After an outcry from immigration advocates, faith leaders and politicians, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop separating children from their parents when they try to cross the southern border.
For Latinos around the country, that crisis was one of many, said Karen Menendez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, pointing to the end of protected status for Salvadoran migrants, DACA recipients hanging in legal limbo and a constant barrage of rhetoric where families are being used as “pawns” in a battle for immigration legislation.
“It never ends,” said Nina Gehan, director of development and communications at Centro. “The fact is we just keep dealing with one thing after another, after another, after another.”
That’s why Centro has declared 2018 a year of action, and its annual Evening of Dreaming fundraiser this Friday follows suit. But continual crises can be exhausting and the event, which will screen a film by Phillip Rodriguez about a Latino man of action, Oscar Zeta Acosta, is also a celebration of Latino culture.
“The film really is rather consistent with the tone of this event. It’s full of racial rage and problem-solving, (but) also done in a way that's not solemn and self-serious,” said Rodriguez, an award-winning filmmaker.
Rodriguez noted that Acosta believed this as well, saying “the revolution doesn't have to be a drag.”
There’s a $50 suggested donation for the event on Friday and people can register for the event on Centro’s website. The event starts at 6 p.m. with wine and tapas provided by local restaurant Fuegos, and ends with dessert.
It will feature the documentary film “The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo,” which follows Chicano rights movement activist, lawyer and author Acosta. Rodriguez will participate in a Q&A after the screening.
The film is about “connecting with your power and your anger and saying ‘That’s it!’ and how you’re going to act based on that,” Coller said. Centro hit that point months ago.
“This year we had no other option other than to say, ‘It’s time to take action,’” Gehan said.
Rodriguez is excited to participate in the event, because while racial inequality is a “grim fact we’re going to be facing for quite some time,” after talking with Centro staff, he liked their “tonality” and “youthfulness.”
“The emphasis is not just on the grim, but on the creativity of Latino folks and all the fun and the goodness they have to contribute to society,” he said, adding, “of course, the wine and tapas wasn’t a bad call.”
Some of Acosta’s public recognition comes from his fictionalized depiction as the “crazy comedic sidekick” Dr. Gonzo in Hunter Thompson’s novel "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," but Acosta’s “whole narrative was rewritten and reframed,” Gehan said.
Many images of Latinos are “very, very reductionist,” and Rodriguez’s job is to showcase their true variety and complexity, he said. Rodriguez loves to make films about “extraordinary characters that mainstream film and TV have just completely neglected.”
“This guy was kind of nasty and funny and ridiculous and vain and drug-addled and wild and courageous,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez's own history with Acosta goes back to his childhood, as his father was a lawyer who sometimes saw Acosta in the courthouse. Rodriguez remembers his father coming home from work and chuckling about Acosta, the lawyer in a loud tie, barefoot in the courtroom.
His father was a “slightly mainstream middle-class respectable person,” Rodriguez said, but at the same time, was probably “admiring that someone had so much guts.”
That initial interest in Acosta grew into “a bit of an obsession of mine,” Rodriguez said.
“This is this character that’s so big, so charming, so much fun, I think it was time to make a picture,” he said.
Rodriquez loves telling stories, but he also wants viewers to emulate Acosta and “take an entitled attitude” to their country, and lay claim to their place in the United States — through the voting booth, storytelling and “every opportunity they can.”
“One doesn’t get power in a society without exercising their narrative power,” he said. “Storytelling is imbued with all kinds of political implications.”
For those who can’t come to Friday’s event but want to take action, Coller suggested supporting college scholarships for Centro students on Centro’s website. To fight much of the current national policy, citizens need to engage at a federal level, Coller said, and should go to Washington on June 30 for a “Families Belong Together” national day of action.
“At this point it’s really one person and his directive. I think everybody should just go to DC. It’s sort of like when things were happening around the shootings going on in the schools. This is equally as important. And you know what? I feel like the anger is not there,” she said. “Just go and show your support.”