oscura. Considero esta imagen una celebración de la belleza y excelencia de la vida negra, algo que es importante priorizar a la luz de los ataques constantes contra la existencia negra en los EEUU. Creo que, ahora, más que nunca, es importante que las comunidades latinx apoyen a la comunidad afro-descendiente (igual la hispana que la no hispana). Como individuos latinx, tenemos que resolver nuestros propios problemas con el racismo anti-negro.

Evelyn Gonzalez is a sophomore at Harvard College.

“Si mañana me toca, quiero ser la última”
by Lisette León

A black and white photograph shows a close-up view of a dry, grassy patch of earth. In the center of the image, the grass has been formed into an abstract shape with a vertical orientation resembling a silhouette of the planet Saturn. The grass is flattened around the border of the shape, producing a lighter, halo-like effect. Within this form, several handprints have been burned into the grass, creating a repeating pattern of blackened hands.
55.1993 Ana Mendieta, American (born in Cuba), Untitled: Silueta Series, 1978. Gelatin silver print. Anonymous loan in honor of Elizabeth Mansfield, 55.1993. © 2021 The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

I chose a work by Ana Mendieta, a Cuban American performative artist, sculptor, painter, and video artist best known for her “earth body” artwork. In Untitled: Silueta Series, we see a patch of dried grass where there seems to be the shape of a body imprinted. It resembles other pieces from Mendieta’s Silueta series, in which she used earthy materials to carve her silhouette in striking ways. Some of her works commented on violence against women. 

In 2020, there were widespread protests about femicide, the systemic murder of women that has gone unrecognized by many Latin American governments. For me, Untitled brought up the same message those protesters were making; they used silhouettes of women to show that it could happen to anyone, and thus femicide is an issue we should all fight. As one protester’s sign read, “Si mañana me toca, quiero ser la última”—If it tomorrow happens to me tomorrow, I want to be the last one. 

La obra que elegí es una creación de Ana Mendieta, artista de interpretación, escultora, pintora y videoartista cubana-estadounidense, conocida sobre todo por sus obras de “cuerpo de tierra”. En ‘Untitled” vemos un trozo de pasto seco en el que parece estar marcada la forma de un cuerpo. Se parece a otras piezas de su ‘Serie Silueta” en las que utilizaba materiales de la tierra para esculpir su silueta de forma impactante. Algunas de sus piezas comentaban sobre la violencia contra las mujeres. 

En 2020, se realizaron protestas masivas contra el ‘feminicidio,” el asesinato sistémico de mujeres que no ha sido reconocido por muchos gobiernos latinoamericanos. Para mí, la pieza “Untitled” trajo el mismo mensaje de las manifestantes que utilizaron siluetas de mujeres para mostrar que le puede pasar a cualquiera y, por lo tanto, el feminicidio es un problema contra el que todos debemos luchar. Como decía el letrero de un manifestante: “Si mañana me toca, quiero ser la última.” 

Lisette León ’21 concentrated in government and ethnicity, migration, and rights.

“Quiénes somos, en qué creemos y qué es importante para nosotros”
by Silvana Gomez

There are two photographs side by side. The one on the left is in black and white and depicts a man seen from the back. He has dark skin and hair. His white shirt is pulled up, revealing a large tattoo that covers his entire back. The tattoo features a woman standing on a crescent moon supported by an angel, her hands folding in prayer and surrounded by radiating beams of light. In the background, a rocky desert landscape is visible. The color photograph on the right shows a gallery installation, with a bronze-colored statue of a female figure with her arms outstretched and her right leg lifted in the air and her foot pointed. The figure is dressed in a black shirt or dress, black leggings, and gauntlets with tassels. She wears a golden crown that reads “Abortion” and a white scarf with gold tassels that reads “Thank God for Abortion.” She is standing on a metal disk, with electric candles at her feet. A cutout of a white dove is affixed to her chest.
2019.89

Graciela Iturbide, Mexican, La frontera, Tijuana, México, 1990. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs, 2019.89. © Graciela Iturbide.

An installation view of Viva Ruiz’s ProAbortion Shakira: A Thank God For Abortion Introspective, 2019. Participant Inc. Photo: Mark Waldhauser.

