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The Latino Dialogue:
Collaboration with CSUMB/National Steinbeck Center and Alisal Center for the Fine Arts
California State University of Monterey Bay, The National Steinbeck Center and the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts have begun to work in a collaborative community partnership to sponsor a yearlong series of dialogues to engage the larger Latino community in a cultural conversation on community arts values and needs. The focus of the Latino Dialogue is:
  • To learn more about the Latino community practices in the arts and culture
  • To identify what arts needs can be served through regional organizations
  • To identify the role of the arts in health, education, juvenile justice and other aspects of community sustainability
  • To open more communication in our region and provide a forum for documenting shared cultural arts and community practices

It is our hope that these dialogues and their documented results will provide community artists, organizers and practitioners a supportive model for their work and in addition provide knowledge for others in community organizations serving Latinos in our region.

In order to develop this ethos of cultural exchange it is important to appreciate the cultural models of communication that already exist in our Latino communities. In the Latino community there are several ways in which communities consider dialogue and two of the oldest are la resolana, a form of story telling which perpetuate the sharing of community knowledge and the tertulia, a social gathering with literary or artistic overtones. These models serve to enhance the personal relationship with the community and to generate community knowledge and social networks. Personalismo is a cultural value largely associated with how Latino communities operate. It is an important part of family relationships and interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the most important aspects of personalismo are respect, honor, and courtesy.

We believe beginning with our own cultural models will lead us to deeper understanding, community problem solving and community strength. We welcome you to the first Latino Dialogue and look forward to our future conversations.

Our first dialogue followed the process below and included a number of community members.

Latino Dialog Needs Assessment 2009
The needs assessment for the Latino Initiative has included two small gatherings including a preliminary tertulia at a local coffee house on Friday, February 13, 2009 with representatives from Alisal Center for the Fine Arts headed by Jose Ortiz and Luis Serna and community members from the National Steinbeck Center led by Deborah Silguero. At the first meeting the members determined that their needed to be a second larger community discussion focused on both values and needs in the Latino community in regard to community service in the arts. The previously listed goals were designed to guide the discussion and to provide results that could serve to guide the Latino Initiative in building a cultural sustainability model.

At the next gathering the attendees, a group of community leaders, artists, and CSUMB faculty, divided into groups of four and participated in a process of personal storytelling and a series of questions aimed at determining the needs and issues in the Latino community in regard to the arts. The groups each discussed the following questions:
  • Please begin by having each person at your table share a personal story about their own experience in cultura or arte
  • After each person has had a chance to speak please discuss these questions:
    o What do you think are the best aspects of Latino culture and arts?
    o From your perspective what are the cultural arts services most needed in the Latino community?
    o What ways can the cultural arts help to improve the life of youth, families and others in the Latino community?
    o What other topics would you like your group to discuss?
    o What would you like the next Latino Dialogue to address?
The conversations were noted and the groups each selected one person to provide highlights of the conversation. The following highlights are indicators of the level of engagement with the topic. The presentations were also videotaped for documentation.
The discussions and definitions of cultura and arte included references to family life, to personal art, to folk traditions and folk forms in early childhood. The discussions also revealed philosophic values about the role of art and culture in being a well-educated or well-rounded person. The growth of indigenous communities was discussed and references to their traditional crafts such as weaving and pottery were seen as reflections of culture and art.

In regard to existing institutions a number of participants mentioned the need to have Latino art exhibitions to serve the youth. Others felt that another critical topic was the role of art as an alternative in the challenge of juvenile justice issues. In one table the discussion of the need for identity and selfesteem was directly linked to the need for more art and culture material presented in the region by arts organizations. Many participants noted that Latinos needed to be involved in the decision making at the arts institutions and that more permanent exhibits of Mexican history, regional history and farm worker history were needed. The performing arts also was valued and several groups brought up the value of the Teatro Campesino, a performing arts company rooted in the farm worker struggle.

In probing the need for arts services the desire for institution building was often mentioned. Particular projects were noted especially one involving a Latino cultural center linked to the historic role of Cesar Chavez and the Civil Rights era in Salinas Valley as well as the need for a cultural center in the Alisal neighborhood.

While this was a first small gathering there was a desire on the part of the participants to develop a network and to determine some future steps. Suggestions included inviting more participants from the juvenile justice system, the farm worker community and some of the other established arts organizations in the region. This brief model of discussion indicates the need for more assessment of community need and of community, the desire for support in community building and participation in the determination of arts programming in local institutions. The next Latino dialogue will occur in May in East Salinas and another smaller tertulia at the farm worker housing project in Castroville. CSUMB is also in the process of identifying Latino students across disciplines who might be interested in supporting the dialogues.

Made possible with a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation