Los Angeles, Cultural Equity & Centering Whiteness by Joel Garcia

I’ve spent my entire adult life in the arts, either as a participant, volunteer, program facilitator, arts organization leader (administrator), etc. and as this dialogue about Cultural Equity grows I’ve also seen it get very diluted. At the core of this thing called Cultural Equity & Inclusion (and Diversity as-well-as Accessibility) is the centering of whiteness or our organizations aspirations to be validated by the status quo.

Who are these organizations willing to hire? Folks with complex experiences are seen as liabilities. Individuals without academic accolades are seen as inadequate, inexperienced, incapable of working within institutions. The reason 99% of what you see in relation to the field wide attempt at Cultural Equity & Inclusion failing is because its all rooted in white supremacist capitalist values, meaning its extracts from communities of color what it finds value in and discards the rest.

I felt that instead of giving examples of what organizations can do maybe the following set of questions will help with the field with some internal reflection.

  1. Does your organization hire formerly incarcerated individuals?

  2. Does your hiring practices require an academic degree of some form or is lived experience seen as equal competency?

  3. Is your organization programming for a specific community or are you programming alongside and with that specific community? If you believe that you’re programming in partnership with that specific community, how is power, and decision making shared? If power and decision making isn’t shared, then maybe this isn’t an authentic partnership?

  4. Do your programs take into account the many barriers a participant may face in attending a program? What are those barriers? How were they determined? Did you consult participants on what might be an obstacle to participation?

  5. Once those barriers have been determined (in partnership with participants) have you budgeted appropriate strategies to minimize those obstacles?

  6. Have you reviewed the language on your website, organizational collateral, programmatic marketing materials, etc to ensure that language is inclusive and non-violent? Who did you consult? Are those consultants competent? Are they folks who your programs are intended for?

  7. Has your organization had a conversation about anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity? Why not? Have you considered attending the Undoing Racism workshops? https://www.pisab.org/programs/

  8. Does your organization acknowledge the original peoples of the area your organization is in? How are you building relations with them that do not place a burden on them to fulfill your efforts in being respectful? Have you given them ample time to engage in your requests? How do you ensure that your organization does not tokenize this relationship or practice? Read this: bit.ly/ntvland

  9. How does your organization work to hire undocumented individuals? How does your organization carry the responsibility of finding ways to disburse payment to undocumented individuals? There are legal ways to do so.

  10. Have you reviewed your employee handbook lately? Is the language punitive or does it incorporate practices that can place staff in the best positions to be successful? Who have you consulted to ensure the language isn’t harmful and incorporates restorative practices?

  11. What is the role of youth in your organization? Do they have an opportunity to influence programs?

  12. Are members of your target audience part of your Board? If not, do they have an opportunity to make or influence decisions made at the Board level? Are Board meetings held at a time that allows the best opportunity for those individuals to engage in that process? Meaning, time, location, cost of commuting there, etc.

  13. If your organization didn’t get a grant or is not fundraising at the desired level is your first strategy to increase or add participation fees?

  14. How does your organization define safety? Is there a process to determine when to call the police and when to use non-criminalizing strategies?

  15. How do you define accessibility? ADA compliance is the bare minimum.

  16. Does your Cultural Equity and Inclusion strategy have a class analysis?

  17. Does your organization understand what patriarchy is?

  18. Does your organization understand white fragility?

  19. Does your organization understand colorism?

  20. What role do elders play in your organization and how are they supported?

  21. What is your succession strategy for elevating frontline staff?

For the the organizations of color out there that live on the legacy of past work while they might have been at the forefront of these conversations in the ‘70s and ‘80s please understand that although that work is critically important, operating under those strategies now can be well below the bare minimum of what is needed to reach equity today. Do better! Close those generational gaps that exist.

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Nonprofit rants re: equity, inclusion, cultural competency by Joel Garcia

To the arts organizations of color, although we have collectively pushed for “equity and inclusion” like forever... there are now some funding opportunities that have responded, not nearly enough but they’re there.  

It seems that a good part of the reason why funders are slow to respond is because the quality of the applications submitted. 

1. When asked what or how the program is accessible and inclusive, and the response is pretty limited to ADA compliance and or we don’t discriminate on the basis of... 🤦🏾‍♂️

What we need to be articulating is how there’s barriers to participating and that maybe our program built in funds to assist youth with public transportation (if it doesn’t, consider it), or how you’ve removed gender-binary language from youth programs to reduce any possible bullying. 

2. When addressing issues of safety.

Don’t limit your perspective to having security guards on site or frameworks that criminalize the very community being served. 

Consider incorporating or training staff to learn about navigating conversation through a harm-reduction approach. A “safe space” free from difficult conversation is never a healthy space. In fact it might create more trauma and again further instills punitive perspectives. And can perpetuate toxic call out culture. 

3. On the topic of cultural competency, we’re way past the point of homogenizing cultural traditions and celebrations. We can do much much better. 

For example this doesn’t mean that your Mexican or Chicano teaching artist has the knowledge or lived experience to teach primarily Indigenous youth (although from a very specific region in Mexico) about a cultural tradition of their region. Why not seek out a community member that does know these traditions and is knowledge carrier for the community. 

