Op-Ed: Silicon Valley’s Creative Sector Needs Representation, Diversity and Equity Now

A recent news article quoted Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commissioner April Halberstadt as saying, “art can also exaggerate false histories—akin to how César Chavez’s name is all over town, yet his legacy in San Jose is only years of residency.”

For many, including me, this statement was problematic and carried an implicit cost to our community. While I do not know Ms. Halberstadt, and wouldn’t assume malicious intent, she minimized Chavez’s legacy by failing to give credit to the environment that shaped him and the long-lasting legacy of his organizing roots in San Jose. One of the first grocery store boycotts for farmworkers’ rights organized by Chavez was held in the 1960s at the old Safeway in East San Jose, where the Mexican Heritage Plaza now stands.

The ongoing controversy surrounding Ms. Halberstadt’s comment is a reminder of the heightened importance of representation—especially in our creative sector, where we have the agency to share forgotten histories or ignorantly reinforce false narratives.

The stakes are high, with many organizations facing substantial losses in revenue and visibility as a result of COVID-19. It’s not hyperbole to say that arts and cultural institutions face an existential crisis, and representation cannot be forgotten.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that we lean into our DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion) values.

If we do not make room at the decision-maker’s table for diverse perspectives, who will accurately tell our stories, preserve our cultures, practice our traditions, and advocate on behalf of those not represented?

At the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza (SOAC), the founders of the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI) set the stage for racial equity and representation in a significant way. Roy Hirabayshi, Tamara Alvarado and Raul Lozano shared a vision to disrupt “whiteness” in the creative sector and many individuals within the MALI network, such as Demone Carter, have continued this work for over a decade.

With a growing network of over 200 artists and arts administrators, many MALI alumni now serve in prominent positions within their organizations, boards, and government.

MALI’s impact gave way to SOAC leading a $1 million statewide workforce development initiative with the goal of supporting an inclusive workforce. The “California Arts Council Administrators of Color Fellowship,” or “CAC ACF” for short, is doing its part to increase representation in the arts administration field, which is a microcosm of the overall sector’s lack of equity and access to positions of influence.

At the SOAC, we will continue to invest in, uplift, and celebrate the diversity of our creative sector and community. How can you help?

Together, we can:

  1. Demand equitable representation at decision making tables, like civic commissions.
  2. Call on our local government and elected officials to support equity-based initiatives for our creative community (like DEAI workforce development programs).

It’s a tall order and not everyone is in a position to extend support.

Yet, as best we can, we must disrupt the Eurocentric narrative through which our history is written and remembered. Page by page, as our creative community grapples with a harsher reality, this story is ours to write.

Jonathan Borca is the strategic partnerships manager at the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza and leads all efforts on the CAC ACF pilot program. He is also an advocate for his East San Jose community, a performing artist/curator and a board member for Local Color and New Leaders Council Silicon Valley. 

Applications for fellows and host organizations are available now, and the deadline to apply for CAC ACF is 11:59pm on July 31. For more information, contact Jonathan at [email protected].

Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

12 Comments

  1. Jonathan Porkus,
    It’s been a long time since I’ve that many (BSACNS) Bull$hit ACroNymS placed in one race ranting article begging for money from guilt ridden white people to support a multitude of race baiting made up organizations.
    If you want money make something we want to buy, sell it in a store or on line. Then donate that money to your chosen race based organization that like bashing white people. That’s how the rest of the free market entertainment industry works.
    Thanks for your attention

  2. “DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion) values…”

    Cool! A new catch phrase that hits most of the targets. I feel Woke!

  3. take your intersectional bs back to the Obama years clown

    what the world needs is more competence for the sake of competence, if you have demonstrated excellence in your life, your identity means nothing.

    what we need now are people like you to go away

  4. ” Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI) set the stage for racial equity and representation in a significant way”

    WTF? – you need an entire institute for equity and representation – – IN A SIGNIFICANT way? that seems like a very circuitous route to achieve your goals, unless this is some made up grifter scam to acquire some free money to “do good things” — – how about a more direct path – – how about just tell your audience – — “Hey, this is America. It s free country with appropriate laws and regulation so that anyone can achieve their equity and representation. there’s the door (of opportunity) now get your lazy asses out there and and go get it. there are countless stories of all kinds of people you want to see “Achieve” who have already done so and it is surely an embarrassment for them to see this kind of pandering for their people. Get a life, a real one – – with purpose and benefit to the community. This kind of activity brings shame to the very people you claim to represent.

  5. The seeds of Chavez’s important activism took root here, you can’t grow without the seed, it deserves respect.

  6. Lots of angry, angry voices here. Such reactions do not represent the majority of SJ or Santa Clara County.

    • You’re uncomfortable with anger aren’t you SCC?
      Please everyone, let’s try to adopt a more gentle tone when expressing our opinions. It’s important that this forum be a safe space for the more sensitive ones among us.

  7. Great insight. For those who feel uncomfortable or angry about the prospect of multicultural representation and feel the rage to bash this, you should take that as sign to check your privilege. Why does it anger you that there are groups fighting for equality?

    MALI is important and yes there is a need for an an organization to help dismantle and rebuild an institution that history favors and is only seen through the perspective of white people.

  8. April Halberstadt said, “art can also exaggerate false histories—akin to how César Chavez’s name is all over town, yet his legacy in San Jose is only years of residency.” HIS LEGACY IN SAN JOSE. Cesar and his wife lived in San Jose for 14 years before they moved to Delano, CA. I understand what Ms. Halberstadt was saying and yet she has been made out to be a villain. What’s the real motive? hhmm.

Leave a Reply