Have We Arrived? Class, Museum Culture
In what follows I want to talk about
three cultural texts and their Latino/Latina representations
to make some disparate but hopefully also congruent points
about representation, class, Latinos, Latinas, and the possibilities
of what I am calling a Latino/Latina museum culture by which
I mean a public culture that places some special emphasis
and value on a patronage of artistic, historical, and scientific
exhibits and thereby necessarily on museums. Such a Latino/Latina
museum culture may be ethnically marked or not, meaning that
it may be a culture that can as easily partake of Latino/Latina
cultural exhibitions even as it also can reach comfortably
beyond those boundaries.
Let me begin with a very well known
text, a novel from 1972 written by the late Tom s Rivera.
I realize I have to start getting the "very well known"
out of this because I am now into incipient late middle age
and I keep thinking everybody knows these things from the
'60s and '70s. I hope you do so here we go.
Those of you familiar with Tom s
Rivera's classic short novel Y no se lo Trago la Tierra, in
English And the Earth did not Devour Him, will recall that
it deals with Mexican-American farm workers. When it appeared
in the early '70s Rivera's novel was both cause and symptom
of a marked tendency in Mexican-American cultural discourse
to imagine Mexican-Americans as farm workers, a tendency also
obviously influenced by the predominant reality and imagery
of Cesar Chavez in the farm worker movement. It is also a
tendency, I must say, that continues even today replaced to
some degree by the undocumented Mexican immigrant in the place
of the farm worker and the two, of course, are often congruent.
Here, however, I add parenthetically
that this dominant image of Mexican-American as farm worker
competed with another image, which was the image of the Mexican-American
as a socially marginalized urban dweller, for example, the
pachuco and these days the homeboy, I suppose, as the central
figure in this urban imagery. Think of the film, for example,
"American Me" with Edward James Olmos.
But, returning to Tom s Rivera's
novel, you might also recall that at the end of the novel
the Mexican-American farm workers in the story are heard to
speak with one collective voice as they offer a poignant refraining
lament, "When we arrive, when we arrive," they say,
speaking to their long journey to their labor sites and then
back home to Texas but speaking also metaphorically and ironically
to their deferred and delayed arrival as full citizens in
Rivera's novel, then, offers a point
of departure both to note the dominant image of the farm worker
in the 1960s and '70s and '80s and I suggest even perhaps
today and the way that the farm worker came to represent Mexican
America. But the novel offers me also another point of departure
which is to raise the question have Mexican- Americans and
by implication other Latinos arrived? Have we arrived? It
is this question and its implications for what I am calling
Latino museum culture that I wish to engage this morning.
I turn now to my second cultural
text. Rivera's novel marks an important moment in the cultural
history of Mexican America; however, as this cultural history
goes a rather remarkable thing happened in San Antonio, Texas,
in the early morning hours of September 2, 2002, just a couple
of months ago. A home was burglarized.
Now, it is fairly certain that Mexican-Americans
have often both been burglarized and may on occasion have
done a little burgling themselves in San Antonio and throughout
the United States. But this was a burglary to surpass all
previous burglaries in Mexican-American history. If we combine
the dollar amount of the theft, the identity of the victim,
and the items taken more than likely we will also have to
add the identity of the perpetrators as well if and when they
are ever caught.
The whole event was of such consequence
as to be picked up by the BBC international news and the national
Fox news program with Brit Hume. This is how Brit Hume reported
the matter. "San Antonio, Texas. Works valued at more
than $700,000 by artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse,
and a Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, were stolen from a physician's
home." I'm reading from the text, by the way.
"Dr. Richard Garcia said he
was asleep upstairs early morning and didn't hear a thing.
A maid who was in the basement heard footsteps but thought
it was Dr. Garcia walking around, according to the police
report. A house alarm was set but failed to go off. No arrests
have been made as of Tuesday morning. Dr. Garcia said he
had not insured the works because the premiums would be too
"He said he wasn't sure if
it was one person or a band of thieves who hauled the paintings
out of a side door to his $600,000 home. They passed over
a lot of things, Garcia, age 68, told the San Antonio Express
News, but they took the flagship of the collection. He said
his lawyer told him not to identify the paintings. The police
report listed a $500,000 painting by Frida Kahlo as the most
expensive item taken.
