How Mexican and Chicanx activism flourished in Los Angeles in the 20th century

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Installation view, Regeneration: three generations of revolutionary ideology at the Vincent Price Art Museum (all author photos for Hyperallergic)

LOS ANGELES – “La constitución ha muerto” (The constitution is dead), said a photograph published in a 1903 edition of the satirical newspaper in Mexico City El Hijo del Ahuizote. In the image, funeral wreaths and Mexican flags hang from the periodical’s offices, while editors and editors flank a faded portrait of former President Benito Juárez, whose democratic and liberal reforms were overturned by the dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz. Forbidden to publish writings criticizing the Díaz government, two of the men at the mock funeral, brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón, would flee the country months later and continue their political unrest in the United States.

Life in the United States for the Flores Magón brothers was devoted to fomenting revolution while escaping arrest. In Los Angeles, the anarchists of Mexico found a base of operations and many allies ready to host their activities. La Aurora, an anarchist bookstore-library located at 654 North Spring Street, distributed copies of Flores Magón’s journal, Regeneration, while the Italian Hall, at 644 North Main Street, was a meeting place not only for Italian immigrants and radicals, but also for the Flores Magón and other exiled members of their Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) far left.

Regeneration, which was published in Spanish, English and Italian for 18 years, ceased operations in 1918 after Flores Magón and the PLM suffered setbacks in the form of surveillance, arrest and imprisonment. The newspaper’s influence on Mexican and American political movements, however, spanned nearly a century, inspiring successive generations of artists, writers and activists. The cultural production and political activism that emerged during this period are the subject of Regeneration: three generations of revolutionary ideology at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

Reproduction of Regeneration newspaper (1900-1918)

In 1970, Chicana, activist and feminist Francisca Flores founded the Regeneration newspaper, naming it after the anarchist newspaper of the 1900s. Later, in 1993, a group of artists created the Centro de Regeneración community art space. Both projects shared the satirical side and revolutionary politics of their namesake at the start of the 20th century. In the show, examples of writing, print media, drawings, photographs and music are presented thematically rather than chronologically to demonstrate the common lineage of artists and activists. In doing so, the anti-imperialist struggles of the Flores Magón brothers align with the Chicanx movement of the 1970s and transnational support for the indigenous Zapatista movement of the 1990s. They also reflect the evolving strategies and ideologies of various groups for s ‘tackle common issues such as police brutality, government surveillance and corporate power.

1970s Regeneration newspaper published short stories, essays, works of art and poetry that contributed to feminist thought within the Chicanx movement, taking the mantle of women who were part of the PLM and labor movements of the past, such as María Talavera Broussé and Lucía Norman (partner and daughter-in-law of Ricardo Flores Magón, respectively), who were powerful speakers and organizers in their own right. Francisca Flores is said to have a fateful meeting with a young Harry Gamboa Jr. which led the latter to become editor-in-chief of Regeneration. Gamboa then formed the artistic collective Asco with founding members Patssi Valdez, Gronk and Willie F. Herrón III. These artists contributed writings and images to the diary and then staged some of their most famous street performances and interventions, one of which echoed the mock funeral organized by the Flores Magón brothers and the editorial staff of El Hijo del Ahuizote more than half a century earlier. .

Photograph of Pattsi Valdez by Harry Gamboa Jr., “Spray Paint LACMA” (1972) (image courtesy of the artist)

In “Stations of the Cross” (1971), costumed members of Asco carried a wooden cross and led a mock religious procession to a Marine Corps recruiting post as a declaration against the Vietnam War and the religious conservatism. A year later, they defiantly spray painted their names on the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to protest institutional prejudices against Chicanx artists. This intervention, the most famous captured by Harry Gamboa Jr. in a photograph by Pattsi Valdez titled “Spray Paint LACMA” (1972), was considered by Asco to be the first Chicanx conceptual artwork to be exhibited at LACMA.

Installation view, Regeneration journals (1970-1975)

The Centro de Regeneración (also called Popular Resource Center), in the Highland Park neighborhood of northeast Los Angeles, was co-founded by musicians Zach de la Rocha and Rudy Ramirez; the space served as a hub for activists, artists and young people to come together around issues such as racism, police brutality and indigenous rights. Posters, recordings and photographs from the era document a prolific production of artwork, concerts, performances and events that not only aligned with previous political and aesthetic movements, but also offered support. material and solidarity with contemporary struggles both at home and abroad.

Artists associated with the Popular Resource Center continued traditions of provocative street interventions and protests. In 1998, members of Regeneración held a funeral parade of cardboard coffins in MacArthur Park to protest the Mexican government’s massacre of 45 indigenous Zapatista members in the state of Chiapas. These were followed by mass protests at the Wilshire Federal Center, which led to the deployment of political banners on Highway 405 and silhouettes of bodies glued to wheat on the buildings of the big banks that colluded with the government. Mexican in the Chiapas massacre.

Installation view, flyers and posters of Regeneración / Popular Resource Center (1993-1999)

The Regeneración Center and its pirate radio station Radio Clandestina relocated several times in the late 1990s before officially disbanding in 2002. While the community center leaves behind a rich legacy of art and activism, Highland Park now faces economic and cultural changes that could change. the character of the neighborhood and further distancing it from its recent past (the address of the Popular Resource Center for many years is now a vintage store that sells mid-century modern furniture). However, it is clear from the exhibit that the creation and organization of political art is unlikely to slow down or disappear from the Los Angeles area, as it has continued unabated for over a century. It may only be a matter of time before we see another form or iteration of ‘Regeneration’ to champion the same causes that once led the Flores Magón brothers and their comrades to write, draw and express their beliefs. .

Reproduction of Regeneration newspaper (1900-1918)

Installation view, photographs by Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón

Installation view, political cartoons of Regeneration: three generations of revolutionary ideology

Installation view, black and white photographs by Elizabeth Delgadillo-Merfeld

Installation view, Regeneration: three generations of revolutionary ideology

Regeneration: three generations of revolutionary ideology continues at the Vincent Price Art Museum (1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park, CA) until February 16, 2019.

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