Racism and Censorship in Holyoke

2014/09/27 in Absurd, Art, Gentrification, Holyoke, Mailbag, Press Release, Racism, Shame

I received this email from David Flores about his art and his experiences with racism and censorship in Holyoke.

(David Flores at work on the piece in question)

Printed in it’s entirety:

On Saturday, September 19, 2014, my mural celebrating the Puerto Rican diaspora in Holyoke, MA was scheduled for installation as part of a set of pieces created in conjunction with the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project. Before the piece could go up, the owner of the building on which it was to be installed decided that it could not be displayed on her property. She said that my piece would do more harm than good to Holyoke’s Hispanic community, and that in order to display it I would have to change it to make it “more diverse.” The mural consists of an 8’ x 16’ Puerto Rican license plate with HOLYOKE written across the center. Whereas many Boricuas throughout Holyoke proudly display similar license plates that point to their hometowns on the island, my project intended to claim that Holyoke is part of Puerto Rico. Holyoke is the community with the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (44.70%), yet Puerto Ricans are deeply marginalized in almost every aspect of the city. Although the building owner had approved of my design and seen the finished project well in advance of the scheduled installation, she caved to pressure from nearby business owners and others who seek to prohibit public displays of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke. Thus, the decision to exclude my mural from this public art exhibit is emblematic of the wider suppression of Puerto Ricans and Puerto Ricanness throughout Holyoke. With my mural, I hoped to contribute to efforts toward claiming public space in solidarity with Holyoke’s Puerto Rican community. However, this building owner’s decision and logic amount to the race-based exclusion of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at best and the censorship of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at worst. While the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project has supported my mural, the decision to collaborate with a bigoted building owner on this project reflects the fundamental problems with this “revitalization” initiative. In fact, like other “revitalization” efforts in Puerto Rican neighborhoods and communities of color throughout the U.S., such projects end up participating in processes of gentrification despite their organizers’ best intentions.

As a Mexican artist born and raised in Chicago, I have been deeply inspired by Chicago’s Puerto Rican movement, particularly the strong Puerto Rican leadership in schools, community organizations, elected positions, and artistic initiatives. This community also taught me the value of Mexican-Puerto Rican solidarity, as expressed through joint efforts to combat educational inequality, gentrification, and (im)migrant stigmatization. This solidarity is most clearly represented in a chant that is often used in Latin@ political demonstrations in Chicago: “!Boricua y Méxicano, Luchando Mano a Mano!” This solidarity represents a form of diversity that exceeds the imagination of the building owner who prohibited my mural. I hope that this piece finds a prominent home and that it helps to celebrate Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke. I am also working with community members to combat the suppression of Puerto Ricans and make sure that this does not happen again. In addition to these efforts, I am seeking to collaborate with longstanding community residents to create site-specific public art in Holyoke through a fundraising effort I have named “!Más Color, Más Poder!” I also plan to adapt my Puerto Rican license plate project in other U.S. cities with large Puerto Rican populations. By affirming Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke, I hope to contribute toward the creation of communities that embrace and uplift marginalized populations throughout the U.S.

David Flores is an Artist, Designer, and Community Activist who focuses on Latin@ placemaking through art and design. He has worked creatively with non-profits and community based initiatives in Chicago, IL and Holyoke, MA for over a decade. A native of the south side of Chicago, his work challenges the fears and anxieties that are associated with low-income communities of color by emphasizing their value, beauty, knowledge, and resilience.

2 responses to Racism and Censorship in Holyoke

  1. David’s work should be applauded and not scrutinized. A small minority should not have the power to dictate what artwork gets displayed in our community. Unity in community means embracing diversity. Holyoke will rise above the divisions in Holyoke when we accept people of all backgrounds and cultures. Thank you David for leading the effort!

  2. Lovely email received through the contact form:

    My name is John Mantzios, my family owned Pizza Palace across from the city hall on Dwight st since the early 80′s. I was just reading your article and really wanted to reach out and offer a solution. We still own a 4,000 sq/ft lot that is cleared and empty not being used for anything, it’s across from city Hall and I’d like to offer you this spot to place your mural. As a former business owner in downtown Holyoke I had always been proactive in the city I love. The Puerto Rican Community in Holyoke is every bit as important as the Irish community that built it and to not recognize that and pay tribute to it is an injustice. The relationships that my family and myself have formed over the years with our Puerto Rican clientele transcends the typical customer relationships that are normally formed as a business owner. The love and Loyalty we receive from the Puerto Rican community even to this day is absolutely amazing. We relocated our pizza shop to Chicopee after a very bad fire in June of ’06 and since reopening in Chicopee over 7 years ago now at least 50% of our business is still from our Puerto Rican customers…unmatched Loyalty. I love art and I was always very involved with the local artists I even had a Mural on the side of my pizza shop in the alley between my building and the parking garage, after the fire someone from the city put it some where just not sure where…lol anyway I dig what this project is all about and although not an Alley I think our land would be a great platform for your Mural.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have my number is 413-XXX-XXXX if I don’t answer please leave a message.

    Be well, stay warm, John Mantzios

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