Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Encountering Visions of Aztlan: Arguments for Ethnic Pride, Community Activism and Cultural Revitalization in Chicano Murals

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Encountering Visions of Aztlan: Arguments for Ethnic Pride, Community Activism and Cultural Revitalization in Chicano Murals

Article excerpt

Recent essays have shown that arguments can include propositions that are visual as well as discursive (Birdsell and Groarke, 1996; Blair, 1996;). Given the visual orientation of contemporary society and the richness and complexity of visual images, visual propositions may, in certain contexts, be more effective in conveying messages to particular audiences (Foss, 1993). Reasoning takes various forms, and pictures may be instrumental in facilitating types of reasoning that cannot be accomplished discursively. For example, in order for a minority community to argue that its culture has distinct properties that sets it apart from the dominant culture, it needs to show those distinctions within cultural artifacts, including visual artifacts. In the late 1960s and 70s, minority communities in the United States deployed visual images to resist racism, discrimination and social injustices. Walls within urban neighborhoods became a medium for expressing arguments for solidarity, for ethnic pride and for political activism. One of the first "people's" murals painted during this period was the "Wall of Respect," a mural celebrating African-American heroes. Painted in 1967 on an abandoned building in an area targeted for urban renewal on the South Side of Chicago, the "Wall of Respect" became not only an argument for Black pride, but also a reason for the community to resist outside control of their neighborhood (Cockcroft, Weber and Cockcroft, 1977). The mural transformed an abandoned space into a community space, a space for rallying together as a community against the city bureaucracy.

Visual images, therefore, can serve an argumentative function for a community. Contrary to Blair's (1996) assertions that "visual arguments are not distinct in essence from verbal arguments" and that the "power" and "suggestiveness" of visual arguments is gained at the "cost of a loss of clarity and precision (39)," this essay argues that visual images may advocate a fairly specific concept of community development and community identity. Within particular cultural contexts, visual images make tangible abstract possibilities and clarify connections in ways that make them distinct from discursive arguments. For example, while Mexican Americans "do not form a homogeneous group politically, socially or racially" (Meier & Ribera, 1993, p. 6), certain images may remind them of a shared cultural heritage and shared experiences. For example, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico, has become a symbol of liberation and social justice for Chicanos/as. Placed within a visual context of historical images of the struggle for Mexican independence, the Virgin of Guadalupe becomes part of an argument for defining Mexican American or Chicano/a culture as distinct from "Anglo" culture. As pictures have been used by scientists to demonstrate the evolutionary "progress" of human beings from apes to modern humans by demonstrating a process of mental inference and reasoning (Shelley, 1996), pictures can make an argument for community development, calling attention to unique cultural characteristics and historical events that have shaped a community's progress.

In order to better understand how visual arguments can serve an argumentative function for a community, this essay focuses on a community for whom visual images have played an important role in creating an empowering identity. Many of the "people's" murals of the late 1960s and early 1970s were painted in Mexican American communities. These murals helped to achieve the goals of "El Movimiento," the Chicano civil rights movement, that emerged during the 1960s and extended into the late 1970s and beyond. One of the principle goals of the Movement was to reconnect Mexican American communities with their shared cultural roots by building "greater awareness of and pride in Mexican American cultural uniqueness" (Meier and Ribera, 1993, p. 235). Supporters of the Movement resisted assimilation into the dominant culture, arguing for the recognition of a distinct cultural identity, a Chicano/a identity. …

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