Let’s go beyond Day of the Dead and Mariachi programs as themes and topics for Spanish speaking populations. 

Let’s have those teaching artists serve as technical assistants to those knowledge carriers and elders that the community already recognizes as such. 

It’s heartbreaking when youth and community programs collapse because these things aren’t considered and or funds are secured to sustain them. 

Indigenous Peoples Day (a how to guide) by Joel Garcia

Indigenous Peoples Day (a how to guide)


It is amazing that we have more and more opportunities to celebrate Indigenous Peoples but let’s be cautious that in doing so we don’t erase the original peoples of the area where you plan to produce your event.

Indigenous Peoples most certainly includes natives south and north of the US borders but we believe these celebrations should center on the original peoples of the land your event will take place on.

We encourage you to reach out and build relations with them and ask them to join your organizing team.

Be sure to practice reciprocity meaning for everything they share with you, be prepared to contribute equally. 

Components To Include (Basics).

  • Land Acknowledgment (by the organizers)
    A formal recognition of the original stewards of the land and their connection to it.

  • Opening Prayer/Blessing
    If possible ask an Elder (preferably) or a member from the original peoples.

  • Music & Art
    Yes, contemporary Native artists exist everywhere, include them in the program.

  • Traditional Music & Art
    Ask how they would like to share their traditions. Do not feel offended if they chose not too.

  • Education
    Include space for intentional learning about the original peoples.

For organizers

  • Have you included time in your program for a Land Acknowledgement? If not, please review our Land Acknowledgment Guide at www.bit.ly/ntvland

  • Please consult with a member of the original peoples of your area to include a traditional opening ceremony and incorporate this into your program. It is customary to offer a gift in exchange.

  • There is a large diversity of Native artists and musicians, please do your research and or ask your networks for suggestions. In addition consider including them in your organizational team.

  • Some Indigenous communities have specific protocols regarding their traditional stories, music, and art. Please respect their decision if they choose not to share this at your event.

  • Please do not be passive when adding educational opportunities about the original peoples of your area. Do not place this component in a booth near the rear. Consult with them and incorporate into your on-stage program if possible.

  • Yes, this is a place to have political statements shared. Colonization is happening today and our role as settlers continues to impact the lives of all Indigenous Peoples.

  • Indigenous Peoples have a vast visual and symbolic library, consult them on the preferred imagery to use in your promotional materials. NO MORE DREAMCATCHERS.

  • Equally important, please set aside stipends for all the participants. If monetary compensation is not available, your team should prepare gifts in exchange for their participation. If possible, do both.

For participants (attendee, artist, etc)

  • Bring cash to support the artists and vendors.

  • Do not wear items such as headdresses and war bonnets.

  • Do not bring any alcoholic beverages.

  • Although it is great that you have a drum, please ask the organizers if it's appropriate to bring your own. This is out of respect to any drum group or drummers that might already be asked to sing songs.

This guide is a basic starting point meant to create a foundation for your event. It should not be considered as THE guide for this celebration. For more resources email: info@meztli.com


Anti-Indigeneity (What does it look like) by Joel Garcia

Anti-Indigeneity (What does it look like): Click to download the Land Acknowledgement Guide.

It’s becoming more and more a common practice for folks in social justice circles to do land acknowledgements, but what does that actually mean? Many times it feels like it’s a box to check off and it’s very passive. While at SHG I had a great deal of conversations with folks about doing this in authentic ways and I have to give major props to the programs team at the California Endowment for pushing this within the foundation and influencing their partners to do the same.

Language has a great deal to do with invisibilizing Indigenous Peoples. I guess we can begin the spelling of Indigenous, and Indigenous Peoples, yes with capital letters and with an “s” at the end. Homogenizing Indigenous Peoples is also problematic as we are many many nations, communities, bands and very few actually use the word tribe in their formal names. So let’s stop using the word tribe.

As we worked to acquire the building SHG is in and ultimately working to for it, one of the reframings I pushed was the use of the word stewardship versus ownership, because how could we own land and buy land when its land that the Tongva were displaced from. Those originally displaced by 1st world developments. All that context and more played into to how I spoke about the current gentrification and displacement struggles. How can you talk about land use issues and not take into account the Tongva, Tataviam and Chumash. You have to start with them. Whether it’s the LA River project, the housing crisis, etc., this context needs to be included.

Before SHG moved forward with the purchase of the building I wanted to ask permission from the Tongva, even if it was symbolic, at the minimum. But I can’t blame anyone for not doing that. That’s on me.

You’d figure that incorporating language that uplifts others would be an easy thing to roll into our narrative for a social justice based organization like SHG. But no, even that was a struggle with the Board.

If you’re doing work with social justice based organizations, if you’re an artist, musician and are asked to perform or participate in a festival, exhibition, etc., here are some helpful tips to make sure you’re not invisibilizing those whose land you stand on.

