Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Courtesy image.

Even though thunder gods have decided to vacation in San Antonio this weekend, I can tell you this: Luminaria is on. Organizers have a contingency plan in place for the thunderstorms likely to grace this year’s festival of lights taking place on Friday and Saturday nights. (Pinche Tlaloc.)

San Antonio is el mero centro de Chicanismo. San Anto Chicanismo is barbacoa and big red, El Parche Friday nights at Salute (RIP), and Commerce Street after a Spurs championship win. La cultura cura, rasquachismo, mestizaje, y Aztlan. C/S. Chicano/a identity puts the “it factor” in San Antonio.

“Wait. Chicanismo disappeared with 8-track tapes and Kojak,” you may think as you bite into your morning breakfast taco as you peruse a tourist mag featuring a sombrero-wearing vaquero pretend-kissing a senorita in a folklorico skirt.

No, baby. Chicanos have multiplied, especially in Texas’ new “it” city, San Anto. We are educated and we (are starting to) vote. A good number of Tex-Mexicans, even if you don’t self-identify as Chicano and especially those who live inside 410, know what I mean.

Maybe you don’t. Pos, that’s okay. Lucky you. I share some light-insight into contemporary Chicanismo art – through the lens of this week’s free, rain-or-shine art festival, Luminaria.

Disclaimer numero uno: I found my Chicana identity after I moved away from el valle. I was a freshman at Southern Methodist University when I started my transformation from baton-twirling Hispanic thespian into the grito-throwing-Chicana-teatrista that I am today. (I still twirl, not knocking twirlers.) My immediate family was in denial about my Chicana identity, even after I got my signature Chicana signifier, la Virgen de Guadalupe, tattooed on my sleeve.

Disclaimer numero dos: Do not negate a self-identified Chicano/a. We Chicano/s follow no stereotypes. Ok, maybe one: we all love Selena.

Disclaimer numero tres: I have taken the liberty to identify the following artists as Chicano/a because: 1) They practice identity politics through their art; and 2) I wear la Virgen on my sleeve.

These Luminaria artists offer an immediate insight into contemporary Chicano/a aesthetics. They represent a New American contemporary art that reflects a mestizaje identity. No longer in the margins, these artists have infiltrated mainstream institutions while waving la cultura flag: We are one of you, Americano. We can code-switch when we please, without translation, without respite. Orale!

Also, each survived Luminaria’s rain plan at various locations in this year’s River North footprint near the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA).

Most installations/events that were planned outside have been cancelled due to anticipated thunderstorms.
Luminaria 2015 site map. Most installations/events that were planned outside have been cancelled due to anticipated thunderstorms.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra

Tacones, organza, and chest hair. Mejicano, intellectual liberator, MacArthur Genius Fellow. Guillermo Gómez-Peña (see top image), the cyborg performance artist/writer/social commentator/vato loco, arrives in San Antonio this week to perform “Imaginary Activism: The Role of the Artist Beyond the Art World” atLuminaria. Gómez-Peña is an international Chicano and a artistic chingon who can hypnotize an audience with just a look and a pucker.

Literature, pedagogy, and live art viven juntos in this solo work where he remixes classic performances, what Gómez-Peña calls his living archive, with new performance works. Over the years, he has performed in San Antonio with Jump-Start Performance Co., as a MacArturo with Sandra Cisneros, and as a keynote speaker for the National Association of Latino Arts & Culture. I will be ready for the performance: front row center, indoors at SAMA, with a secret half-mast of tequila in my flask. Where will you be?

Virginia Grise & Rafa Esparza

Virginia Grise. Courtesy photo.
Virginia Grise. Courtesy photo.

In a word, Virginia Grise is a badass. Once a teacher at a San Antonio middle school, she has since moved away to earn an MFA, a Yale Drama Series Award, and the Pregones Theatre’s Asuncion Award for Queer Playwriting.

When I asked Virgina about U.S. Latino/a performance artists I should keep an eye on, she immediately referred me to another badass, Rafa Esparaza of Los Angeles. The first image I went to after a quick Google search was a photo of the artist chiseling himself out of a concrete pedestal in sight of a correctional facility.

Rafa Esparza performs "Building: a Simulacrum of Power." Photo by Dylan Schwartz, courtesy of Clockshop.
Rafa Esparza performs “Building: a Simulacrum of Power.” Photo by Dylan Schwartz, courtesy of Clockshop.

His work is at once ethereal and earthy, political and spiritual. He joins Virginia at Luminaria for a live performance: “flesh and bone, and from the Earth’s body: how do you pull your own sadness up from the ground?” Their work is inspired by a book by Joe Jiménez, “The Presence of Absence and Kites.” Not to be missed, even if you have to splash in pinche asphalt puddles to get to the indoor warehouse venue on the west corner of Avenue B and 10th Street.

Más Rudas

San Anto’s Chicana darlings, Más Rudas Chicana Art Collective, features the collaborative work of Ruth Leona Buentello, Sarah Castillo, Kristin Gamez, and Mari Hernandez. I’ve seen them turn Chicana stereotypes inside out like a disco-chongo. The collective is working on Chicana-sized “Walking Altars” whichincorporating handmade costumes (that) personify the South Texas tradition of yard altars.” Through this work, Más Rudas offers a nod to the seminal east Los Angeles Chicano art collective, Asco.

Members of Más Rudas Art Collective stand with their Luminaria piece "Walking Altars," Photo by Marisa Hernandez.
Members of Más Rudas Art Collective stand with their Luminaria piece “Walking Altars,” Photo by Marisa Hernandez.

In addition to Chicano/a artists, there will be plenty of art styles and cultures to explore during Luminaria – rain or shine. San Anto, do not let Tlaloc damper your weekend plans to attend Luminaria.

Almost two dozen artist installations and a few daytime events have been cancelled in anticipation of severe weather. “Organizers are working to roll out future programming to spotlight the extraordinary artists who may not be able to participate Friday and Saturday due to the expected inclement weather conditions,” according to a news release.

Follow Luminaria on Facebook for updates.

*Top image: Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Courtesy photo.

Related Stories:

Luminaria 2015: The Metamorphosis Continues

Más Rudas: Chicana Art Without Apology, Featured at ITC

Luminaria 2014 Review: Hits and Misses 

Luminaria: Saturday Night Alright for Lighting

Marisela Barrera

Marisela Barrera

Marisela Barrera is a Chicana creating Tex-Mex stories on stage and in print. She has a BFA in acting from Southern Methodist University and MA/MFA degrees from in creative writing, literature, and social...