Mexican-American showcase brings students closer to New Brunswick's Latino culture

<p>Zimmerli Art Museum hosted its monthly Art After Hours event this past Tuesday with a focus on Mexican culture, attendees learned how to build their own baleros — a traditional Mexican cup-and-ball toy.&nbsp;</p>

Zimmerli Art Museum hosted its monthly Art After Hours event this past Tuesday with a focus on Mexican culture, attendees learned how to build their own baleros — a traditional Mexican cup-and-ball toy. 

On Tuesday, Rutgers Mexican-American Student Association (MASA) joined the Zimmerli Art Museum in a "MASArte" night filled with piñatas, Mexican prints and cumbia.

As part of Zimmerli’s routine Art After Hours, which happens on the first Tuesday of every month, the museum welcomed MASA, a new University organization that supports and empowers Mexican-American students and their allies, according to the organization's Instagram. 

The "MASArte" event extended its invitation to the Rutgers community but also had attendance from families in the surrounding New Brunswick area. The event was filled with culture, from children in workshops learning how to make mini piñatas and baleros — a traditional Mexican cup-and-ball toy — to attendees walking through a guided tour of Mexican prints from the 1930s to 1940s with exhibition co-curator Diego Atehortúa, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Luz Sandoval, vice president of MASA, said the organization’s executive board was excited to bridge the cultural gap between Rutgers and New Brunswick.  

“We made (MASA) believing that we needed a space on campus for our culture, especially because New Brunswick has such a large Latino and Hispanic population, and this event brings out that community,” the School of Arts and Sciences junior said.

At least 56 percent of the more than 56,000 residents in New Brunswick are of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to a 2016 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey reported that approximately 30 percent of that same group identify with a Mexican heritage. 

For Neida Perez, MASA’s underclassman chair and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, the opportunity to showcase the event in collaboration with the Zimmerli Art Museum was a chance to mix the diverse cultures on campus and those surrounding it.

Apart from a children’s workshop of piñata and balero making, Zimmerli’s new exhibition "Impressions: Prints of Mexico, 1930s-40s / Impresiones: Estampas de México, 1930s-40s" gave attendees the history of economic growth the country experienced that shaped its culture following the Mexican Revolution (1910-20).

“We wanted to look at how (the prints) created this vision of Mexico that is persistent to today, because, I think, many times you think of Mexico, you think markets, you think local workers, you think of a Mesoamerican past,” said Nicole Simpson, assistant curator of prints and drawings at Zimmerli.

To contrast the non-industrial image of Mexico, the prints from the 1930s to 1940s captured a different side of Mexico’s economic and social system that was changed after the revolution, she said.

Mexico also became a cultural destination for outside travelers, where a number of U.S. artists visited to interact with the printmaking in the region.The exhibit touches on the relationships between Mexican and U.S. artists, Atehortúa said.

He said the prints visualize the dialogue that happened in Mexico between the Mexican printmakers and artists that visited from the U.S. and Canada. There was collaboration between the artists, but there was also criticism since some of the visiting artists brought expectations of how Mexico looked or how it was supposed to look, he said.

The exhibit displays "Mexican People," a portfolio that shows prints produced by the influential Taller de Gráfica Popular (The People’s Print Workshop) — a Mexico City printmaking collective established in 1937 that used graphic arts to raise awareness about social issues.

Because of the eclectic "MASArte" program, a number of people came that do not have an art-education background, another cultural barrier that the event dissolved, said Daniel Morales, MASA’s president and a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

“That’s important, because the Zimmerli is really open to everybody in the community, not just art students,” Morales said.

After the guided exhibition tours, the night continued with a performance by the Rutgers Bachata Club to showcase a style of dancing that originated in the Dominican Republic but has spread in popularity throughout Latin America. 

After her bachata performance, Toni Tablante, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said she felt on “cloud nine” and despite not being able to speak Spanish, dancing is a universal language and an art form in itself.

Following the bachata, the downstairs level of the Zimmerli turned into a dance floor. A crowd of different ages and backgrounds danced to cumbia, another popular Latin-American dance, with a wide range of Latin music, including "Como la Flor" by the famous artist Selena.

Gabriella Guerriero, MASA’s secretary and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said that as someone who attended a New Brunswick school, she was proud to see the amount of children and people from the city community beyond the University’s borders. 

But the most important audience was the youth that attended, that immersed themselves in their own cultural heritage, she said.

“All we can hope for, even in the smallest way, is from a young age for them to know that, yes, you belong here, and yes, you can carve out a space for yourself in a space like this,” Guerriero said.

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