Over a dozen women in their teens and early twenties gathered outside the Texas Capitol building to protest a new state law they say racially profiles the Latinx community. A big difference between their protest and others? Many of them wore ballgowns.
On July 19, about 15 young women took to the the Texas Capitol building in Austin wearing colorful quinceañera dresses to protest the state’s new law banning sanctuary cities, a designation that means local officials limit their work with immigration enforcement to ensure safety for undocumented immigrants. The law also allows police officers to ask anyone about their immigration status when legally detained, and failure to comply could result in fines upwards of $1,500 for a first offense and then $25,500 for every other infraction. Quinceañeras take place on a woman’s 15th birthday to mark her transition into an adult.
Tania Mejia, the communications director at Jolt, a nonprofit helping Latinx teens that organized the demonstration, said the idea came from a volunteer who saw young women taking photos at the Capitol in their quinceañera dresses. “We thought that this event would be a great way to show people that this is our home, celebrate our culture, and send the message that young Latinas are standing up to the ongoing attacks on our community by our elected officials who work at the Capitol,” she told Remezcla.
The young women protesting believe the law, known as Senate Bill 4 or SB 4, is discriminatory due to the fact that it targets the Latinx community. “SB4 makes simply being brown a crime,” 17-year-old Magdalena Juarez told the San Antonio Express-News. “We will resist by celebrating our families and our culture. We will resist by standing in unity.” Law enforcement officials are also worried about the new ban, saying that it hinders their ability to foster bonds with people in their communities.
But just because the event was billed as a celebration didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of protesting. The group performed a number of ceremonial dances before heading inside to try and meet with representatives as well as Governor Greg Abbott, who supported the law’s passage. “Quinceañeras aren’t just about parties – they are coming-of-age celebrations that strengthen the bonds of family,” Mejia said. “They are also about uniting community in celebration, which is what we need to do to stop hateful and racist policies that hurt Latinos.”
Many Latinas mark their 15th birthdays with parties called quinceaneras. In Austin, Texas, it’s popular to include a photo shoot on the steps of the state Capitol. Today that rite of passage took on a political bent. NPR’s Vanessa Romo reports.
VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: There are at least three elements that make a quinceanera a quinceanera – a big, poufy dress, check – some declaration that a young girl is now a woman, check – and a highly choreographed dance…
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROMO: …Check. But what happened on the steps of the Texas Capitol earlier today was something more than a celebratory rite of passage for 15 teens in bedazzled and sherbet-colored princess dresses. And it’s become a social media campaign and an active hashtag – #15contraSB4 – that’s been shared all over Twitter.
CRISTINA TZINTZUN: It’s an event that’s gotten a lot of traction from Latinos, as I said, across the country but also here in Texas.
ROMO: That’s because this quinceanera was also a protest against a new state law that allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of residents and penalizes those who don’t. It was organized by Cristina Tzintzun.
TZINTZUN: Texas has become ground zero for the fight for the rights of immigrants and Latinos.
ROMO: Tzintzun is the founder of Jolt Texas, a nonprofit group working to get young Latinos to vote and run for office. And this demonstration in Austin, she says, was part of a larger national movement.
TZINTZUN: This last election, we saw Mexicans and Latinos demonized and really scapegoated. And so we want legislators to know and Trump to know that we won’t sit idly by while legislation of hate is passed, that our communities are going to organize and mobilize.
ROMO: So why the quinceanera theme – because, Tzintzun says, it’s when…
TZINTZUN: A girl takes on the full duties of becoming a woman. And one of those duties is protecting your family.
ROMO: In a traditional quince, the birthday girl performs a dance, usually a waltz. But these 15 ladies went a different route.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IMMIGRANTS – WE GET THE JOB DONE”)
K’NAAN: (Rapping) I got one job, two job, three when I need them.
ROMO: They choreographed a mash-up dance to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” and “Somos Mas Americanos” by Los Tigros del Norte, one of Mexico’s most famous bands. The two songs tell the stories of immigration and the search for jobs.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IMMIGRANTS – WE GET THE JOB DONE”)
K’NAAN: (Rapping) Immigrants, we get the job done.
DACA recipient Viridiana ‘Viri’ Sanchez, a summer youth organizer for Jolt, an Austin-based nonprofit mobilizing Latinos socially and politically, is taking her activism to the next level by shaping the vision for Quinceañera at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Hosted by Jolt, the July 19th event targets young women in Texas and throughout the country, and encourages them to mobilize and unite against Senate Bill 4, an anti-immigration bill signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott during the most recent legislative session.
