Conference to highlight art, culture

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Fiesta event will feature local and international speakers.

By James Dusek

For more than two decades, this college has hosted the Multicultural Conference, an annual gathering of faculty, staff, students and scholars to discuss literature and issues surrounding multiculturalism.

The conference is April 24-27 and will open with a live dance performance at 6:30 p.m. in Koehler Cultural Center.

The dancers, in a routine choreographed for the event, will begin outside the house and work their way inside.

The conference is four days of speakers — writers, artists, musicians and other creatives and intellectuals — discussing issues of multiculturalism.

“Everything is designed to open people’s eyes to new possibilities,” English Professor Claudio San Miguel said.

The college also will host a luncheon as part of the conference at 12:30 p.m. April 24 in Koehler. At $15 per person, the luncheon is the only part of the conference that is not free.

The luncheon will feature a talk by artist, musician and filmmaker Daniela Riojas.

As he described Riojas’s work, San Miguel excitedly pointed around the room at three large works of her art hanging on his walls.

This year’s keynote speaker is Henriette Mutegwaraba, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, who will speak about her experience surviving and losing her family in the killings.

San Miguel has coordinated the event for the past four years, and said speakers like Mutegwaraba give students important perspectives on what’s going on in the world and their place in it.

The conference is an official Fiesta event, and attendees will receive a medal featuring art by Cruz Ortiz, a local artist and one of Miguel’s former students. Past medals have featured artists such as Alex Rubio and Riojas.

This year’s theme is “As above, so below.”

“The idea was that somehow, the larger world is parallel to the most minute things that take place here,” Miguel said.

English Professor Juanita Luna Lawhn founded the conference at this college more than two decades ago and organized it until 2001.

She said one of her goals in founding the conference was to introduce faculty to multicultural works in the hopes they would incorporate the works into their curriculums.

“To change the curriculum, faculty members have to buy into it,” Lawhn said. “You can’t force them. They have to make a decision that they want these topics to be in their curriculum.”

She said incorporating cultural perspectives into classrooms was and still is important to her.

“Particularly now, the need to have a multicultural curriculum is urgent,” Lawhn said.

San Miguel said these days, the focus of the conference is more on reaching students than faculty.

He described introducing students to events and history around the world as “an extension of our highest ideals.”

Lawhn said the conference also introduces students to elements of their own cultures they may not have known about.

“Our students come in with very little knowledge, if any at all, about their own literature, about their own literary, cultural heritage,” she said.

Lawhn said multiculturalism is valuable to students because it connects them to themselves, their heritages and one another.

She pointed to a print of a painting hanging on her wall, a piece named “Las Dos Fridas” by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

In the image, the artist is painted twice, one figure in a white, European-style dress and the other in an earth-toned Tehuana dress. The two figures are bound together by a vein, wrapping around their bodies, necks and arms, eventually connecting to each of their hearts.

“The blood among us,” she said, “it just doesn’t stop.”

“It’s like a web. I think lots of times, we want to put things in ‘us versus them,’ when really, it’s only one line of blood. If we can understand that, maybe we can become more humane or we can understand our own humanity.”

For more information on the conference, call Claudia Flores at 210-486-0649.


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