For organizers

  • Before the start of any program, meeting, class, workshop, etc. acknowledge the Peoples by their desired name and the land you’re on by its original name. For example, in DTLA you would use Yaangna and in Boyle Heights/East LA you would use Apachiagna as the land name and Tongva as the original stewards of these lands.

  • Include the original name of the land in the event or organization’s address such as 100 East 1st Street, Los Angeles (Yaangna), CA 90012 

  • For large festivals or community events especially as we enter into Dia de los Muertos season - ask the original stewards of the land if they can open the event with a blessing. Ask them far in advance (like now) and set aside a stipend for their time. If needed arrange for someone to pick them up. 

  • It is not enough to simply do an acknowledgment, we must also work to build actual relations with the original stewards by working with them to see how their perspectives fit in. 

  • You might not at times get an answer because well people are busy which is why you should ask far in advance. Do not take offense but you should at minimum ask for their participation. 

  • If possible ask in person and when doing so it is customary to offer an elder a gift when requesting their participation. Most elders have various real life needs because well colonization so ask if they need anything specific such as coffee, tea, etc. 
    If it’s not possible to ask in person have the offering ready at the event. 

  • Include Native artists in your programs. Asking Indigenous Peoples to solely do the spiritual labor is another form of erasure. Indigenous Peoples are also land use experts, contemporary artists, conflict resolution experts, etc. 

  • For panels and similar talks if you can’t find a Native person to participate, I would suggest findings ways to represent them. (I have tips for doing so).

For participants (attendee, artist, etc)

  • Ask the organizers how they plan to acknowledge the original people and land. 

  • If there is no planned acknowledgment please request they do so. 

  • If the organizers refuse to do an acknowledgment please consider withdrawing your participation.

For more resources on land acknowledgment please visit:

Click to download the Land Acknowledgement Guide.

My Experience at Self Help Graphics & Art and my firing by Joel Garcia

I’m posting this because I’ve attempted every collateral damage free path there exist available to me to address these issues and I have a responsibility to my community. I also post this knowing that I might lose two of three fellowships I was awarded this past year.

First let me say that I was fired by the Board of SHG and released of my post as Co-Director of Self Help Graphics & Art. There is a lot more to this that I’ll post in the coming days but these are some of the general things that I dealt with in regards to the Board but more specifically the former Board President and current board member Karen Mary Davalos.

On various occasions I was told that I didn’t have the “aesthetic” look to be the “face” of the organization.

That in order for me to be an Executive Director, it was suggested to me that I cut my braid.

It was ok for me to look indian when it was beneficial (grants) but not enough of a human to represent SHG.

I’ve been made to feel and questioned as if I was stealing or something. Now folks close to me that visit SHG have been treated with suspicion.

A camera was installed in the main area (without notice to me as Co-Director) and I had to put tape over the lens because it’s illegal to do that in any common area or without notifying the public as they enter. I was told that it was to protect the prints and I asked if anything had been stolen. Nothing had been stolen. But I was questioned as if I had something to hide not as if I had the knowledge and experience to know that it was illegal to have that level of surveillance. We installed safety cameras in the parking lot but there’s a difference between safety and surveillance. They checked with their lawyer and turns out I was right.

The attached image (the experience of a Black woman from last week) also underscores some of the Anti-Blackness that permeates our Latinx spaces.

At the end of May 2018, the Board, as communicated to me (and Betty) by then Board President Karen Mary Davalos, I was to terminate any working relationship with two community members that we had been employing for more than two years because they wanted to repurpose those resources (money we paid them) for the Capital Campaign. The Board of any organization does not have the power to do that. It is also illegal to use any resources granted for programs to pay for a building.

I opposed that decision in writing (Betty signed the letter) and submitted that letter to the Board. The two community members were terminated, Karen suggested I complete the work the two community members were producing AND to do it for free because well not doing so would reflect poorly on my annual review.

I raised more than $300,000 this past year but my annual review was held up two years in a row cuz well I assume that they didn’t want to pay me what I was worth.

The Board and I had been at odds because for more than 3 years I had been asking for some statement around gentrification and displacement. I was reprimanded (June 2015) for working with youth and helping them organize for more transparency and equity around the Boyle Heights Metro Developments. I continued to do that work within the Building Healthy Communities. Some of that work you’ll find living in Eastside LEADS. I’ve written draft statements after draft statement, I proposed an Anti-Displacement Task Force made up SHG Staff, artists and Board Members, and as of now the Board refuses to say or acknowledge that they have a responsibility to the community. The artists from SHG have asked for the same and communicated that directly to new Board President Endy Bernal. Endy promised to do something about it and here we are, she’s rewarded with this new role and no statement from them yet. Hmm!

In fact I spoke face to face and in confidence with Endy as a way to get the board to do or say something. And she snitched me out to the Board. But they’re happy to have me be the fall guy now that I’m no longer at SHG.

This is just some of it.

Oh and btw that exhibition and related panels currently on display at CSULA, I curated the majority of that exhibition straight down to the living room installation but SHG would rather hide that and let folks believe it was curated by two professors at SHG. All this can be confirmed in emails that exist at SHG.

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