A Journey to Awareness When You Least Expect It: Appreciating Latino Culture by Calvin Schwartz Jan 14th 2017
This article title is aptly constructed. You go through life in Central Jersey and it seems sometimes you’re a million miles away from relevance and meaning. But it’s the same everywhere. Five years ago, when I was just beginning my journalism career, I happened upon Tent City, a plot of forest land in Lakewood, New Jersey where up to 100 people (humans) were living in tents for up to ten years, homeless and without electricity or running water. I least expected homelessness 20 miles from my home in comfortable Monmouth County. Ocean County had no provisions for homeless. Spending time there, I was changed irrevocably; I became aware of the devastating hopelessness of homelessness. Awareness is a gift.
The gifts were many as a journalist these past five years. I also learned about hunger, musicians, autism, bipolar and PTSD. Then suddenly last summer, in August, I received an email from Monmouth Museum, actually while I was reclining on a beach chair at the Dead Sea in 111-degree temperature. I was invited to attend the September opening exhibit of an emerging artist, Dion Hitchings. It was mid-September when I found myself at the museum checking out a fascinating exhibit. The artist used Cheerio and donut boxes instead of canvas. When I finished, museum public relations head, Laura Oncea, asked if I’d like to see a new exhibit that was being set-up in the main hall; Neo-Latino: Critical Mass. The curator, Monica Camin and assistant, Nicole Sardone were busy setting up. I walked in, looked to my left and saw Ricardo Fonseca’s “An Act of Love -Trumpet!” It was captivating and riveting and made me think. I love to think. My wife and I absorbed the exhibit. I was hooked and engrossed but turned down an invitation to attend the exhibit opening reception on September 16th.
Driving home, perhaps less than a mile from the museum, my friend, epiphany, helped me reverse my decision. I called and accepted the invitation for the reception. Epiphany reminded me that at the reception, there would be a gathering of some of the most prominent Latino artists in the country; some were PhDs and professors; all accomplished and successful. But present, beneath my soft cutaneous surface, were old and new stereotypes, many stuck in the current political climate. I hate stereotypes and falling into traps without being open minded. I’m confronted by my own lack of awareness of Latino (Hispanic) culture and that frustrated that it existed in me. I never want to be on an ignorant bus driving along a Gulf of Mexico highway. I keep seeking understanding, relevance and diversity as I go through the maturation process. In thirty years or so, minorities in America will be a majority. Isn’t it a good time to absorb, appreciate new vistas of culture? Challenge your own assumptions.
The exhibit at Monmouth Museum,’ Neo Latino: Critical Mass’ was conceived at this pivotal time for the Latino voice, in the midst of an historic election and would stress the Latino cultural and socio-political experience. A collective of diverse artists was created to express a Latino voice in this new century. For me, that time has arrived; long overdue. Artists with roots or ties to Argentina, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Portugal and Spain were represented. Before the reception, I sat in the garden (It was a late summer warm night) with the collective creators and curators, Raul Villareal, Dr. Jose Rodeiros, Monica Camin and Olga Mercedes Bautista. And then my favorite lightbulb went on; their energy lit my fire and I suggested doing an NJ Discover LIVE TV Show to further bring awareness to their work, culture and art. It was agreed and we did the show in October. Here is the link to “Neo Latino Artists Come to NJ Discover Live TV.” Please check it out. You’ll get a chance to see and hear about some of the representative art. It was a great show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMzmocQpu5s
A few weeks later artist (his work combines design, digital manipulation, digital art illustration, photography and sometimes animation and sound) Ricardo Fonseca invited me to attend the ‘We Are You Project’ Poetry Anthology Reading on October 27th at New York’s Nuyorican Café on the lower East Side. Another evening, this time with some of the country’s most prolific, prominent Latino poets. For me, it was a continuance of my recent journey to Latino cultural awareness. A commitment to mind expansiveness and learning. This notion securely etched in the stone of my determination. I let Woodstock in 1969 and Dr. King’s March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech in August, 1963 pass me by. No more moments in life would be unattended. Even though that night produced a cold heavy rain storm, I trained into the city with Monica Camin, curator of the “Neo Latino-Critical Mass” exhibit.
Indeed, so well worth the drenching trip. The café was alive with Latino artists and poets, dramatically reading some of their works. I had a chance to meet and chat with Dr. Carlos Hernandez, former President of New Jersey City University, Mario Tapia, President of the Latino Center on Aging and Duda Penteado, artist, poet and Brazilian-American. All three, so instrumental in putting this night together and more importantly, developing new, transcultural tools to help the emerging modern Hispanic population. Represented this night was work from the Beat Generation with George Nelson Preston. I was a happy guy. It brought me home to where/when I came from. There was so much more words/works that harvested emotion, diversity, passion, freedom and justice. I could write pages now about what I absorbed. I felt so elevated being there. I was alive again. I love the feeling of input and knowledge and involvement. Best if you all catch a flavor of the individual works that night, Go to:
and visually journey into the culture. Their culture is part of our American culture. It’s who we are; a nation of immigrants and a melting pot of diversity and creativity. I marvel at the universe for lighting my fire and bringing me here to awareness. There is a purpose to things; an order in the universe. Earlier this summer, I had a chance to interview Laurie Hernandez, a 16-year-old American- Latino gymnast just before she left for the Olympics where she won a Gold and Silver Medal. A few months ago, she dazzled America winning ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Then in November, I went to an evening of Comedy at the Headliner in Neptune Township featuring Peaches Rodriguez, a well-known Latino comedian.
My journey these past few months has been very special absorbing Latino culture as part of the promise of America. I’ve also done serious work with education and the promise it affords our future. I feel like I’m on that mountain top, looking down, beyond my long white beard which touches my knees. I understand things better now. I know education is what can help so many problems of the world. It’s a gift we need to share. I’m on a wonderful path. I love awareness and Latino culture. For me, it’s all a wondrous beginning; a new world; and an expected lot of miles yet to travel. And so it goes.