The term “cultural diversity” isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think eastern Idaho; however, nestled in small pockets throughout our communities is a vibrant and ever growing population of Latinos. I first realized the predominance of this minority group shortly after moving here when a six-year-old boy initially declined his uncle’s invitation to be introduced to me. “Sorry,” he apologized, “I don’t speak Spanish.” (I’m Japanese, by the way).
Perhaps it is because I myself am an immigrant and have experienced first-hand the beauty of being able to draw from two cultures, as well as some of the significant challenges including prejudices and language barrier. I continue to be intrigued by how various groups either embrace or reject assimilation, or increasingly in the case of many in the Latino culture, acculturation (being bi-cultural).
According to the last census results, 16 percent of the overall US population and 11 percent in Bonneville County are considered Latino. A quick glance at the current political activity leading up to the fall elections indicates just how significant this group has become and also how issues relevant to immigration have the ability to conjure up such strong emotions on all sides. Even the term “Latino” is somewhat problematic. I watched in fascination and relief at a presentation hosted by the Consulate General of Mexico in Boise earlier this spring as the “proper” terminology for this growing demographic group was hotly debated among those who considered themselves part of this group.
Artists of all persuasions, whether they intend to or not, often find themselves as a voice for much more than themselves. Because of art’s ability to communicate in silence, it can and often does cross seemingly insurmountable cultural divides. From Aug. 30 – Nov. 3, Identity, Place and Culture presents the unique exploratory approaches of three regional Latina artists in their personal journey as artists, as women and as recipients of a vibrant cultural heritage.
Boise State University fine art professor, Alma Gomez, grew up on what she describes as “the borderlands,” the border between Mexico and the United States in Southern Texas. She is known for her murals and more recently has turned her attention to Mexican retablos, small devotional images of saints. Often, she combines elements of her two worlds to create her own distinct images.
While some artists shy away from their cultural heritage for fear of being labeled, Ruby Chacon fully embraces who she is as a Chicana from Utah. Her subject matter is often found in the men and women she comes across in her everyday life and often represents the duality of her two worlds.
Brazilian printmaker Maria Carmen Gambliel’s work doesn’t necessarily shout Latino artist. Much more subtle and abstract in nature, Gambliel gathers influence from her own heritage while integrating contemporary cross-cultural narratives.
Associated programing for this exhibit includes a free family day and cultural celebration on October 20, as well as a sound installation and concert by Idaho guitarist/composer Craig J. Green to celebrate Dios Los Muertas (Day of the Dead) in early November. Community members are invited to honor their loved ones at a community alter installation at The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho during the first week in November. All exhibit signage will be in both Spanish and English. Identity, Place, and Culture is sponsored by Idaho National Laboratory through corporate funds from Battelle Energy Alliance and Idaho Falls magazine.
By promoting cross-cultural awareness in eastern Idaho, we celebrate the diversity we find in our communities throughout this region while at the same time recognizing that we have so much more in common as human beings than what sets us apart on the surface.