Back to the streets - Page 4

The Mission and the revolution, as lived and told by Roberto Vargas

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Poet, teacher, activist, and revolutionary Roberto Vargas helped build the Mission Cultural Center

Yet for all its international perspective, El Tin Tan remained firmly rooted in the Mission. Columns by Nuyorican poet Victor Hernández Cruz and news of the assassination of Salvadoran guerrilla poet Roque Dalton ran side by side with the first comics by future Galeria de la Raza founder Rene Yáñez, all folded between wildly colorful cover art by neighborhood favorites like the famed Chicano artist Rupert Garcia and the muralist Mike Rios.

"The magazines were colorful — tropical — on the outside, but very political on the inside," says Murguía. "That was a metaphor for our own work."

By this time, Vargas had become an Associate Director at the SF Arts Commission. From within City Hall, he started to pump city arts money into the Mission, helping to fund projects like Mike Rios' mural of the people holding BART on their backs at 24th and Mission BART Plaza and the Balmy Alley Mural Project — art that can still be seen in public today.

Once, Vargas commissioned a Chuy Campesano mural for the Bank of America building at 22nd and Mission. "I read a poem called "Boa" and had the crowd dancing and chanting, Es la Boa, Es la Boa," says Vargas. "We were trying to say, 'You made your millions off our farmers, but now you are on our turf in the Mission here in occupied Mexico. So we'll put hieroglyphics on the walls of your bank like we used to do!' Someone from the bank tried to take the mic from me and cops came and escorted us out."

Vargas's story of the mural's dedication ceremony captures the bravado of the era. "It was a beautiful time, all of us young and thinking we were going to change the world. We wanted to change the world through culture."

The poets organized the community to demand a neighborhood's arts center, too. In 1977, the dream was realized when the City, with pressure from Vargas from within City Hall in the Arts Commission, purchased an old, five-floor furniture store at 24th and Mission to be made into the Mission Cultural Center. Murguia became the center's first director.

The Mission utopia was becoming a reality for Vargas. In Nicaragua Te Canto, he wrote:

We used to drive

Our lowered down Plymouths and Chevys

On top of the breast of a mountain to

Make love and drink wine... Never

Knowing what was going to happen after

Mission High School

The Mission is now an expression of real culture, a many-faceted being ... both plus and minus with the soul of a human rainbow...My people watching slides of Sandino and Nica history ... White children wearing guarachas and afros trippin' down the streets to party. Young Salvadoran poets discussing the assassination of Roque Dalton ... The Mission is now an implosion/explosion of human color, of walls being painted by muralistas. There is a collective feeling of compassion for each other Nicas Blacks Chicanos Chilenos Oppressed Indios. The sense of collective survival, histories full of Somozas, Wounded Knees written on the walls.

In Zero Hour, Cardenal wrote of Nicaragua's trees and birds and lakes, and their call to revolution, as seen from its mountains:

What's that light way off there? Is it a star?

Its Sandino's light shining in the black mountain

 

Vargas, the excited Mission kid, echoed in his work:

 

Tonight I am sitting on a mountain called Bernal Hill ...

Tonight I see the flames of America Latina spreading from here ...

 

STRUGGLE AND VICTORY — AND STRUGGLE

Perhaps inevitably, the Latin American Utopia Vargas and company created in poetry would seem so tantalizingly close to actualization that they would be forced to pick up the gun and fight for its existence.

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