Mitú met with Sanchez and fellow organizer Maggie Juarez to discuss how Quinceañera at the Capitol came together and how they hope it will help put a stop to SB 4.
What is SB4 and how does it impact Latinos?
“(SB 4) lowered the standard of how people should treat us just because of our skin color,” said Juarez, a daughter of immigrants who resides and attends school in Pflugerville, a suburban community north of Austin. She is choreographing the event’s dances.
SB 4 has been compared to SB 1070, Arizona’s “show me your papers” bill which allows police officers to ask people for proof of their immigration status.
According to the Dallas News, SB 4 will punish cities, counties, and universities that prohibit local law enforcement officers from asking about a person’s immigration status.
So how did the idea for Quinceañera at the Capitol come about?
“When Cristina (Tzintzun) started Jolt she encouraged me to become involved,” Sanchez said. “I told her, ‘You do know I am undocumented’ But then I realized we have to show people we have a voice. We don’t have to be scared of SB 4 or (President) Donald Trump.”
The idea for the event came from one of Jolt’s volunteers who witnessed quinceañeras taking photos at the state Capitol during SB 4 action.
Sanchez’s then set out to find 14 girls willing to join her as quinceañeras at the Capitol and have each one participate take turns reciting 15 reasons why they’re against SB 4.
The girls would then do choreographed dances and interact with lawmakers, all while wearing Quinceañera gowns in hot summer weather. Some of the girls participating are undocumented like Santos.
What do organizers hope to gain as an outcome?
“We want to show the government that we are connected and not ready to give up,” Sanchez said.
“We wanted songs true to what it means to be Latino in the United States and how we contribute, including to economic instability,” Sanchez said about why these songs were specifically chosen for the valz.
While there won’t be a baile de sorpresa, organizers encourage chambelanes to appear at the event or show solidarity on social media.
The girls invite Latinos across the country to tag themselves with their quince photos with hashtag #15contrasb4 and #bastaSB4 to show their support.
Born and raised in the border city of El Paso Texas, Artist Patrick Gabaldon creates pieces of work that highlight the beauty of the Chihuahuan desert. Gabaldon began painting in 2012, and with both sides of his family being Mexican-American he grew up in a home rich with tradition and culture. With each new piece, he looks for inspiration everywhere and constantly seeks to bring joy through color. Through vivid images of the borderland, he invokes this joy and pride of culture and uses his medium as a means of resistance.
The following is our email conversation about his work, inspiration, and thoughts on the role of art as resistance.
What are you trying to communicate with your art? If you look through my past works and current work you will see that my voice has changed a bit but always comes back to color. The world can be so dark…I use my work to help combat the darkness in my life and in the lives of others.
There have been a few pieces where there are definite messages. Certain pieces represent and are a response to the world around me here in the border. After experiencing the constant bigoted hate speech from the President I felt compelled to create. His administration still continues to paint our diverse community and all communities of color with this broad hateful brush. All the trash coming out of his mouth (and still….) made it clear to me that we must all stand against this misinformed bigotry.
The night of the election I felt compelled to create and put pen to paper. Over the next few days, I worked constantly on a new piece that represents immigrant pride, cultural pride, and personal pride. The piece also represents the strength and bravery it takes for many Americans and individuals to simply be who they are. I was trying to communicate that sometimes being yourself is a protest. The piece is titled Senora Libertad and depicts a Folklorico dancer draped in a gown inspired by the Statue of Liberty and the pride flag. Her lamp in hand and crown depict a proud Lady Liberty welcoming all no matter the color of their skin or the country they are fleeing. She remains one of my favorite pieces.
Recently I created a sister piece to Senora Libertad. It doesn’t have a title yet but represents the anger and shame I feel surrounding the message of hate promoted by the current President. This piece is of a Pinata swinging above a pitchfork. To me the message is clear. Constantly the immigrant and Hispanic community are being scapegoated. The pitchfork represents the vitriol and hate aimed at the border community and immigrant. The piece also speaks to cultural appropriation of Mexican-American tradition. Popular culture loves tacos, sombreros, and pinatas but shuns the people who created and celebrate these things. And what is inside the pinata? Love, family, and goodies. The Immigrant is all of these things! Often families save so long to celebrate life’s milestones with pinatas. We are like these pinatas. We bring so much to the table and can create so much goodness.
What do the borderlands mean and represent to you?
The border represents everything. It is a physical manifestation of life’s great contradictions. The spirit of the border and its people flow back and forth every day in a way that can only be described as a slow dance. Each side has quirks and habits of the other, making the borderland some strange amalgamation of the two places. It is something one can only experience on the border. The border is rough and unforgiving. It is also filled with life and acceptance. It is a place like no other and I proudly call it my home. These contradictions are amazing and complex. Maybe that’s the word I’m really searching for… complexity.
