In the early morning hours of May 30, 2009, Raul “Junior” Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores, were shot and killed in their Arizona home. Raul’s wife, Gina Gonzales, was also wounded, but survived. Like many crimes committed against minorities in the United States, this ruthless attack, carried out by members of the anti-illegal immigration group Minutemen American Defense, went largely unreported by mainstream media.
In the midst of this mass silence, artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez chose to respond in the best way she knows how—with her artwork. The “Justice for Brisenia” poster was distributed as part of a campaign launched by Presente.org, a national online organizing network focused on Latinos that Rodriguez helped found in 2009.
Miss Rodriguez is truly one of the most inspiring artivists at work today, blending creative passion with community organizing and political action on a national scale. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rodriguez developed her craft under the tutelage of progressive artists within her community, including the former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, Emory Douglas. Finding inspiration in the work of he and other artists like Malaquias Montoya, Ester Hernandez, and Rini Templeton, Rodriguez quickly learned to adapt her creative skill set to addressing issues of social and political significance.
“These were people witnessing climactic social times,” she says, “and they were making art to support those causes. They weren’t just spectators, they were participants in these movements, and working as artists closely along side these movements. This was a big influence to me.”
One issue that Rodriguez was eager to address early on was the lack of cultural spaces within her predominantly immigrant community.
“In my neighborhood, you would go blocks and blocks and not see any kind of cultural centers. And yet, you would go to more affluent neighborhoods—mostly white—and they would have theatres, and all kinds of places to interact with culture. But in my community, we didn’t have that.”
Faced with working in continued isolation, Rodriguez met with other artists of color, who together launched an initiative to secure state funding to support the purchase of a building and the establishment of a creative space for people of color. The EastSide Arts Alliance (ESAA) was established in 2000, and the EastSide Cultural Center opened its doors in the San Antonio district of Oakland in 2005, offering live/work space, studios, performance areas, and an education center.
Community is an integral part of Rodriguez’s mission and work.
“I’m participating as more than an artist; I’m very invested in the movement. I’m a woman of color. My parents were immigrants. Were it not for some of these fights being fought on the behalf of immigrants, my family would be in really bad shape. So, it’s not that I’m an artist that kind of parachutes in. The topics that I’m getting involved in, at the end, are going to improve my quality of life directly.”
Much like her poster for the “Justice for Brisenia” campaign, Rodriguez’s work often deals with issues of immigrant hate and abuse, in addition to broader topics of the social, cultural, and economic impacts of globalization...