"Garcia, who often gives parties
for visiting artists and musical stars in San Antonio, speculated
that an admirer of the stolen pieces might have seen them
at one of his parties and then hired professionals to steal
them. 'I don't think I'll get them back,' he said. 'They
will probably wind up in a private collection where nobody
ever sees them.' He said, of course he will continue collecting.
"'Of course I'm slightly depressed
about it,' he said, 'but what can I do? I'll just get on with
my life and make sure that I won't get hit again.'"
There is much that immediately meets
the eye and ear here and yet other things that are subtextual.
Consider first the identity of the victim, Dr. Richard Garcia,
M.D. A little cross checking on my part confirmed that he
is indeed Mexican- American. I didn't want to just pick the
name at face value.
That he is Mexican-American is,
of course, not surprising in San Antonio, Texas. That he
is an M.D. surprises no longer, although it would still surprise
even 10 years ago and certainly 30 years ago. We can just
imagine what Tom s Rivera's farm workers might say on
discovering the doctor's identity. Imagine that. He's a
doctor. He's Mexican.
But back to the burglary. That
Dr. Garcia was sleeping upstairs, ladies and gentlemen, therefore
also no longer surprises although it might have surprised
even 10 years ago. The good doctor, commensurate with his
likely income as an M.D., is clearly in possession of a two-story,
possibly a multi-story $600,000 home that probably would translate
into a couple of million in the Washington area, I have no
However, in the text, again from
Brit Hume, we are also told that a maid heard a noise during
the burglary and here perhaps we might indulge in a little
surprise, although not too much. After all, Mexican immigrant
labor is readily available at low cost in San Antonio so close
to the border and if one owns a $600,000 house and a Frida
Kahlo in San Antonio I'm sure one is not going to quibble
about labor costs.
But, of course, I have been teasing
you just bit, haven't I? The more central point and theme
of this news account has to do, of course, with the items
taken and their obvious value. And here, however, I think
we are entitled to some surprise which I think is also why
the story had news value for all of the national media. I
quote again, "Works valued at more than $700,000 by artists
including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Mexican painter
Frida Kahlo with a $500,000 painting by Kahlo as the most
expensive item taken."
We now in the year 2002 have the
interesting conjunction of (a) a historically marginalized
ethnicity, and I refer you once again to farm workers, but
now (b) obvious class mobility together with (c) the canonical
arts, something quite new, I want to submit to you. This
conjunction, indeed, is something quite new for Mexican America
and, I want to suggest without really knowing so, for all
of US Latinidad.
But please note here that I am not
talking about Latino/Latina artists per se, who have been
around a pretty long time, but rather about Latino/Latina
patronage. To be sure, there has been some media controversy
concerning Dr. Richard Garcia and this event, most pointedly
whether the stolen paintings were genuine to begin with.
I won't go into that little affair but notwithstanding the
controversy I think that this is one of those moments when
we can say that aside, meaning that aside whether genuine
or not it is the very idea that a figure such as Dr. Richard
Garcia, M.D., is even involved in the world of the arts that
I wish to extract from this event.
Some apparently qualified Latinos,
more specifically a Latina, took Dr. Garcia seriously on this
matter, which leads to my third cultural text. Asked by a
reporter to comment on the burglary, one Ms. Ana Montoya,
owner of An Arte Gallery in San Antonio, said to the press
that after attending a party at Dr. Garcia's home, "There
was nothing there," she said, "but Picassos, Fridas,
et cetera. It was just breathtaking," she offered.
The same Ms. Ana Montoya just recently sent out, indeed literally
yesterday I got it on my e-mail, an invitation to an evening
festivity dedicated to "The love of art under the stars,"
an An Arte Gallery event co-sponsored by the fur salon at
Saks Fifth Avenue in San Antonio. For $40 a person one can
enjoy the art in the gallery as well as sumptuous food and
drink. One can also enjoy the fashions from the fur salon
and jewelry from One of a Kind Jewelry in San Antonio which
will be modeled at the event with a percentage of the entire
proceeds going to San Antonio's Hispanic Heritage Society.
I'm going. I don't know if you all are going to get invitations.
Have we Latinos and Latinas arrived?
I think I may offer an equivocal yes. It is equivocal because
while certainly Dr. Garcia, Ms. Montoya, and perhaps I, sitting
up here or standing, more literally, in this camel hair coat,
have arrived Latinos as a total group may not yet have fully
arrived as American citizens with an equitable share of America's
wealth and opportunity.