“I am most inspired by the toughness and resiliency of the border and its people.“
What role do you see artists having in society?
Artists and their work have an immense role. They help show the community that there is value in creative expression and free thinking. Their work is a mirror that helps us see our own complexities and contradictions. I also believe that as funding for the arts and afterschool programs get cut, artists will have more responsibility to make their work more accessible to affected communities.
What role do you see art playing in activism and political work?
Art has always had a role in political and social activism and will continue to be a cornerstone of activism around the globe. Often times we can’t find the words to describe how we feel. Sometimes our intentions and frustrations are best communicated through art.
You don’t have to look far to notice great art in activism. This year’s Women’s March was a great example of activism and art moving a message forward together. Whole articles were written focusing solely on the artwork created for the March and all of the globe artists are challenging cultural norms and the status quo through expressive artwork.
What does it mean to you to be a Latino artist in Texas?
It means so many things.
It means that I have an extra responsibility to represent our community in everything I do.
It means that my work will always speak to my cultural upbringing and heritage.
It means that I am one of many. There are so many talented Latino artists here in the state that often get overlooked or devalued because of their latino-ness or because they create on walls instead of in galleries. I am lucky because I call the border my home and because the city of El Paso does so much to support and grow local art.
Being a Latino artist in Texas is no different than being a Latino teacher or a Latino Judge or a Latino politician in Texas. It means that we represent so much more than the profession we choose and the job we do. I believe that this is the case for all people of color. Latinos are no exception. It also means that we have a duty to reach back and help others in our communities through art. Whether it’s donating time or art, Latino artists owe a debt to the forgotten and overlooked talents in Latino and Chicano art. Latino artists should take ownership and pride in our heritage and support one another.
What role do you see your art playing in light of the current political administration, both in Texas and nationally?
I know that I can’t be the only Texan frustrated and disappointed in State and National politics. I only wish that my art can bring joy in those times of frustration and embolden others to take pride in their culture and heritage. Maybe my colorful pieces can inspire other Latino voices in Texas to be bold and proud in the face of adversity.
What is your dream project?
I’d love to have a mural here in El Paso or in my second home of San Antonio. I’ve often thought it would be amazing to have my own studio gallery space where I can work and share my love of color with others. The largest piece I’ve ever done was only 5 ft by 10 ft and I’d love to try something much much bigger.
Stay tuned for more Artists profiles & interviews in this Summer of Resistance. If you are an artist & would like to create Resistance Art against SB4, Visit the Basta Texas web page and use the resistance art feature to submit your own creative acts of protest.
Last Tuesday, 25 artists came together at Cheer Up Charlie’s Bar to brainstorm how to resist SB4 through creativity and artistic expression. The Artist Happy Hour event was part of Basta Texas, a joint campaign between Jolt and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network that seeks to fight against the racist SB4 law before it goes into effect on September 1, 2017. Through Basta Texas, we’ve been resisting hate through community organizing, educating people about their rights, and engaging with politics.
But we need art and culture to breathe life into this movement. After all, resistance isn’t just about policy: in order to create real change, we need to move people emotionally. “Resistance art is a creative force that tells a powerful story of struggle, triumph and inspiration,” said filmmaker Chelsea Hernández, one of the event’s hosts. “It’s a unique and accessible way to send a message to the masses, highlighting the effects of social injustice or political turmoil. Today, resistance art can do even more than what it has done in the past. This type of art can cross the aisle of the political divide, sharing stories with communities that may not be aware of the individual struggles in this country.”
Indeed, artistic expression generated huge momentum for Alto Arizona, the campaign that brought an end to Arizona’s SB1070 “Show-Me-Your-Papers” law. The success of Alto Arizona— along with the countless other historical examples of art galvanizing resistance– inspired us to create community and power through protest art with the Artist Happy Hour.
“When I take photos I am very aware of the kind of images that I am creating. It’s the photos of people coming together, holding hands and sharing that I want to capture. That’s what I want to do with my medium: to say ‘this is important. This isn’t a joke. This affects my family.'” -Leandra Blei, Photographer
The artists then broke up by medium to brainstorm ways to uplift stories of resistance around SB4. When the entire group reconvened, incredible ideas emerged, from a collaborative exhibit showcasing images of protest to a mobile storytelling unit that chronicles the everyday fight against the racist law.
“Resistance means not giving up. It means standing up: not only for you but also for those around you that might not be able to.” – Claudio Aparicio Gamundi, Visual Artist
The Artist Happy Hour created incredible momentum thanks to the innovation of the artists who came; stay tuned for the projects that will emerge. But this was just the beginning.
