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    Creative of the Month- November 2013

    Jesús de la Torre, founder Colectivo Cultural


    "One of the happiest days of my life was also heartbreaking. My daughter, Maya, was born on a rainy Thursday in March of 2001. Just as Maya was being placed in Sarah’s (my wife) arms, the clouds parted and a sunbeam shone directly upon her. It sounds like something out of a hokey movie, I know, but it really happened. I was ecstatic. I was also sad. I wanted so much to share the moment with my parents, but both had passed away a few years earlier. I decided if my children could not meet their grandparents in person, they would know them through the things they taught me, our culture. Now I like to think of that atmospheric coincidence as my parents drawing the curtain of rain so they could take a peek at their granddaughter from the heavens. I founded Colectivo Cultural in 2002 to help people connect with and remember the culture that their ancestors shared with them but that may have been “clouded” over by time."  -- Jesus de la Torre (pictured at first tamalada workshop in 2002)

    What do you recall being your first experience with art?
    I was six years old and in first grade. The drawing I was making was almost done. All that was needed was to color the hair on the boy in the drawing, but I couldn’t continue. I had no yellow! How was I supposed to finish this kid with no yellow? All the boys in all the books I had seen had yellow hair. I don’t recall if I ever finished the drawing, but I was haunted by that event for many years. Of course, now I realize that I couldn’t finish the drawing because people like me, people with dark hair, did not exist in books. Today, much of the work I do with Colectivo Cultural is to help us see ourselves as an integral part of the world.

    I understand you are a kindergarten teacher. How long have you been teaching? How do you incorporate art into your classroom and teaching?
    I have been teaching kindergarten for six years now and hope to continue for another couple of decades. At least until my own children finish college.

    There is always some kind of art in our school day. Mostly it is reflective. Students make a drawing of the things they like to do, maybe something they did with their families during the week. Art is also in the books we read. And you can bet that many of the kids in those books have dark hair.

    Do you ever have former students who are now artists come back and visit you?

    Since I have not been in the classroom long enough to see students come back around as adults I haven’t experienced that. However, something that happened just recently during a Día de los Muertos workshop I led was very gratifying. I needed to take a lunch break and told the people still working on their crafts that I would not be able to supervise them for a bit. One of the participants told me not to worry. Now that I had taught her how to do the crafts, she could help the others. She took some scissors from me and continued to demonstrate how to make papel picado. That is exactly the goal of a teacher, for students not only learn new things, but that they are capable of passing that knowledge along.

    How long have you been working with La Villita Historic Arts Village for the Día de los Muertos and Gran Tamalada festivities?

    Colectivo Cultural has worked with La Villita for three years now. In that time we have led workshops on the how and why of Día de los Muertos, how to make tamales, and even a class on Mexican nativity scenes. I am very grateful to La Villita for giving me the opportunity to share my culture. I am also thrilled about working with them on a new project, Mexica Fire, to celebrate the Aztec new year and help call attention to the contributions that America’s indigenous people have made to our modern world.

    Tell us more about the family affair that is Colectivo Cultural.
    Very frequently my sisters, Ada Gordon and Sabrina Lewis, are standing next to me during our workshops. Ada and Sabrina are both excellent tamaleras that have inspired hundreds of people to start their own tamalada traditions. My third sister, Mary, was key to our tamalada workshops. She was the one that had the actual recipe that my mother, Leonor, wrote down. Now Colectivo Cultural is multigenerational. My kids, Maya and Elijah, have both also helped with the workshops. To a broader extent, the workshops have also helped us all see how we are all related through a shared culture and community activity.

    By the way, I don’t want to give the impression that Colectivo Cultural is some sort of big arts organization. It’s just me, my family and some friends and associates doing what we like best.

    When did you start making tamales? What's your favorite part of the process?

    I have been making tamales as long as I remember. I am 53 years-old now, so at least 50 of those years. The first thing I was allowed to do was to soak the hojas (corn husks) that are used to wrap the tamales. Then I graduated to tying the tamales. We code the tamales that have chile with a thin strip of hoja tied around them. The last Christmas that my parents were still alive, my sisters, my wife and I had to do it all on our own, but even though my bed-ridden mother was unable to supervise us, my dad kept coming in to spy on us and report back on how we were doing. I’m sure he had a hard time explaining how we managed to get chili paste on her kitchen curtains.

    As for my favorite part of the process of making tamales? Like everyone else, it is eating them. But a close second is the chisme we share while making them.

    How do you feel your creative side has helped you in other aspects of your life?

    My creative side has gotten me out of some pretty tight situations. My wife and I used to work as news producers. Often our interviews would not come through, or an essential prop was missing, but we still had to meet our deadline. Seeing the situation as an opportunity to try something new always helped us get through the situation. That is the way I see creativity. It usually isn’t something that just appears for no reason. Creativity is mostly a novel, and necessary, solution to an unexpected problem.

    Back to your experience in the education system, what has been your personal experience with the school system's support of arts education? Do you see any sort of solution to the constant reduction in funding of arts education?

    Unfortunately if you want arts in education, you can’t rely on the State of Texas to provide it. You have to find alternative sources of funding. The best long-term solution is to ask your elected officials where they stand on the issue, review their record, vote for candidates who will support the arts, and let them know that their stand on arts is the reason you voted for them.


    { This year's Gran Tamalada takes place Saturday, November 30 from Noon to 7 pm in the heart of downtown at La Villita Historic Arts Village }