Some, as we well know, have not
arrived at all. But it is now undoubtedly also the case and
I think can no longer be set aside that many have arrived
in some sense of that word, Dr. Garcia certainly and perhaps
Ms. Montoya, owner of An Arte Gallery, perhaps myself and
no doubt many of those who will attend the party at An Arte
Gallery, and perhaps, dare I say, several of you here already
represent a kind of Latino/ Latina middle and upper middle
class marked by disposable income.
But there is growing evidence that
many more of, dare I say, us have clearly begun to arrive
and this arrival started some time ago. Indeed such a middle
and upper middle class has been in formation for some time,
indeed specifically in San Antonio, Texas, at least since
the 1920s. As historian, Richard Garcia -- sheer coincidence,
ladies and gentlemen; Richard Garcias abound in this world
-- tells us in his book, which is called with a very telling
title -- this Dr. Garcia doesn't fool around with post-structuralist
titles -- it's called literally The Rise of the Mexican-American
Middle Class in San Antonio, Texas, 1929-1945.
Then there is my colleague David
Montejanos' now classic Anglos and Mexicans in the Making
of Texas, 1836-1986, an historical study, to be sure, but
one written by a sociologist, which is no small matter, right,
Dr. Cardenas? Yes, okay. For my contemporaneous purpose I
am particularly interested in his closing chapter where he
offers a relatively optimistic rendering of the future of
Mexican-Americans in Texas, an assessment based in part on
a reading of economic census data from 1930 to 1980. Montejanos
suggests that even in 1930 some nearly 30 percent of the Mexican-origin
labor force in Texas was arrayed along an occupational spectrum
ranging from "white collar" to "skilled"
Such an array of occupational data
might generally be therefore isomorphic with a parallel distribution
from upper middle, more or less, to lower lower middle class.
By 1980, Montejanos further suggests, this parallel distribution
now encompasses 52.9 percent of this population, that is to
say, skilled labor up, as it were.
Dr. Montejanos summarizes his findings
by saying the following: "The importance of these occupational
changes for Mexican-Americans cannot be overstated. The general
effect of an expanding white collar and skilled strata within
the Mexican-American community," he continues, "has
been the attainment of a measure of economic stability."
It is no doubt from this matrix that Mexican-Americans in
Texas, especially folks such as the other Dr. Garcia and Ms.
Montoya take the origin.
Last year the authoritative Tom s
Rivera Policy Center issued a quantitative study of 1990 census
data called "The Latino Middle Class: Myth, Reality,
and Potential" in which they conclude that it is less
myth and much more reality and has a great deal of potential.
Their conclusions attest far more to a reality based on a
close examination of income, education, and housing variables
but primarily resting its case on incomes of $40,000 or more,
regionally adjusted, I must quickly add.
These authors conclude that, "Frequent
depictions of Latinos as predominantly foreign born, uneducated,
and poor have caused many observers to overlook appreciable
gains in Latino economic status in recent years. In fact
a substantial and prosperous Latino middle class has emerged."
Again, that is from the Tom s Rivera policy report.
If such a class formation continues
to hold up and, like any US economic formation, it is dependent,
of course, on multiple variables, the stock market, employment,
everybody paying their credit cards on time, et cetera, but
if it does continue to hold up and to expand then it does
so with a number of social and cultural implications, for
example, political representation. But for the purpose for
which we have gathered here this morning and today and in
this conference such a middle-class formation points to the
possibility of an expanded development of what I have termed
"museum culture" by which I mean not simply obviously
the physical structures of museums, although that is very
important, but the whole set of artistic, exhibitive, and
supportive practices associated with museums.
For example, it may now be far more
incumbent on museums such as this one to reach this population
not simply because the population is out there, so to speak,
and because it happens to be Latino or Latina but because
their growing disposable income now makes it possible for
them to access the culture of museums in ways that they could
not do before. Based on this disposable income in growing
numbers Latinos are also becoming tourists to a diversity
of places and tourism, as we well know, often clearly implies
museum patronage. The data on tourism for Latinos is quite
interesting on this point.
But to the degree that Latinos may
be experiencing increasing rates of education there is also
the implication that they are also developing an aesthetic
cognitive affinity for museum cultural arts and developing
such an affinity upon the basis of their education, first
of all, in a much smaller, dare I say, universal vein.
