- The Heart of the Mission: Latino Art and Politics in San Francisco by Cary Cordova
By Cary Cordova
Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. 336 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0812249309
In the Heart of the Mission, Cary Cordova employs archival research, oral histories, and art analysis to investigate the intersection between Latina/o art and politics in the San Francisco Mission District, a site of community and identity formation, Leftist politics, and cultural production.
Spanning the 1940s to the 1990s, Cordova weaves these themes through a nuanced analysis of political organizing, the creation of artist collectives and artists' life stories. The monograph details the way the intersection between art and politics "propelled the Chicano civil rights movement and influenced the direction of a widespread Latino cultural renaissance" (6). In addition, Cordova highlights the Mission's diverse Latin American origins and its transnational characteristics. Moving away from a Mexican American focus, Cordova teases out the contributions of Central American migrants, artists, and exiles to the formation of community and identity in the Mission. This expanded framework is particularly important for cities like San Francisco that have a long and rich history of Central American migration. Although the Latina/o community contributed to political movements and helped launch a cultural renaissance, it had to contend with the specter of displacement brought by gentrification, structural racism, and civil wars in Central America.
Cordova begins the monograph by looking at the experiences of Latinas/os in the Latin Quarter (North Beach), which was the previous location of a visible Latina/o presence in the city, and their contributions to Beat culture. Latina/o restaurants and nightclubs created a nightlife that celebrated Latina/o culture, but these celebratory expressions of Latina/o culture did not reflect Latina/os' actual lived experiences. By the 1940s, the Latin Quarter became the center of Beat culture in the city, and along with the growth of this counterculture came rising rent and property values that effectively pushed Latinas/os out of the neighborhood: "Beat culture emerged by emulating the outsider status of Mexican American, African American, and Filipino pachucos and zoot suiters . . . but with the advantage of Anglo social privileges" (46). Cordova points out that although Beat culture was predicated on the emulation of outsiders, Latinas/os are conspicuously absent from Beat culture histories, effectively erasing them from American art history. Cordova recounts the contributions made by Latina/o artists, through various mediums, to Beat culture in San Francisco. The artists Luis Cervantes, Ernie Palomino, and José Ramón Lerma embodied Beat culture, infusing it with themes drawn from their racial, social, and sexual backgrounds. Their contributions reflect a history and presence "that challenges the Anglo-centrism of American art and Beat culture" (63).
By the 1960s, San Francisco saw the rise of social, artistic, and cultural movements that embraced panethnic solidarities, the global Left, and Third World decolonization movements. Unlike previous work that narrowly focuses on the Chicano movement, Cordova argues "diverse politics and demographics shaped the movements emphasis" (64). This is particularly salient for San Francisco, whose diverse Latina/o population demanded the Chicano movement take on a different character than the Chicano movement in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and the Southwest. Pan-Latina/o organizations like Casa Hispana and Galería de la Raza became important sites where artists and activists could "articulate transnational solidarities, cross-cultural convergences, and deep divisions" (65). Cultural workers in the Mission were also inspired by the global Left and other Third World movements. The 1968 San Francisco State University student strike—which helped establish the first college of ethnic studies in the nation—was a formative movement for many cultural workers. Cordova uses the experiences of Yolanda López, Rupert García, and Juan Fuentes to demonstrate the myriad ways the strike and solidarity with decolonization efforts influenced and shaped the direction of art and politics in the Mission. The three artists used posters as a medium for expressing their opposition to racism and their identification with a [End Page 151] global Leftist perspective. Along...