One of the most important ways people in the Latinx community express themselves is through religion and art. The photograph made by Graciela Iturbide of a man with a tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his back represents how our beliefs and art intersect in our lives. It seems to me that our community finds different ways to practice and dedicate ourselves to our religions. We also find different artistic mediums to capture beautiful aspects of our lives. This photograph shows just one of the ways we decide to express who we are, what we believe in, and what is important to us. I chose to put the photograph by Iturbide in conversation with the art of Viva Ruiz. In the photograph of Ruiz’s installation, a statue of a woman is wearing a crown that reads “abortion” and a scarf that reads “Thank God for Abortion.” Ruiz uses her art to advocate for the right to safe, legal, and free abortion. These two images are connected because they show the different ways that we use art and our religions to express ourselves. The message I hope to convey with these photographs is one that will allow us to be critical of how we use religion and art to send a message about who we are. 

Dos de las formas de expresión más importantes para las personas de la comunidad latina son la religión y el arte. La foto capturada por Graciela Iturbide de un tatuaje de la Virgen de Guadalupe en la espalda de un hombre representa cómo nuestras creencias y el arte se cruzan en nuestras vidas. A mí me parece que nuestra comunidad encuentra maneras diferentes de practicar y de dedicarnos a nuestras religiones. Además, todos encontramos diferentes medios artísticos para capturar los aspectos hermosos de nuestras vidas. Esta foto muestra solo una de las formas en que decidimos expresar quiénes somos, en qué creemos y qué es importante para nosotros. En conversación con la foto de Graciela Iturbide, decidí usar las fotos del arte de Viva Ruiz. La foto de Viva Ruiz muestra una estatua de una mujer con una corona que dice “aborto” y una bufanda que dice “Gracias a Dios por el aborto.” Ruiz usa su arte para abogar por los derechos al aborto seguro, legal y gratis. Me parece que estas dos fotos están conectadas porque muestran las diferentes maneras en que usamos el arte y nuestras religiones para expresarnos. El mensaje que espero trasmitir con estas fotos es uno que nos permitirá ser críticos de cómo empleamos la religión y el arte para enviar un mensaje sobre quiénes somos. 

Alumna Silvana Gomez ’21 concentrated in psychology and studies of women, gender, and sexuality.  

“De que mal morira”
by Karen Fernández

An etching in black ink depicts a donkey dressed as a physician attending to a man lying in bed with white sheets. The man’s face is stark white, and his arm hangs limply by his side. Their shadows, rendered in dark tones, fall onto a black curtain that is drawn behind the bed. Below the image, the words “De que mal morira” are written in cursive script. Beneath the impression, a red stamp features a circular design with a star and a dollar sign inscribed within.In the lower right-hand corner, “Enrique Chagoya ’99” is scribbled in pencil.
M24347 Enrique Chagoya, American (born in Mexico), De quel mal morira, from The Return to Goya’s Caprichos, 1999. Etching. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund, M24347.

This work after Francisco de Goya by Mexican American artist Enrique Chagoya depicts a doctor as a donkey who is taking his dying patient’s pulse, an action that refers to the significant role that doctors play in saving lives. I believe that the donkey represents the ills within society that were devouring the patient. I thought it was very interesting that Goya was criticizing the incompetent doctors of his own time. 

The etching recalls images of doctors administering oxygen during the pandemic, and how doctors and countless others have been working hard to save lives. Unfortunately, research shows that Latinx communities are more vulnerable to contract and die from COVID-19 than Anglo-Americans. I think it is crucial to analyze and eliminate healthcare inequities to prevent disastrous consequences like those the Latinx communities are enduring. 

Este grabado del artista mexicoamericano Enrique Chagoya está inspirado en Francisco de Goya y presenta a un doctor como burro que está tomando el pulso de un paciente que está agonizando, una acción que hace referencia al papel tan significativo que juegan los médicos en salvar vidas. Pienso que el burro representa lo malo de la sociedad que se come al paciente. Me parece muy interesante que Goya estaba criticando a los doctores incompetentes de su tiempo. 

El grabado recuerda las imágenes de médicos administrando oxígeno a pacientes durante la pandemia. Los médicos y muchos más han puesto todo su empeño durante la pandemia para salvar vidas. Desafortunadamente, la investigación muestra que las comunidades Latinx son más vulnerables a contraer y morir de esta enfermedad que los angloamericanos. Creo que es crucial analizar y eliminar las inequidades en la atención médica para evitar consecuencias tan desastrosas como las que han vivido comunidades Latinx durante esta pandemia.

Alumna Karen Fernández ’21 concentrated in molecular and cellular biology/Latino studies. 

 

Natalia Ángeles Vieyra, the Maher Curatorial Fellow of American Art in the Division of European and American Art at the Harvard Art Museums, and María Luisa Parra-Velasco, Spanish Senior Preceptor in Harvard’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, compiled these entries and wrote the general introduction.

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