Eight different stories were told to an intimate group at the Central Library Thursday night, but a collective story of struggle for space, freedom through art, and perseverance was told.

In the section of the library that will soon be known as the Latino Studies Collection Space, dozens listened to local and national Latino artists, scholars, activists, educators, and more present their truths and experiences – their historias – at Nuestra Historia, the kickoff event for the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC)’s Regional Arts Training Workshop weekend.

The workshop will serve as a platform to discuss the various Latinidades in creative expression, issues of diversity and inclusion in the arts, and how art relates to social justice while providing valuable tools and resources for members of the art community. Thursday’s event was the perfect primer, featuring real perspectives of creatives from multiple generations, backgrounds, and artistic disciplines.

The evening was also an occasion to recognize the winners of the San Antonio NALAC Fund for the Arts grant, which assists U.S.-based Latino artists and arts organizations. The winners were Adriana Maria Garcia, Anel I. Flores, Anna De Luna, Federico Chavez-Blanco, and Jenelle Esparza.

“Bringing a diverse community of different generations of artists working in different disciplines … was an opportunity to provide a glimpse of all the creativity that is in the community,” said María López De León, NALAC executive director. “We wanted to present a picture of who the artists, who the scholars, who the writers are in San Antonio and what they’re doing, and the stories that they’re helping us preserve in our city.”

The participants included author and artist Anel Flores; visual artist Alex Rubio; Miami-based multimedia artist Agustina Woodgate; scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto; scholar and activist Antonia Castañeda; co-founder of St. Sucia Isabel Ann Castro; advisor of The Convergent Media Collective Joey Lopez; and interdisciplinary artist Daniela Riojas. (See photo gallery above.)

Stoked by The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s controversial decision to pull out of Contemporary Art Month and a raucous diversity in the arts panel that followed, there have been growing concerns about a lack of inclusion in the local art realm, and the underrepresentation of Latino artists in particular. Underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Latinos is a national issue, present throughout history.

(Read More: Guadalupe Backs Out of Art Month, Cites Lack of Latina Artists‘Diversity in the Arts’ Discussion Leads to More Questions Than Answers)

Through sharing their varied accounts on Thursday, the eight Nuestra Historia participants shed light on the complexities that make up Latino culture, and how their art allows them to do that.

While some touched on art education and projects, the impact iconic Latino leaders have on the community, and the powerful relationship between art and social justice movements, others described their own personal stories. But nearly all seemed to tie in with the concept of limited space in mainstream media for expressing the true, Latino experience through art.

“Whoever tells the story determines what story gets told,” Castañeda said.

If groups of people, especially those on the margins, don’t fight for their voice, she said, then their stories can be erased and forgotten.

Audience members, including speaker Daniela Riojas listen to the stories of Latinos in the arts. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Audience members, including speaker Daniela Riojas (center, left) listen to the stories of Latinos in the arts. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Flores noticed a gap in popular narratives when her family literally shut her out of her home because she identifies as queer. Before she eventually found a “safe space” among a community of artists, she couldn’t find a story like hers, a voice in common media, with which she could relate. But the problem wasn’t that they didn’t exist.

“Being an artist and being a writer, I’ve always been searching for telling that story that’s been erased in history, and acknowledging that artists and writers and makers are people that are always preserving history,” she said. Through her artwork and writing, she chronicled her experience and all of the pain and confusion that came with it, a historic preservation of the life of a queer Latina in the 21st century.

For Rubio, a well-known local muralist and art educator for the Blue Star Contemporary MOSAIC student artist program, historic preservation of his Latino culture once meant documenting the everyday scenes of his neighborhood through painting. Now he also sees it as mentoring the youth on how to express themselves through their art, and in turn perpetuating the dialogue of the Latino experience.

“Working with communities … meeting people within these neighborhoods, talking to them, and archiving their work – all of that is really important when you’re doing public art, along with meeting young artists that you can mentor yourself,” he said.

Castro, who has published the work of hundreds of Latinas in her online magazine, doesn’t mentor fellow artists, but she recognized the power of “getting these stories, these narratives, this artwork out there,” especially in the face of adversity.

“We’re not waiting for anyone to come to us and say, ‘Oh, we’d like to put you in a gallery,’” she said. “We’re creating our own platform. We’re not waiting for anybody.”

These ideas and much more will be discussed at the NALAC Regional Arts Training Workshop, which will be held at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and will conclude on Saturday, April 30.

For more information or to register for the workshop, click here.


Related Stories:

Regional Art Workshop to Convene Latino Artists

San Antonio’s Latino Artists to Watch in 2016

Second Saturday Lifts Up Local, Latino Art

‘Diversity in the Arts’ Discussion Leads to More Questions Than Answers

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com