yasmin hernandez welcome

Quien Se Queda?


Mixed Media on Canvas
24" x 72"
Collection of the Latino Living Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

When there is everything to fear, be unafraid
When surrounded by dangers fear none of them
When without resources, depend on resourcefulness
When surprised, take the enemy by surprise

Quien Se Queda is a work that was inspired by my participation in the 1993 student occupation of Day Hall, the administration building at Cornell University. I created it for an exhibit I did at Willard Straight Hall's Gallery on Cornell's campus, which coincided with the 10 year anniversary of the takeover. I was 18 at the time, and it was my first experience participating in such a protest. We were threatened with being expelled from the University. Hours after the sit-in turned into an occupation, the university cut off the phone service from the building and positioned campus police on nearby rooftops to watch the activities in and outside of the building. By that evening we had other students and Ithaca residents smuggling food and supplies into the building for over 200 of us. As the four-day occupation progressed, and especially after the administration threatened to expel us, students began to sneak out of the building. We had been locked in by the police to prevent any traffic in or out of the building. At one point our numbers fell down to about 75 and we began to fear that they could take us out by force. We had to figure out how to get our numbers back up, but more importantly how to allow any students who doubted their commitment to the occupation, the opportunity to leave. The result was that we had all the participants line up on a third floor hallway in Day Hall, which was the center of activity during the occupation. Everyone closed their eyes to allow those students who wanted to leave the ability to do so without feeling pressured by their peers. This became one of the most tense moments during that takeover. With our eyes closed, those of us who chose to stay had to conjure the strength to do so and risk being expelled for the purpose of asserting our presence on that campus and to improve resources for Latino students to follow. (For more info on what strategies we used later to get our numbers back up, the causes and results of the occupation, email me).

The painting depicts that scene in the hallway and its title “¿Quien se queda?” or “Who stays?” has a double meaning. Not only does it reference those who stayed during the Day Hall Takeover in 1993, but also those who after receiving their degrees stay true to activism. My observation has been that campuses become hotbeds for political activism. Access to information, and our history coupled with the isolation of being away from our communities usually breeds political activism. We must remember however that the university, the institution, is a microcosm of the greater system/ society we live in. The purpose of such universities is to breed folks who can work to continue perpetuating the state of this system. The competition that we find as students is only indicative of the individualism that is characteristic of the capitalism that makes the US tick. So it’s not uncommon to find a student activist forget his/her mission once a degree has been received and a high salary has been achieved.

There were many factors that contributed to the actual occupation. One particular catalyst however was an installation of Chicano artist Daniel J. Martinez. His work, designed to question privilege and its place on an Ivy-League campus was successful is disrupting the usual flow that privileged people take for granted. As a result, his piece and the entire campus became a forum for ethnic slurs such as “Kill the Illegals” and “Bean Eaters Go Home”. The red text across my painting (and listed before these paragraphs) is taken from a fax that Daniel J. sent us in support of our efforts during the takeover. He had also sent out press releases to the media. The collage around the image are all press clippings from around the country, on the Day Hall Takeover. In November of 2004, I gave the piece as a gift to the Latino Living Center at Cornell University. The LLC, as the center of the Latino community at Cornell was one of the resources that came about as a result of the Takeover, or in other words it was on our list of demands, one that was met by the University. The piece is hanging in its community lounge as a reminder of what students have done to secure fair access to resources on that campus.

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