“A Community Vision”: Documentary highlights Latino artists in Minnesota


A new documentary about the Latino arts in Minnesota had its first screening on Thursday, October 28 at Neighborhood House on St. Paul’s West Side. Latino Arts: A Community Vision, written by Lorena Duarte and Lisa Blackstone, highlights the work of 12 different Latino artists from different disciplines discussing their work and how it relates to heritage, arts and culture, language, multigenerational relationships, and education. With funding from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the film was created by the Minnesota Humanities Center, the Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC), and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), which will air the documentary on November 7 at 8 p.m.

The twelve artists profiled in the film are singer/songwriter/emcee Maria Isa; visual artists Doug Padilla, Ricardo Levins Morales, Tina Tavera, Luis Fitch, Gustavo Lira, and Armando Gutierrez G; Aztec dancer Susana De Leon; spoken word artists Larry Lucio Jr. and Rodrigo Sanchez Chavarria; novelist Sandra Benitez; and choreographers/dancers Dario y Giselle Mejia. Coming from diverse backgrounds and ranging widely in age and experience, the artists articulate their experiences as Latino artists.

At the screening, Larry Lucio said that he and Rodrigo Sanchez Chavarria, members of the spoken word group Palabristas, said they found out that the documentary was being made, and then submitted a proposal in order to be considered; it included samples of their work and an artist statement.

Lucio said that the Latino arts community in Minnesota “isn’t as strong as it should be…it feels a little bit invisible.” Though there is a lot of support within the Latino arts community, some Latino artists perceive a lack of interest from the greater community.

Sanchez Chavarria said that Latino artists battle a stigma that they are just here to contribute to the labor force. “We have much more to give,” he said. Another problem, he said, is that there aren’t enough avenues for Latino artists to show their work. What he hopes for are organizations that are artist-driven and artist-powered, “not a curated or filtered version,” he said.

The documentary features interviews and also shows examples of each of the artist’s work. Maria Isa gives a marvelous a capella performance, and there’s a beautiful section where Dario and Giselle Meijia share a dance they created dedicated to their grandfather.

An especially poignant interview comes from Ricardo Levins Morales, who tears up when he is talking about how artists make the invisible visible. Morales is known for his beautiful print work that merges activism and art (see the interview I had with him last year here). In the documentary, Morales gives an example of how subsidized corn is brought to Mexico, wiping out opportunities for Mexican farmers, who then move north only to find themselves treated unjustly. “We are not an infection,” he said, with emotion.

Another wonderful interview is with novelist Sandra Benitez. Though she is bilingual, she said it is easier for her to write in English, but that her characters come to her “in Spanishness.” In the interview, Benitez says she is so excited talking about her process that she feels like writing another novel.

After the screening, CLAC Director Hector Garcia said that after the premiere of the film on TPT, it will be distributed to lawmakers. Garcia also said that many see Latinos “as a silent community.”

Levins Morales responded by calling upon the community to repeat after him, and he made a very high pitched noise, and the audience repeated, laughing.

A member of the audience challenged the notion that Latinos are a silent community. “We aren’t a silent community,” he said, “we have been ignored.”