∞Miguel A. X. Cid

December 7, 2015

While the prison industrial complex continues to grow maintaining the trend of mass incarceration of white America’s designated others, engaged individuals and organizations also continue to combat the existing status quo. An emerging art show series with guest speakers at San Diego City College entitled Art against the Empire is an evident slice of the opposition.

SDCC Professor Rosiangela Escamilla with class and panelists. (Photo: Monique Sandoval)

“I want to create an art industrial complex” San Diego City College Professor Rosiangela Escamilla and curator of the show explained in her opening remarks of the second installation, Art against the Empire 2.

For the show, students displayed their art in the form of posters and hand written letters to Assata Shakur. The students decided to take part in the show after finishing one of the English professor’s assignments—which was to read the autobiography of Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography.

Paired with the student artwork, panelists Judy de los Santos of Union del Barrio and Alanzo Harvey took part in the conversation.

“This is a lifetime commitment” de los Santos said in the middle of her presentation, speaking about her commitment to social justice—a commitment not just for those who are incarcerated or who have been, but also for her two children’s sake.

Along with stressing the importance of individuals getting involved instead of waiting until it is too late, De los Santos gave a background on Union del Barrio. Union del Barrio, a national liberation organization, was formed in 1981 as an organization that felt the need to talk about the police brutality in the neighborhoods of Barrio Logan. Although Union del Barrio is a Mexican/Latino liberation organization and de los Santos is Filipina-American, she commented on why she joined and what Escamilla mention earlier in the show, “It shouldn’t have to take just one specific race to defend a community of color.”

Panelist Alonzo Harvey nods in agreement as Judy de los Santos includes I.C.E. in the conversation. (Photo: Monique Sandoval)

De los Santos began organizing in college through M.E.Ch.A. and other student organizations, but soon after realized it was important to get involved with her community and where she lived. De los Santos is also involved with Union del Barrio’s project, Chicano Mexicano Prison Project or CMPP. CMPP was founded in 1993 with four goals:

  • Raise the social political consciousness of Raza prisoners so that they can join the struggle rather than return to prison or commit crimes against their own Raza.
  • Raise the social and political consciousness of our communities to the role prisons play in our oppression and the maintenance of capitalism/colonialism.
  • Expose to the world, the role of prisoners within the borders of the U.S.
  • Fight for the human rights of all prisoners, especially political prisoners.

After sharing new statistics on prison population (a rise of 300 percent in last 5 years including a hike in women being locked up), stats on who are being imprisoned (blacks and browns), and common reasons (drug non-violent), de los Santos passed the microphone to Alonzo Harvey.

Student Alonzo Harvey, brother of Aaron Harvey, and member of Dark Bodies movement picked up where de los Santos ended, mentioning prop 21 (prop that allows juveniles to be prosecuted as adults), gang enhancement in sentencing (adds extra time on sentencing if labeled as a gang member), and penal code 182.5 under prop 21 which affected his brother Aaron Harvey and 32 other people from the Lincoln neighborhood in San Diego in 2015.

Harvey described his brother, one of the 33, being arrested in Las Vegas after two years of living there for the accusation of being involved in nine shootings in San Diego. Aaron Harvey along with others was arrested for former or perceived associations and was facing time for something he did not do, according to brother, Alonzo Harvey.  Labeled as a Lincoln gang member, Harvey was facing time, brought on by Bonnie Dumanis as she “tested” the never used 182.5 penal code. With the help of his community and organizations Aaron Harvey’s case was thrown out. “But not everyone was let off” Harvey said, mentioning that some took deals to avoid the risk of harsh sentencing.

Harvey went over how easily one can be labeled as a gang member and how much power the judicial system has with these type of protocols and how little the accused has. He also mentioned how hard it is to move through life after incarceration, pointing out that those previously incarcerated often can’t get financial assistance for school. Harvey also mentioned the job market that is available for the previously incarcerated is slim and low paying, keeping people down after paying for a crime.

Student Albert Nava reading “Poem Mexicano”.

After the Q&A portion of the show a former student of Escamilla’s, a friend of mine, and a man who lived behind prison bars for more than 20 years, Albert Nava shared a poem entitled:

“Soy Mexicano”

Part Indigenous and Spaniard—

Born and raised in Tijuana until the age of five.

Immigrated to the U.S. and became an American citizen.

As I grew up in National City with the homies, from the neighborhood,

I fell into the trap of the Three Strikes Law.

Two life terms for a petty theft that I committed.

After 17 years in maximum security

I thought to myself that I may never get out.

But the people of California decided to let me go home free,

Because my punishment was cruel and unusual punishment—

I mean…

But now I am here at City College and going to San Diego State.

Next month, I’m going to be attending UCSD—

And also, I was offered a scholarship to UC Berkeley

(the audience cat calls and applauds)

That’s right—

(the audience drowns Albert out with continued applause)

That’s right, I’m heading to get my Masters in Chicano Studies

And finally becoming somebody.

I am a Piasano or a Chicano.

It doesn’t really matter to me in how you see me,

All that really matters to me is

I’m going to become somebody.

(applause from the audience)

Cómo te digo

Tengo un nopal en mi frente.

Soy Méxicano y vengo de los pobres de Tijuana

Estudiando con los ricos de La Jolla

(laughter from the audience)

And when I am done,

I will become somebody.

Following the poem a student named Evelyn finished the show by singing “Redemption Songs” by Bob Marley after talking about her brother who passed away and retelling accounts of high school and how anyone can be labeled a gang member under the gang labeling criteria—even something as simple as wearing school colors.

Some of the student work on display.(Photo: Monique Sandoval)

After the show Escamilla commented on Art against the Empire 2 and exposing new students to topics such as mass incarceration.

The purpose of it [Art against the Empire] is so that students understand that it’s not enough to just get educated about the topics of incarceration—which is an effect of colonialism—but that they understand that  in order to more effectively combat this crisis—this dehumanizing crisis—they have to join organized struggle. They have to work at this, against this incarceration, beyond the classroom.

The third installation of Art against the Empire is scheduled for May 2016 at San Diego City College.