Music, art, food and dance are all key to cultural identity and creating an inclusive space where community members feel connected and comfortable. What most people don’t realize is that it can also be the perfect opportunity to provide crucial information about health and social services for the community it serves.
This is the strategy of one organization in King County, which is currently home to over 250,000 Mexican and Mexican American residents.
“We utilize art and cultural events to engage our community in increased civic participation, including voting and local issues, as well as inform the community about basic services, education and employment in an engaging environment,” says Angie Hinojos, executive director of Centro Cultural Mexicano. The organization also offers community conversations, lectures and art exhibits in its gallery.
On May 1, Centro Cultural Mexicano will hold their annual Cinco de Mayo festival at Redmond Downtown Park. This bilingual event aims not only to celebrate traditional Mexican culture but to empower it as well — with seven hours of live bands, vendors and food trucks, as well as community resources and free Covid vaccinations and Covid test kits, being offered. Information about resources for small businesses, housing, employment and health services will be available. Not just focused on entertainment, the organization will also be awarding two scholarships for Mexican descendent first year, first-generation students — one for college and one for trade school.
“Art also provides a powerful way to enable connections to each other, to cultural identity and to one’s roots,” says Hinojos, who has been creating public art displayed throughout King County for years.
She infuses her colorful and lively sculptures with Mexican culture, including folklore and the modern-day experiences of Mexican American and immigrant experiences. Her sculpture “Adelita,” depicting a woman soldier who fought in the Mexican Revolution, was exhibited at the Redmond Lights celebration of light, art and culture. She remembers a mother and her young daughter viewing the work and happily singing “La Adelita,” the Mexican song telling the story of the heroine depicted in the sculpture together.
She also uses art to educate and as a call to action. For example, her powerful 3D sculpture titled “Tu Voz Cuenta: Census 2020” (Your Voice Counts) was displayed in Redmond Downtown Park to encourage Mexican Americans to participate in the Census and be counted. “I would like for people to see that there are a wealth of different cultures represented in our communities; our communities provide a variety of contributions as well as creative thinking, and innovation that comes out of our unique experiences,” Hinojos says. “Through art we can stake a claim and say, ‘You can’t ignore us. We are not going away.’ And also, ‘come on, join us; let me hear about your experience.’”
This is the underlying theme of a film recently produced by Centro Cultural Mexicano through funding from King County Communities of Opportunity. Documenting the Latino community experience throughout COVID-19, “¡Ya Es Tiempo!” (The Time is Now), highlights those inequities and shares stories of the community to help increase awareness and visibility around these issues.
One mother interviewed in the film spoke of her struggle throughout the pandemic to put food on the table and pay rent, all while trying to hide it from her three sons. Not wanting them to worry, she bears the brunt of the stress and worry alone. Later, one of the boys — a 10-year-old — admits to one of the crew members, “I wish I could go to work to help my mom, but I’m still too little.”
Lack of childcare and eldercare is prevalent across the United States for many, but for single Latino parents trying to make ends meet, it is a crisis. Like the boy in the film, some children within those families feel pressure to help support their parents early on, sacrificing aspects of their childhood. Despite these worries, the mother maintains her strength. “It doesn’t matter what color we are or where we come from,” she says. “We need help.”
The film has been sent to government officials, community groups and schools and will be showing this spring at Cascadia College, along with a facilitated conversation. There’s also a book distributed with the film, highlighting the beauty of the Latino culture and people.
Centro Cultural Mexicano is focused on the empowerment of the Latino community through art and culture. We strive to inspire inclusive participation of its members in all aspects of education, culture and society to continue building towards a positive future.