Humor, reflection open annual Chicana week

By
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The nearly 50 Brown students gathered outside Salomon 001 yesterday didn’t seem to mind the wait. While sound checks and other final preparations took place within, the lobby outside buzzed with excited chatter.

Minutes later, the poetic stylings of Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Christopher Johnson transformed the initial excitement into full-blown enthusiasm for the opening convocation of Semana Chicana 2009.

In its eighth year, Semana Chicana, organized by the Semana Chicana Steering Committee and sponsored by the Third World Center, is a week-long celebration of Mexican heritage. This year’s theme – “breaking a monolithic image: encontrando la raza,”- included reflections from several Brown students about their experiences as Mexican-Americans.

The featured performer at the convocation was spoken word poet and comedian Hernandez-Kolski, who started his performance with a startlingly accurate imitation of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” dance routine. Hernandez-Kolski seemed completely at ease performing for and bantering with the audience.

In a surprising admission, Hernandez-Kolski confessed his secret love for Justin Timberlake’s music.

“I feel like a trained capitalist monkey,” he said.

But the performance wasn’t all comedy. Hernandez-Kolski’s theme was finding identity, and he drew from his experience as a half-Polish, half-Mexican Chicagoan educated at Princeton.

One poem traced his self-perception through the lens of music. From receiving a Prince CD at a birthday party as a kid to rocking out to Ozzy Osbourne and Van Halen and taking Intro to Jazz, Hernandez-Kolski used music as a metaphor for his understanding of self.

“If its gonna be another rough day, Lord I pray my boom box don’t break,” Hernandez-Kolski said in a halting pseudo-rap.

He also spoke about other forms of identity. In a piece about gender, he said he is a feminist and that he has “always been addicted, addicted to that female spirit.”

Though he asked at one point, “Why can’t I just be an asshole? Why can’t I be the bad boy who’s dark and mysterious and leaves women wondering, ‘What did I do wrong?’ as I disappear from their life forever,” Hernandez-Kolski’s tone was one of appreciation for women.

“I challenge all men to think, ‘Would you want to change places for one day?'” he said. We wouldn’t have the strength.”

Other speakers at the event included Hector Hernandez ’12, who spoke about his admiration for his godfather who came to the United States alone and led the way for the rest of his family.

Carmen Jimenez-Robbins ’09 reflected on the Mexican saying, “to remember is to live,” and on her times and memories at Brown.

Irene Castillon ’09 spoke of her acceptance to Brown and of her high school teachers’ attitudes that a Mexican woman like Castillon who went to college was merely the exception to the rule.

In a spoken word performance, Christopher Johnson took the audience back to a time when “gear only had to be fresh, it didn’t have to be labeled,” and when “the word was supreme.”

The event was organized by Semana Chicana programmers Kimberly Arredondo ’11 and Rocio Rodarte ’11.

According to Arredondo, the steering committee invited Hernandez-Kolski because they were “looking for something a little different and we wanted something performance-oriented.” But she added that they “told him to be a little mild if you can.”

Hernandez-Kolski apologized for the one time he let the “F-bomb” slip.

Both Arredondo and Rodarte expressed their surprise at and appreciation for the number of students in attendance.

“It’s a celebration of Mexican culture,” Rodarte said. “Mexicans have been here a pretty long time, and its important to celebrate culture and bring up political issues and celebrate our roots.”