This is an open letter.
I write to you now regarding a solemn topic that our community needs to discuss, especially in light of Hispanic Heritage Month.
It has come to my attention that CTUL is hosting a 50 year art retrospective for an individual that has used Reverse Racism in defense of critique of his problematic behavior.
Yes, it is my opinion that Ricard Levins Morales has used depictions of explicitly dark-skinned bodies to sell provocative art, while simultaneously attempting to silence our very voices.
Many years ago I created a Storify to highlight the predatory actions of a white Latino in our community. Another well-known white-passing activist used my work to further highlight problematic behavior; and soon after Ricardo took it upon himself to create a “healing circle” for the white male Latino in question.
I was adopted from Colombia in 1984 into an Evangelical family in Minnesota. It was not an enjoyable experience, and greatly complicated my own search for an identity. Even within in the Latino community in Minnesota, I experienced much rejection; it was hurtful, though I understand the fear the community has for those of us raised by white people.
My mother is from the Boyaca region of Colombia, and I am a descendant of the Muisca people, specifically the Zaque people. I have brown skin, a prominent nose, and my mother spoke the old tongue upon first meeting me earlier this summer. It is for these reasons, among others, that I claim the lineage that I do.
This is important to note, as we examine how members of the Latino community leverage both colonial tropes, and pan-Indian narratives, to maintain racial hierarchies within our community.
After learning of Ricardo’s initiative to create a healing circle for a white Latino who has preyed upon young women in our community; I thought Ricardo would be willing to help me heal as well, being I have not done as much, though was in need of help.
Upon approaching him with just such a request, to help find elders within our community who might help me create the primary support system I lacked having grown up in an all-white community; I was turned away, and eventually Ricardo spread a malicious falsehood regarding our interaction.
In my opinion, such behavior is in stark contradiction to the proclamation that “another world is possible”. Furthermore, he explicitly advocated for people to withdraw their support for my existence; which is an extreme ask to make of any community. And, arguably, tantamount to libel.
While I recognize it may be too late for you all to rescind you support of his gallery showing, I thought it reasonable to make you aware of those whose lives which sit in contrast to the rhetoric he espouses. Our community can ill-afford such rhetoric when it is brown and Black people who are being caged, and murdered, for seeking a better life, or standing up for our Mother Earth.
Ricardo’s actions are sadly aligned with such lamentable actions, as it has been by his own volition to protect a white predator, while vilifying an orphaned brown activist.
He was troubled by my public lamentations of his community work enough to write a blog post. In this post, he does not engage the content of my critiques, but chooses to hide behind allegations of reverse racism, and build upon previous allegations designed to call into question my mental and emotional stability.
Such allegations are not foreign to me, having been accused of such anytime I acted in a manner inconsistent with the colonial needs of my adopters and their community.
In my defense, nearly a decade ago, I submitted myself to a complete mental health examination as conducted by the Community University Health Clinic on Franklin Avenue, and soon after began therapy. Upon returning to the University of Minnesota, I continued my therapy and eventually sought the insight of their, then, chief psychiatrist.
Recovering from the colonial abuse of my upbringing, and Minnesota experience, will be a lifelong work, this I do not deny. Though what Ricardo has claimed, the impetus for his actions, and the consequences of his behavior are not beyond the pale of my critique. And if another world truly is possible, we will need to cross difficult conversations that he has seemingly sought to avoid by weaponizing the very tools his artwork claims to fight.
Though I have rambled long enough, and leave you now with my own attempt to recover some of the dignity he sought to take away from me, with a blog post listing others in the community who have had experiences to contrasting the one he claims to have had with me.
May light and laughter find and keel you all always,
Canin Carlos Apriori-Mendoza