From L.A. to Whittier, diversity in our backyard

From L.A. to Whittier, diversity in our backyard

Haley Vallejo


HALEY VALLEJO FOR THE  QC    The OEI hosted an event where students were able to explore art from diverse L.A. exhibits, such as MOLAA.


The OEI hosted an event where students were able to explore art from diverse L.A. exhibits, such as MOLAA.

As a part of the first six-weeks of the Fall semester, the Office of Equity and Inclusion put together “A Day in L.A.,” highlighting art from diverse communities. The excursion consisted of visits to the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (PIEAM), and the first annual Whittier Pride. As we all gathered on the bus, we chatted, asking where everyone was from and if they had been to these communities before. It was nice to see that there were students that had, as well as students that were willing to learn about L.A.’s diverse communities.

Our first stop on the trip was the MOLAA. We arrived before the museum opened; it was like we had the whole place to ourselves to explore and learn. The docents, who were showing us around, split us in two groups and off we went to see the temporary exhibitions they had up. Although the permanent pieces are not out for display at this time, I recommend going to see the temporary exhibitions. The first room we entered was Portfolio Series: Osmeivy Ortega. Ortega, born and educated in Cuba, uses woodcut prints to depict his childhood experiences and life growing up in Cuba. The imagery, based almost entirely on nature and animals, captures the essence of his love for his home.

As we followed our guide along, she told us about Matías Duville and his experience coming from Argentina to Southern California to draw an impressionistic landscape of his memories traveling from the ocean to the desert. This exhibit, titled “Desert Means Ocean,” shows how memories are entirely subjective and one’s experience only belongs to the landscape of their mind. His contrasting, rough scenes show the similarities and opposition of the worlds he experienced during his travels.

We snaked our way through the building to an exhibition by Tomás Ochoa, titled “Momento: An Anthological Exhibition.” Ochoa, born in Ecuador, is a South American artist that uses gunpowder on canvases to show the effects of colonialism and the violence that occurred in Colombia. Ochoa’s work is made up of 16 large panels that depict Colombia’s landscape, architecture, and indigenous peoples. He illustrates the timeline that joins Colombia’s present reality with its historically significant past. 

The last part of the tour of current exhibitions was an homage to Dia De Los Muertos, a Mexican holiday celebrating the life of those who have passed. The exhibition, titled De Generación a Generación: a Subconscious Lineage, highlighted artists from the L.A. area — and even those who have worked at the museum in the past — to show the connection they have with the holiday. I teared up reading a quilt made up of the names of the people who have lost their lives due to violence against womxn in Mexico. This final exhibit really touched me the most because these art pieces are representative of my family and my history. It was truly beautiful to see smaller L.A. artists showcased in this annual exhibition. 

As the last part of our tour, they also set up an art workshop where we would be able to get a hands-on experience with print-making. We created a print with a calavera — a representation of a human skull — which is commonly associated with Dia De Los Muertos. We all got to take home a little memento from our trip to MOLAA. We left the museum and separated into groups for our lunch break. 

The diversity ambassadors at the OEI gave us a list of restaurants nearby and each of us were given a free lunch. I went to a Korean restaurant within walking distance from MOLAA. I ate some vegan rabokki and chatted with my friends about the beautiful museum and the upcoming events of the day. We were all excited to head to the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum.

When we arrived at PIEAM, we were greeted by the museum’s director and curator Fran Lujan. The museum was welcoming and loud with the sounds of a large group of people from the Pacific Islander Census. They gather in the museum and use it as a space for community. We entered right as they were finished and joined them in their usual group prayer. Seeing these folks together in a safe space was an amazing experience. The museum split its artwork into categories like creation, motherhood and birth, generational artwork, and the idea of loss. 

While we were there, I learned how Pacific Islanders  are more affected by health issues, and women have disparate rates of problems with pregnancy and childbirth. Learning about this and how these problems still affect Pacific Islanders today was reflected in the artworks. There was one particularly compelling piece about an artist’s son, Leon, who was born prematurely and, sadly, did not make it. The piece revealed the pain of the family and how these issues are still apparent in their lives.

Much of the artwork at PIEAM was based on the relationship that Pacific Islanders had with their identity. Right as we walked in, Luja showed us a map of the Pacific Islands. There were lines showing the distinctions between Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. She explained to us what each of these names mean; then, she told us to erase these borders from our minds. The lines that people created did not matter in that space.

 She told us they all descended from explorers and in that space they were all family. I cannot stop thinking of those words. It has become such a tradition fro people to separate each other and give us names based on what we look like or where we are from, but at PIEAM I saw that these names did not matter.

We were welcomed into this space and educated on an identity that is often underrepresented. Second-year Garrett Ferguson, “It was an enlightening experience to get to learn so much about different cultures through the art and artifacts at MOLAA and PIEAM. It was so amazing to be exposed to both Latin American and Pacific Islander history and their present.”

We all piled back onto the bus and headed back to Whittier, ready to see its first pride. The bus ride was a forty-minute trip and we laid back and enjoyed the ride. When we arrived at school we took a group photo then started walking toward Central Park, anticipating a fun and vibrant time. When we walked up we were greeted by rainbow balloons, loud music, and smiling faces. Whittier, which has been historically conservative, had opened itself up to embracing different identities and created an amazing little festival. There were local businesses, performers, face-painters, and vendors; it filled that park up to its capacity with all things Pride. I did not know where to start. I was welcomed with a mom hug and greeted by everyone I knew.

Overall, A Day in L.A.: Art from Diverse Communities was very successful in showing the students what L.A. has to hold, and there is so much more to it as well. We just touched on a few communities within the area, and the education of different cultures and identities does not stop here. It is our job as citizens of the world to open ourselves up and learn as much as we can, because there are so many different variations of “home,” and I loved being welcomed into these that day.