The second in a series of four paintings exclusively created by local artists for the 50th anniversary of California State University, Dominguez Hills was unveiled on Jan. 20 in the Loker Student Union. Students, faculty, and staff welcomed artist Aydee Lopez Martinez, who shared her new work, “The Heart of CSU Dominguez Hills.” The evening also featured a reading by Chicana poet and educator Lorna Dee Cervantes, who shared a chronology of works from her 30-year career.
Vice president of university advancement Greg Saks welcomed the audience, which included students from Phi Sigma Sigma, and a cohort of visiting Central American health professionals from the Scholarships for Education and Economic Development (SEED) program hosted by the College of Extended and International Education.
Dr. Irene Vasquez, director of World cultural Studies and chair of the Academic Senate, commended students for attending the event during the winter break from classes, saying that “Students crave the vibrancy of human cultural expression, be it poetry, music, theater or film. For this reason, we witnessed a room full of engaged students listening thoughtfully to Ms. Lopez Martinez and Ms. Cervantes.”
Saks introduced President Mildred García, who noted that the unveiling event was one of more than 120 programs held by the university to celebrate the 50th anniversary since January 2010, and attended by 60,000 participants. She described her vision of having artists create works to celebrate the last 50 years as a way to showcase the institution’s diversity.
“Our students and faculty represent the diversity of our country,” García noted. “We are so proud that we are considered one of the most diverse public universities in the United States.”
Martinez thanked the committee of Ann Camp, executive assistant to President García, Brenda Knepper, director of university communications and public affairs, and Toby Bushee, manager of events and ceremonies, for their help in the creation of “The Heart of CSU Dominguez Hills.
“There were aspects that they wanted to focus on, the diversity of the campus and the beautiful architecture,” said Lopez Martinez. “I tried to incorporate that and was very happy with the [painting].”
Cervantes, who taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder, shared her experiences as a Chicana-Native American writer who did not grow up speaking Spanish and the limitations set by her high school English teachers, which she gleefully disregards now as a former English professor and a poet.
“When I was a sophomore, I had a teacher who said that there were certain words that you should never use in poetry: love, moon, crystal, river, and heart,” Cervantes recalled. “Ever since then, if you look at my work, I always make sure that… every poem I’ve written has the word ‘heart’ in it – I’ve worn out those keys on my keyboard.”
Cervantes read a chronology of her poems, dating from her first book “Emplumada,” which was published in 1981, and received the American Book Award. Her poetry, which was initially inspired by life in the barrios of San Jose, includes her perspectives on poverty, racial prejudice, police brutality, and domestic violence. She said that she sought a way out of this environment through reading and was able to write and publish her first book at the age of 24.
“I was a library kid,” she said of seeking escape through books. “I was always conscious of a void when it came to role models, especially in poetry. So I wanted [to have my] book in the library so somebody could pull it out and say, ‘Here’s a Latino name, here’s a woman, and she’s from California too.’”
Cervantes said that the poems she shared that evening, including “Murder,” “Freeway 280,” “For Virginia Chavez,” “Night Travelers,” would inspire students at CSU Dominguez Hills, “So that they can go away asking questions” and be able to stay in school and reach their goals despite whatever odds they face.
“Whenever anybody would ask me what my overall message was, I would say, ‘Change,’ said Cervantes. “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you’re going to react.’”
Cervantes is currently working on a young adult novel and a screenplay while continuing to write poetry. Her new book of poetry, “CIENTO: 100 100-Word Love Poems” is forthcoming in September from Wings Press.
Vasquez, who assisted with the unveiling of “The Heart of CSU Dominguez Hills” says that the diverse artists who are creating the commemorative 50th anniversary paintings “[represent] a range of social backgrounds and identities that have left a footprint here that future generations can acknowledge and appreciate.”
The final two paintings will be created by neoclassical artist Alexey Steele, and Japanese American artist Mary Higuchi. Their artwork will be unveiled before the end of the 50th Anniversary celebration in May.
For more information on the 50th anniversary of CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.