Arianna Ruvalcaba | Copy Editor
A crowd is starting to gather in the town square. Drum beats pound through the ground and travel up into the audience’s chests. Once the crowd clears, a woman appears draped in an explosion of colorful fabric that sways with her body and a crown of feathers that frames her head. Shirtless men in traditional Aztec loincloths surround her, the bands fastened to their ankles and wrists rattling to the beat.
This is the type of cultural practice Veronica Valadez, professor of Chicano studies at California State University Channel Islands and self-proclaimed “artivist” aims to preserve through painting, speaking the Nahuatl language and teaching Danza Mexica. Valadez, and many like her, strive to bring awareness about minority populations to the general public with traditions passed through the generations.
It is no secret that California contains a kaleidoscope of culture. A friendship with someone of a different ethnicity is no longer a segue into a racially charged joke, but a means of expelling cultural ignorance and learning about practices that may be foreign to many. Even though the likes of Donald Trump seem to think all those immigrating to America come from Mexico, there is actually a vibrant mosaic of dozens of cultures in our front yard.
“It’s so important to be able to know about each other’s history because we share this country,” said Valadez. “We’re each other’s neighbors. When we learn about that, we realize we have a lot more in common, and it also creates empathy for one another and an understanding that we all come from a political struggle.”
In fact, California has the largest minority population in the United States, according to a 2010 diversity report on census.gov. This means that American culture as a whole is changing and becoming more diverse than ever before. Today’s youth will be challenged in new ways to understand and appreciate how to interact with a more varied pool of people.
“We are living in a more globalized world, globalized economy, globalized everything, and so we need to prepare our students to be able to not only know how to read, write and do math, but they need to go out there and know how to socialize in the very diverse community we live in,” said Valadez.
Gelo Francisco, the artistic director of the Philippine Chamber Singers, believes one of the best ways to do this is through music, a language all of us can understand. The singers have been bridging the cultural gap between America and the Philippines for 14 years.
“Once you get to understand why people have a certain culture, you can embrace it because you understand it,” said Francisco. “We won’t have wars if we actually understand each other. Some people here in America don’t know really what’s going on around the world, and what better place than here in LA to get to see a lot of these cultures?”
Artists and activists alike are joining Francisco challenging the general public to trade the comfort of ignorance for a state of mind that embraces diversity, which might require us to step out of our comfort zones. The American narrative is broadening to allow a wider range of voices to tell the story. By the time the minorities become the majority, it is possible that ethnic Americans will have changed the conversation surrounding cultural traditions and advanced America to a more open, accepting country.