I asked you to recall that among
his losses Dr. Garcia also counted an Henri Matisse but, as
Ms. Montoya also carefully pointed out, Dr. Garcia's prized
possession was indeed his Frida Kahlo, which I take as possibly
symptomatic of what the anthropological and literary evidence
on Mexican-Americans also suggests, and it is the following,
and it is crucial, the following, namely, that this expanding
Latino/Latina middle class has not, I say again, has not traded
in their ethnic loyalty and affiliation for middle-class status.
Rather, they seem to be wanting to have their culture and
their new class status, tortilla soup and crþme brul‚e, if
Recall, for example, the Sandra
Cisneros short story "Never Marry a Mexican" and
it's wonderful Latina protagonist, Clemencia, an upper middle-class
young woman, an artist, very upscale, and Mexicana, Mexicana,
one might say, de aca de Estee Lauder. I'm glad somebody
remembered the old song.
American museum culture, therefore,
will also have to be responsive to the representation of Latino
cultures not only in their exhibitions but in their personnel,
although, again, as witness Ms. Montoya and An Arte Gallery,
we can also begin to anticipate growing Latino/Latina ownership
or direct sponsorship of their own museums. Indeed, as I mentioned,
Sandra Cisneros, her character Clemencia, and the real life
Ana Montoya, indeed one wants to underscore also the Latina
aspect of this growth, for, as I say Latina we add another
fascinating variable to this mix, namely, the growing educational
evidence of an emerging gender disparity in Latino/Latina
access to middle-class status and beyond.
Put simply, Latinas are doing much
better educationally than Latinos. Witness, for example,
the majority of Latino/Latina students at the University of
Texas at Austin is now female. I predict that it will be
there for Latinas, underscoring the feminine here, who will
be in the forefront of developing this emerging Latino/Latina
The social formation of a Mexican-
American middle and even an upper class clearly implies that
it and probably other Latino groups may now be positioned
to become patrons of what I am calling museum culture in all
of its dimensions. Increasing cultural literacies will continue
to gradually connect Latinos and Latinas to all manner of
artistic expression. However, this middle-upper class expansion
also offers an unprecedented opportunity for the expansion
of a Latino/Latina public culture of museums and exhibits
keyed on such a culture with ultimately profound implications
for how Latinos and Latinas are represented and how they now
increasingly choose to represent themselves.
Clearly in the foregoing I have
rhetorically weighted my argument with my opening examples
of Tom s Rivera and his farm workers and now the new
reality of people like Dr. Richard Garcia, indeed, and Ms.
Ana Montoya, owner of An Arte Gallery. And clearly I have
underscored their particular influence in this discussion
and we can think of other examples as well, especially from
Witness, for example, Henry Cisneros
and witness yet more recently Tony Sanchez. But witness also,
by the way, as long as we're witnessing success of a kind
here, late Tom s Rivera's own spectacular career, he
who authored the novel about farm workers, his own spectacular
career which climaxed as chancellor of the University of California
at Riverside, where he died, of course. By the way, Dr. Rivera
once told me and others that he was contemplating entering
the corporate world after he left the chancellorship at UC
I clearly have weighted my argument
by putting on the one hand farm workers and then these highly
successful people. But in between such individuals, in between
farm workers and the Dr. Garcias of this world and the Dr.
Riveras of this world and the, indeed, Dr. Lim¢ns of this
world, in between such individuals there is now a whole spectrum
of Latinos and Latinas now historically positioned as what
I am calling an activist middle and upper class who are already
exerting their influence in a myriad of social activities.
The culture of museums and the consequential
participation and representation of Latinos and Latinas is
one of those activities but one which greatly needs to be
expanded, one historically overdue, and now very, very welcome
in my opinion.
I believe that we are indeed arriving.
In our arrival we are arriving with profound consequences
for what I have been calling museum culture and in my examples
of Dr. Garcia, M.D., and Ms. Montoya I try to at least give
you some real world illustrations of what that arrival literally
might mean with all of its implications for what I have been
calling museum culture.
I believe we are arriving but in
arriving let us be sure that we always remember our historical
point of departure, the farm workers and folks like the farm
workers, and let us be sure that in arriving we transform
that destination that we are starting to reach.
Thank you very much.
Copyright © 2003