Latino Life: New Leader and Cultural Events at Arte Americas

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Dr. Ruben Quesada is getting to know more people in Fresno and he's making it a mission to showcase Latino art and culture.

Quesada was named the new Executive Director at Arte Americas this summer. The Casa de la Cultura is getting ready to launch a new Dia de Los Muertos exhibits and its annual Cala Gala. A special Hispanic/Latinx movie series and fundraiser where models strut the runway with faces like catrinas are also planned.

Quesada and Arte Americas Visitor Services Associate, Selina Lopez joined Latino Life host Graciela Moreno on August 22, 2019 to discuss his background, vision for Arte and upcoming events.

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

Graciela Moreno: Nice to have you for the first time on our show and for the first time here in the Central Valley, right? You just moved here.

Dr. Ruben Quesada: I did. I moved here about seven weeks ago from Chicago.

Graciela: Well, welcome to the Valley. Tell us what having you at the helm now of Arte Américas means for the center.

Dr. Quesada: Well, I'm really excited to bring in some fresh, new blood and hang on to some tradition and history of the organization. So, as many people know, Arte Américas has been around for over 30 years. And so there's a deep, rich history there. And I'm interested in keeping that history while also looking toward the future at a new community that is still here and the new community that is younger and vibrant and can add to the older community.

Graciela: Okay. So, you said looking toward the future. So, what is part of your vision for Arte Américas?

Dr. Quesada: Well, ideally, I'd love to create some infrastructure, such as a research library, expand our gallery, renovate our outdoor space so that our plaza can be used year round. At the moment, we use it primarily during the summer months, the warmer months. And over time, I imagine that we'll be able to use the outdoor and indoor space all year round.

Graciela: Okay. Alright. So, you mentioned earlier that you came here from Chicago, right? Tell us a little bit about your art background, in terms of what you were doing there, maybe elsewhere. I understand you were also in Costa Rica. You write some poetry. Tell us all about this.

Dr. Quesada: Sure. So, my mother came to the U.S. from Costa Rica. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I was in Chicago primarily to teach. So, I left Los Angeles, where I grew up, about 12 or so years ago, and I earned my PhD and then went off to Illinois to teach. I taught poetry and Latino literature at Northwestern University, at the School of the Art Institute. So, I spent a lot of time teaching there.

Graciela: Alright. Well, we're excited. We're excited to see what that is all gonna mean for Arte Américas. I know that you also -- every year, Arte Américas celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. So, what can folks expect? I know that there is a -- Is it a film series that's coming up?

Dr. Quesada: Yeah. It's a film series. We're directing it to align with the Hispanic Heritage Month. It'll begin on mid-September throughout mid-October. And we're gonna have people submit videos, if they'd like to participate, focusing on Latinx culture, to give the community more information on the culture, just be more informative and inclusive to the culture.

Graciela: okay, so then these aren't films that you're gonna be showing. These are kind of locally made films? Is that what I'm understanding? Or...

Dr. Quesada: It's a mix of both. So, fortunately, we've been able to partner with CineCulture at Fresno State as part of the College of Arts and Humanities. So, Dr. Mary Husain, who runs that, has a course, has partnered with us. We've also partnered with ValleyPBS to be able to show some of their films from the Latino Public Broadcasting service. So, we'll have some pre-programmed films, but we'll also include some films that local filmmakers have submitted.

Graciela: Okay. And this all starts when?

Dr. Quesada: It starts September 13th, and it runs through October 12th. And the screenings are gonna be every Friday and Saturday.

Graciela: Wonderful. Alright. Another big and fun event that you do every year is Catrinas & Couture, right? Tell us a little bit about that.

Selina Lopez: Yes, so, that event is actually going to be on October 12th, beginning at 6:00 p.m. It is a fashion show and gala. We're featuring Mexico's number-one fashion designer -- Mitzy. He's most famous for designing for celebrities such as Verónica Castro and Thalía. During this event, we're gonna be serving authentic Mexican food, mescal. We're gonna have tequila tasting for those who are 21 and over. We're collaborating with local organizations and students, as well. One of the organizations involved is Fresno State. Their interior design program is doing our stage and background. Paul Mitchell is doing the makeup.

Graciela: Wow. And we're looking at some of the pictures from this event. I'm assuming it's from last year. And there's the "save the date" for this year. But the dresses, the makeup, everything is just so beautiful, right, for obviously a celebration of Día de los Muertos, right, as part of that. What -- I mean, it seems like the popularity of Día de los Muertos and everything around it, right, in terms of the dresses and the faces, the face painting, the calaveras and all that, has become very popular.

Dr. Quesada: Yes.

Graciela: Is there something that you would like to tell, like, our audience in terms of, like, the meaning behind it and why it's not -- it's not a Halloween celebration? Tell me about that. Yes.

Dr. Quesada: It's a great opportunity to honor those who have passed, honor those who have come before us. So, it's great celebration of the dead. We're going to be celebrating in partnership with a gallery in the Tower District called Dulce Upfront. It'll be a week-long celebration honoring the dead November 1st and 2nd. There will be a procession on the 2nd.

Graciela: That's the Cala Gala, right?

Dr. Quesada: The Cala Gala. It's a -- It starts at the Tower District, and it leads to Arte Américas. It'll be at Arte Américas from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the 2nd. And we'll have vendors, food, performers. We're looking to bring in members from our community to talk to us and tell us their story about how they honor the dead. So, it's an opportunity for those in attendance who are not necessarily Latino to learn about others within Fresno and the surrounding regions, about how they honor their dead. So, it's a great way for the community to come together through this really, you know, somewhat, you know...

Graciela: Like a celebration of or an honor for the -- or what --

Dr. Quesada: It's a great opportunity for the community to come together and understand how we each honor the dead.

Graciela: I see. I see. Yes. Which in this case it's in celebration, right, honoring who they were and how much we loved them and how much we remember them and whatnot. And so I know that the event --you also will have altars, which is something that a lot of people really do enjoy doing and I would imagine that the participants enjoy doing, as well, right, in terms of honoring their loved ones in this way?

Dr. Quesada: Yes. Yeah. We -- That's a tradition here at Arte Américas. We've had that in the past, the past few years. We're looking forward to having the new altars and the new artists that will be participating in this exhibit.

Graciela: Beautiful. Okay. Well, we're very excited to see it. There's a lot going on at Arte Américas, obviously.

Hispanic/Latinx Film Series: September 13 through October 14
Catrinas & Couture: October 12th 6-10PM
Cala Gala, November 2nd from 5-9 pm
More information at the Arte Américas website
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