[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-California]: Viator on Cordova, 'The Heart of the Mission: Latino Art and Politics in San Francisco'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Mon Oct 22 21:43:00 MDT 2018

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From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Mon, Oct 22, 2018 at 11:41 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-California]: Viator on Cordova, 'The Heart of the
Mission: Latino Art and Politics in San Francisco'
To: <H-REVIEW at lists.h-net.org>

Cary Cordova.  The Heart of the Mission: Latino Art and Politics in
San Francisco.  Philadelphia  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.
 Illustrations. 336 pp.  $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4930-9.

Reviewed by Felicia A. Viator (San Francisco State University)
Published on H-California (October, 2018)
Commissioned by Khal Schneider

In a recent feature in _Boom California _exploring the impact of
gentrification on the predominantly Latino residents of San
Francisco's Mission District, Lori A. Flores noted something
poignant. She observed that "defending murals has become shorthand
for defending Latino presence, diversity, and deep history in the
Mission" against "what feels like cultural warfare and erasure."[1]
Cary Cordova's wonderful new book _The Heart of the Mission: Latino
Art and Politics in San Francisco _helps us understand why. By
narrating the evolution of a cultural and political movement that
spanned half a century of San Francisco history, Cordova's work
illustrates precisely what is at stake for San Francisco's Latino
community today.

Using oral histories, local and national archives, visual culture,
and secondary works, _The Heart of the Mission _details the flowering
of San Francisco's oft-ignored Latino arts movement. Cordova begins
with the post-World War II years, when art, music, and political
experimentation churned inside the nightclubs and cafés of the
city's ethnically mixed "Latin Quarter" (now, North Beach). Here, the
author explores the economic forces roiling this uniquely diverse
section of the city in the 1950s, including rising rents and the
expansion of Chinatown, and she examines the experiences of Latino
artists frustrated with the contours of an emerging Beat movement. As
Cordova suggests, there is much more for us to understand about this
storied era of San Francisco's bohemian past, particularly about its
connection to a Latino cultural renaissance in the Mission District.
In other words, the first chapters of _The Heart of the Mission
_demonstrate, first, why it is a mistake to assume that the "cresting
wave of radical energy" in San Francisco's beatnik enclaves was
generated by white men alone (p. 48), and, second, why it is
insufficient to imagine that the artistic and social movements
marking the Mission in the 1960s materialized in a vacuum. In this
way, alone, Cordova's book is a necessary contribution to the
literature that places California at the center of postwar American

Throughout the rest of _The Heart of the Mission_,_ _Cordova plots
the growth of the Mission from the 1960s to the Ronald Reagan era.
She presents intimate portraits of artists, activists, organizations,
and art pieces, weaving together, for instance, anecdotes about
sculptor Ernie Palomino, Third World strike activist and painter
Yolanda López, the Mission Cultural Center, and the _Homage to
Sigueiros _mural painted inside the Bank of America building at
Mission and 23rd Streets. The result is an analysis of a complex,
multiethnic, multinational, multigenerational, and ideologically
varied Latino arts movement that sought to engage meaningfully with
local, national, and global events. Cordova successfully demonstrates
that the Mission District was more than a place of cultural
expression; it was a space where art intersected with the civil
rights movement, student protests, war and revolution abroad, and
local responses to urban redevelopment. Throughout the late twentieth
century, the Mission was a dynamic cultural landscape in which,
Cordova writes, "Latino activists and artists could mobilize as a
community and organize for and against issues that impacted that
community" (p. 11).

Chapter 8, the book's final chapter, and perhaps its most
provocative, reconsiders the place of Día de los Muertos (Day of the
Dead) in the history of San Francisco activism, placing the _ofrenda
_(offering) right at the center of the AIDS crisis. Here, Cordova
narrates the way Latino artists and then, eventually, gay rights
activists harnessed a set of intimate mourning rituals "to speak out
against social systems that allowed, facilitated, or produced death"
(p. 208). The arc of the story here is fairly clear until the end of
the chapter when the author hints at resistance from within the
Mission to the appropriation of Día de los Muertos_ _themes by gay
activists and event organizers in the city's Castro District, a move
exemplified in the decision by the Galería de la Raza in 1993 to
withdraw from organizing San Francisco's Día de los Muertos
procession. In describing the gallery's position, Cordova quotes
director Liz Lerma, who explained, "Rather than put all our energy in
producing this parade we want something that will attract more
families, seniors and children" (p. 231). Cordova attributes this
move away from collaborating with gay activists and event organizers
to the commodification and watering down of a tradition considered
sacred to the Latino community. The author misses an important
opportunity here to consider what other tensions--perhaps related to
sexuality and Catholicism--may have contributed to this resistance.
Such an examination might have also helped the author complicate what
she acknowledges are broad generalizations about the leftist politics
of Latino artist communities in the Mission District.

Cordova also explores the perpetual marginalization of Latino artists
from mainstream art criticism through the 1980s, particularly with
reference to Latino installation artists and Día de los Muertos_
_works. The author relies almost exclusively on artists' oral
histories to interrogate this problem of representation and, in the
worst cases, erasure. An examination of the landscape of art
criticism at the time, particularly in prominent San Francisco
journals like _Artweek _or in the writing of the _San Francisco
Chronicle_'s once powerful critic Kenneth Baker, would have given
dimension to this part of the story. It is, indeed, a bit surprising
that an otherwise painstakingly researched book about San Francisco
art does not pay much attention to the art press.

These minor complaints aside, Cordova tells a deeply compelling story
about social and cultural transformation in the Mission District in
the twentieth century. Her book is worth reading for a number of
reasons, not the least of which is that _The Heart of the Mission
_fills important gaps in popular narratives about the history of
California, San Francisco, sixties radicalism, the lineage of Latino
creative culture in America, and even postmodernism. Students of
history, art, politics, and philosophy are sure to find enlightenment
in these pages. For me, a Bay Area native like Cordova and a current
resident of San Francisco, the book is a powerful testimony to the
historical influence of San Francisco's Latino artists and activists
on the culture of the city. And, crucially, it contextualizes the
dramatic changes currently sweeping through the heart of the Mission
and the fights that are being waged to stop them.


[1]. Lori A. Flores, "Seeing through Murals: The Future of Latino San
Francisco," _Boom California_, March 6, 2017.

Citation: Felicia A. Viator. Review of Cordova, Cary, _The Heart of
the Mission: Latino Art and Politics in San Francisco_. H-California,
H-Net Reviews. October, 2018.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52324

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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