Radio Operator Osmar Miranda broadcasts for Radio San José, an indigenous-run radio comunitaria (or “community radio”) station in the rural mountains of San Marcos, Guatemala.

Jared Olson is a Pulitzer Center grantee, writer and freelance journalist whose work focuses on indigenous rights, oppression and the struggle for justice in Central and Latin America. He is currently a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, studying international relations and journalism.

Underground Radio in Guatemala

‘Pirate’ stations fight to give voice to the poor


July 2019

BY JARED OLSON

From a pasty blue building behind a crumbling church in a Guatemalan highland village, a contortion of antennas stands raised against the sky.

Beneath the antennas is a metal-plated door. Behind that, in a sparse room with a paint-chipped table and a sprawling tangle of wires, sits Osmar Miranda, a radio operator. Adjusting the black knobs on a control board, he takes off his headphones and explains how Radio San José—one of the Central American country’s so-called “pirate radio” stations—offers its poor Mayan population one of the few ways to get their voices heard on the airwaves.

“Here in Guatemala,” says Miranda, “the role of the radios comunitarias (community radio stations) has been to give space to the poorest communities so that the people can express what they want—you know, ‘I want to speak, I want to say what I feel.’ You can’t do that in commercial radio.”

As he speaks, a man behind him is recounting, on-air, how his prison stint brought him to God, opening his eyes to the reality of social injustice. The day’s subsequent programs will discuss issues of political consciousness, alcoholism, addiction, and ecological crises, interspersed with periodic renditions of Marimba—Guatemala’s national music.

Radio San José is part of Asociación Mujb’ab’l Yol (Mujb’ab’l Yol” means “Meeting of Ideas” in the Mam Maya language), a network of radios comunitarias that spans six departments, or states, in Guatemala’s mountainous southwest, where the majority of the population is indigenous Maya. Despite constituting 40 percent of this Central American country’s population, Guatemala’s indigenous peoples are rarely represented in their country’s media.

Radios comunitarias—local, volunteer-run, indigenous-language radio stations—have sought to fill this media void, working (more…)

Performance artist, producer and community arts activist Xochi de la Luna. Photo by Todd Farnham

Off The Beaten Arts Path

What Does It Take To Be A Radical Community Artist?


June 2019

BY RACHEL LIEBERMAN

Xochi de la Luna stands in a glimmering cape, sunflower crown, and gothic platform boots at the center of a small, intimate crowd. Audience members–some in folding chairs, others seated on the floor–dim their conversations in anticipation; the fantastical, bimonthly cabaret known as “Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories” is about to commence. Before introducing the evening’s eclectic lineup of local bands, rappers, authors, actors, and dancers, this striking emcee leads the crowd in a moment of intentional silence, then cracks a joke that sparks giggles across the room filled with both new and familiar faces. “Welcome,” Xochi says, “this show came to me in a vision of a faraway planet, much more serene and alive than ours…”

According to Xochi (pronounced ‘zo-chee’), a 28-year-old Minneapolis-based performance artist, producer, community arts organizer and Mexican/Salvadorian immigrant, the atmosphere of this show is vastly different than ones they encountered when they first entered the theater and comedy scene a couple years ago. (Identifying as queer, transgender, and non-binary, Xochi uses they/them gender pronouns.) Back then, Xochi often found themselves performing and auditioning for crowds that were fairly homogenous. Especially with comedy, Xochi shares, “I had to try harder to relate to an audience that here in Minnesota is usually White and male–they don’t understand my jokes as much.”

Xochi next introduces the house band, Freaque, here at the Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis. Lead singer Gabriel Rodreick, seated in the wheelchair he uses after sustaining a spinal cord injury 11 years ago, explains, These latest songs are about sex”—a topic often left out of discussions about people with disabilities. Before launching into his set with the band, Rodreick also notes how refreshing it is to perform in such an intentional, communal space, as compared to the bar shows his band has been playing recently.

This intentionality is, in large part, due to Xochi’s impassioned devotion to creating new community arts spaces. Xochi’s mission is to give appropriate value to the arts, and to especially support the careers of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Trans, Queer, and female artists. Whether its stand-up comedy, song, poetry, dance, a band or a cabaret act, Xochi is currently curating or emceeing as many as six different shows a month, and over the course of the past couple years, more and more people have started to take notice.

According to acclaimed local dancer and choreographer Leila Awadallah, “Xochi organizes a living breathing organism of work that ranges from literally just giving artists space to try something completely new, to serving as a platform for building broader, deeper connections across our intertwined communities.”

 

ARTS RESOURCES ARE SCARCE, AND MANY SENSE THEY ARE GROWING SCARCER

 

For Xochi and others who endeavor in the arts, and for the fans who appreciate their efforts, the value they provide in terms of community and culture is undeniable. But, as has always been the case, work in this field often entails long hours and little-to-no pay. Funding is scarce, and burnout is common. The financial and cultural obstacles for Xochi are especially overwhelming.

For one, Xochi faces a number of financial obstacles working in larger institutions. Primarily, they say, the casting timeline and rehearsal schedule is not conducive with working another full or part-time job, making it especially difficult for those in economically marginalized groups. “When I tried to do theater, (more…)