Adriana Gallego, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Arts Commission, recently contributed an article to the Arizona Mexico Commission’s (AMC) publication, CATALYST, on behalf of the AMC’s Arts and Culture Committee. An extended version of the published article is posted below.

During the spring, the San Luis Corporation for the Arts and Humanities invited the Arizona Commission on the Arts to San Luis, Arizona to participate in a multi-sector, cross-border collaboration with the goal of developing an event that would highlight the academic, economic and overall societal benefits of living in a border community.  Deeply encouraged by this vision, Robert Booker, Executive Director of the Arts Commission, and Adriana Gallego, Director of Strategic Initiatives, quickly became partners in this endeavor, and are helping shape the 2012 binational event as an initiative for the Arizona Mexico Commission Arts and Culture Committee.

The San Luis forum laid the foundation for meaningful dialogue through a series of presentations and small group sessions.  An exceptionally memorable presentation was delivered by Dr. Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, Chair of the School of Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies at Arizona State University.  Dr. Vélez-Ibáñez had a sincere interest in articulating the complexities that form our rich and diverse region, not just geographically, not just historically, but more so in the way that all these elements make our own personal lives that much more compelling.  It was particularly noteworthy that we were all invited to listen to Dr. Vélez-Ibáñez during the nascent stage of the planning process, as his talk set a catalytic tone for the formation of the event.  The conversations that ensued were infused with a sensibility for the unique histories and treasures entrusted to these communities.  This was the perfect way to begin the conversation; to chart a path in the spirit of mutual cultural understanding.

Naturally, the Arts Commission could not pass up the opportunity to invite Dr. Vélez-Ibáñez to deliver this message to the Arizona arts community during our recent annual Southwest Arts Conference.  In true form, Dr. Vélez-Ibáñez energized participants, demystified the history of the southwest, and inspired everyone to reflect on the many layered dimensions that continue to shape the transborder region.

With a keen sense for levity, Dr. Vélez-Ibáñez encouraged participants to look at the world from a different perspective, with a fresh approach and renewed vigor. The story began with a timeless photograph of Asunción (Chon), an older gentleman of Hispanic heritage, standing in the middle of a dirt driveway separated by wood and chain-linked fencing, and a historic adobe home in the hazy sun-kissed background.  We were asked to imagine the truth about Asunción and keep him in our thoughts for the duration of the presentation.

We were guided through a scholarly balance between a formal approach to border history and engaging lighthearted references and observations.  Along the way, we mapped North American prehispanic commercial trade routes and witnessed the fluidity of the borderline freely crossing geography, communities and cultures. It was clear that even during uncertain conditions, expressive cultures thrived on the hybridic nature of this continuous migratory flow. Laced throughout the presentation were reflective moments where audience members could imagine themselves in other people’s shoes, wondering what it might be like if circumstances were tilted, ever so slightly, in the other direction.  We heard compelling stories about people from different parts of the world and diverse cultures coming together to build community.  Similarly, we listened to Dr. Velez Ibanez’s anecdotes about his childhood experiences with kids from other cultures, a disarming reminder that those relationships are everyday occurrences for all of us.

Through shared laughter, genuine contemplation, and lessons in history, we arrived at the final moments of the journey, only to find ourselves right where we started, face to face with Asuncion’s photograph lighting up the screen.  On second glance, Asuncion seemed different.  Freed from the romanticism of the first impression or preconceptions, and with our recent consumption of knowledge, Chon was demystified.  Suddenly, it was not Asuncion from an era lost in time.  It was Chon kicking it in his 550 relaxed fit Levi jeans and slightly unbuttoned plaid shirt with a white t-shirt peeking through.  It was Chon and his orange tinted blue blocker shades, mustache and dusty vaquero hat.  It was Chon, in classic contra-posture with a slight lean into his walking stick, exposing visual cues of his U.S. Military Veteran status. What truths did these details reveal about Chon? They revealed that Chon, Asuncion, was a product of a multidimensional transborder culture.  They revealed that there was no one Chon.  They revealed that quite possibly, in one way or another, we were all Chon.