Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Border Songs

Here in California, with both ends of the state engulfed in catastrophic fire, matters of basic survival are at the forefront of our minds. For those of us living with the comfort of hot water, a warm bed and a roof over our heads, it doesn’t take a crisis to take our lives for granted. Of course for refugees, whether from fire, or for migrants seeking asylum, life is an ongoing crisis. This month I had the unique opportunity to talk to two San Franciscans who risked their own comfort to cover the migrant communities at the U.S./Mexico border.

Mabel Jiménez. Portrait by Ekey Kitpowsong/Current SF.

Photographer Mabel Jiménez  was moved to personally investigate the migrant camps and shelters growing in Tijuana. Over the last several years the border town has been a landing spot for refugees from around the world, particularly from Haiti and Central America. Additionally, LGBTQ migrants from around the globe have banded together in their own communities where they can find shelter, acceptance and safety. Jiménez gained the trust of these travelers at risk: Many of them are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, only to find further complications in Mexico.  I hope you’ll read her full story and see some of the intimate portraits she shot at CurrentSF.  An exhibit of her photos in on view at City College of San Francisco through November 9.

 

Jorge Argueta. Portrait by Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner

Jorge Argueta is a poet, author of children’s books and a librarian in his home country of El Salvador.  His migration to San Francisco in the ’70s during El Salvador’s civil war landed him in the center of a growing and active Central American community in the Mission District where he pursued writing. Forty years later, he returned to San Salvador to meet with migrants headed for the U.S. border, hoping to encourage them on their journeys. Of course the migrants encountered all forms of difficulty during their caravan to the north and were ultimately turned away or separated from family. Argueta turned one of those stories into a novel in verse, Caravan To The North.  I hope you’ll read more of his story in my San Francisco Examiner column, SFLives.

Though the poet and the photographer have life experience that’s vastly different, they have a common heart and a common goal: They love life and the world around them. Both Argueta and Jiménez are very much engaged in their work, in their immediate communities and matters of global importance. They help where help is called for, then they step back and use their gifts to further their causes and share their stories with others.

Everyday is a crisis for someone, somewhere in the world, but I didn’t want our present disruption to deter from sharing my stories about about two extraordinary San Franciscans and their stories, with you. I hope you’ll read both and take something from them to carry with you as we move together through this beautiful catastrophe called life.

Read more about Jorge Argueta in the SF Examiner

Read more about Mabel Jiménez in Current SF

 

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Books, photography, Poetry, San Francisco News, , , , , , ,

Two Bay Area Lives in the Arts

Curator and art history instructor Kathy Zarur (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

It’s funny when two stories I’ve worked on for a good while both wind up publishing on the same day, but that’s just how things work sometimes.  In the case of these two pieces, the first on independent curator and adjunct arts instructor Kathy Zarur and the second on public art muralist Daniel Galvez, it turned out they compliment each other quite nicely.

One of the reasons I interview people and arts professionals is that I like them, they’re my people.  In the case of Zarur and Galvez, it couldn’t be more the case.  Both were extremely generous with their time with me, allowing me to probe into their personal and professional lives. They didn’t have to do that, especially not at a time when artists, professionals and everyday Americans from their respective communities are under extreme pressure.

Muralist Daniel Galvez.
(Ekevara Kitpowsong/CurrentSF)

 

Zarur is a born and raised, second generation Palestinian American who has devoted her life to studying the arts and passing on her knowledge as a college instructor.  She also independently co-curates exhibits and installations.  It’s a precarious way to make a living in San Francisco but she is committed.  An interesting side note which did not make it into this week’s SFLives column but which demonstrates the intersections between all of us who live, work and maybe were even born here in San Francisco: Zarur’s family and my family were likely on the same block at the same time in the early ’70s.  I hope to explore these intersections in a future project but until then, I’m just counting it as more evidence that we are all part of one human family.

Galvez, also native to California but from the Sacramento area, has made his home in Oakland for the last 30 some years. His father was Mexican American and met his mother who was from Mexico; he is the first person in his family to attend college and the first artist among them. Galvez’s public works can be seen coast to coast but there is one mural of his that I pass frequently in the course of my own work in San Francisco’s Mission District:  He recently restored this work titled Carnaval, based on photographs by photojournalist Lou Dematteis. Someday, I hope to visit the Audubon Ballroom where Galvez created a permanent mural depicting the life of the late Malcolm X.

I have to say I feel a bit of pride in our Bay Area for supporting the work of artists and arts professionals, diverse people across generational, gender and cultural heritage lines. But jobs in the arts are becoming more scare here due to extreme gentrification and the high cost of living.  I hope and actually, I pray, that people like Zarur and Galvez can continue to thrive and contribute to the arts and culture communities here so that future generations can enjoy what they and their families worked hard to make possible:  A richer life for all of us.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, Latinx culture, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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