Art and advocacy in Salinas

Juan-Carlos Gonzalez is an artist and advocate for youth in East Salinas. He is deeply involved in planning and organizing of community events and uses art as a vehicle for social change. HealthyCal Correspondent Megan Baier interviewed him recently in his office.

Salinas is a beautiful place. I want to change how people see it. When people think about Salinas, they always think about the violence, which is happening, but I think there are some other things that are happening too.

I feel that we have to advocate for art. I, myself, started painting when I was twelve and it was because there was a group, Hijos del Sol, who provided me with materials and a little bit of guidance. So if there are more people who can do that like myself, then we can get the youth to do painting, music, dancing.

The Global Warming and Climate Change art exhibit was a collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They asked me if I wanted to lead that project and I said yes. I tell our story—that we already recycle, we tend to walk, I ride the bus, because I want to set the example to other people that these are ways we can take care of the environment.

So I wanted to highlight that the Latinos are already doing their part. I also wanted to show to the children and the youth that there is hope to become more involved in the environment.

First Night Monterey is the celebration of the New Year. It is when the community comes together to do art and that is something I have been part of for the last three years.

People here in East Salinas, most of them don’t get to go to Monterey. That is one of the challenges I have learned in this job. In art not everybody has that opportunity.

I know that First Night Monterey is a huge thing and it happens every year, but I would like if it could also happen here—First Night Salinas.

I would like the artists in East Salinas who speak Spanish, who know the culture, to be leading it. The youth need to see there is a person that looks like them doing these great things. They need to see it. They need to believe it.

I also go to the public schools in the after school programs. I usually have a theme for them, either the city of peace or global warming, something like that. It’s about youth having a voice, for them to provide the voice they need.

They can illustrate their need for programming and the need for investment in a painting, about environmental issues, or the fieldworkers.

I have done murals with them. The last one I did was at El Sausal Middle School. I build relationships with them. I feel like they need to know I am here to help them and provide the tools and materials. They organize themselves. We said “Ok, we’re going to do this mural,” then they come up with concept, the images, and illustrations.

I think this place [Alisal Center for Fine Arts] could be a great place of meeting and for advocating for policies that are effecting the youth, so that youth are not being incarcerated, but being provided with opportunities so they grow and be healthy.

What I would like to see, is for all of the youth in Salinas to have the opportunity to experience painting, to experience drawing, documenting their work, where they can see their growth. I hope that those youth have the opportunity to illustrate their own stories because their own stories are very important in all of the community’s affairs.

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