Now, we need you to join us in the fight against SB4 by speaking out through your art. Visit the Basta Texas webpage and use the resistance art feature to submit your own creative acts of protest.
Together, we can give voice and power to this movement.
In response to President Trump’s first 100 days in office, three media groups — Fusion, Firelight Media and Field of Vision — partnered to kick off a series of resistance films. The project, “Our 100 Days,” release short films on a weekly basis depicting some of the many struggles faced by marginalized communities.
Each installment documents the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency from the perspective of communities most at risk by his policies —immigrants, Muslim Americans, transgender men and women. In providing alternative perspectives through film, “Our 100 Days” is a valuable resource for broadening the scope of public discussion, especially as media outlets have become saturated with nationalist rhetoric and generalizations.
As new discriminatory legislation continues to be passed, “Our 100 Days” is keeping pace by releasing timely content. So far, films have touched on Trump’s anti-union and anti-Muslim political agenda, with filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo depicting workers’ strikes in New York just days before inauguration, as well as Sofia Khan and Nausheen Dadabhoy documenting the Council on American Islamic Relation in the wake of the Muslim Travel Ban.
“Our 100 Days aims to tell stories from the perspective of vulnerable communities and explore threats to U.S. democracy in this current, polarized political climate.”
On June 1, Austin filmmakers Chelsea Hernandez and Iliana Sosa joined “Our 100 Days”, releasing: “An Uncertain Future.” The short documentary follows two Latinas preparing for motherhood as the anti-immigrant campaign promises of Donald Trump become painfully manifest. Both mothers — Ruth Guzman and Cristina Tzintzún — are fearful that their families will be torn apart by the Trump administration’s escalation of raids, detentions, and deportations.
“We’ll all be in danger of being deported at any moment.” – Ruth Guzman
Following the online release of “An Uncertain Future,” Latinx Spaces and Jolt hosted a public screening of the film, along with live music by Austin musician Carrie Rodriguez and an impressive panel discussion on the Trump Administration’s impact on the Latino community. The panel, made up of “badass mujeres,” included: Cristina Tzintzún, founder and Executive Director of Jolt; Ruth Guzman, member of Immigrants United; Martha Cotera, longtime civil rights activist; and Lori Gallegos, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Texas State University.
Covering many issues facing Latino communities, the speakers primarily focused on the circumstances that enable hateful legislation such as SB4, the systematic disenfranchisement of Latinos across the state, and the different ways that individuals can band together and create power.
Lori Gallegos, panelist and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Texas State University, highlighted the problematic “criminalization” of Latinos while speaking on the political rhetoric surrounding immigration:
“There is a general ideology that moral rights are grounded in a very specific legal and political membership in a particular national community…That conception of moral claims already excludes undocumented immigrants… [The United States] is really tied to this conception and that’s a real problem.”
By “criminalizing” Latinos, politicians have found a way to normalize hateful legislation like SB4 under the premise of “safety.” This is accomplished by the use of terms such as “illegal,” which immediately exclude undocumented people from membership in a “national community” by creating a rift between “legal” and “illegal” in which the “legal” receive protection from the “dangerous” outsiders. An ironic result, as Texas was once part of Mexico and is still home to indigenous peoples—a historical reality that legislators who continue to support SB4 seem to have forgotten.
In response to the discussion on criminalization, Cristina Tzintzún added:
“We are a country that very much believes in the rule of law, except we don’t understand how those laws are created…and they’re created out of fiction sometimes.”
The screening and panel came just days before ICE director Thomas Homan made the government’s extreme anti-immigrant sentiment
very clear in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security. Homan defended the targeting of nonviolent and previously low-priority undocumented immigrants, insisting: “We shouldn’t wait for them to become a criminal.” This is unfortunately a perfect example of the criminalization of Latinos, as Homan’s statement implies that undocumented immigrants — including DREAMers — are just waiting to commit crimes.
Despite these efforts to subordinate the Latino community, people across the state of Texas are mobilizing to build power in threatened populations. Most recently, Jolt, in partnership with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and Univision 62, organized a community
town hall in Austin on Saturday, June 17, to inform the public of their rights under SB4. As a part of #BastaTexas — a summer long campaign to end SB4 — the town hall is one step of many to spread awareness of this dangerous legislation that encourages racial profiling and threatens to tear apart countless families. Jolt plans to continue the fight against SB4 through September 2, the day after SB4 is slated to go into effect. Our #SummerOfResistance will culminate in a state-wide strike on September 1st, followed by a day of non-compliance on September 2, which will include music and festivities on the lawn of the Capitol.