Brownsville, Texas, like many other cities along the US/ Mexico border, is a town with a rich but complicated history. From conquest and the displacement of native peoples to revolution, annexation, secession, land disputes, and border walls, the tumultuous history of Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley has both transformed our landscape and impacted the way people move through, construct, and occupy the built environment.

Las Imaginistas, a group of artists in Brownsville, is calling elected officials and residents together and asking them to reconsider our past in order to provide new and more refined tools to reconstruct our future.

Composed of Celeste De Luna, Nansi Guevara, and Christina Patiño Houle, Las Imaginistas is a socially engaged art collective in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The trio work independently and collaboratively using art as a tool for equity, justice and community change.

Celeste DeLuna reflects, “My hope for ‘Hacemos La Ciudad’ is that it is a breakthrough conversation about how colonization structures our physical and mental environment. Breakthroughs are hard, difficult work and my hope is that this project is a nurturing, creative space for the community to do it together.”

In their mission for the project, Las Imaginistas state, “The history of colonization and current militarization can play an invisible hand in perpetuating inequality by silently subduing residents into accepting certain truths. By unearthing and remixing the way that these legacies are told, we hope to provide access to some of the tools needed to collectively construct a city that better serves all of its residents.”

The idea for “Hacemos La Ciudad” was developed from a series of healing and creativity house meetings hosted by Las Imaginistas throughout 2016 and 2017 with immigrant rights activists in the region. The issues and concerns identified by these community leaders led Las Imaginistas to develop the project concept. The concept was then workshopped and further refined in conversation with community activist leaders, the office of the City Manager of the City of Brownsville, the Mexican American Studies Department at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, and Race and Gender in the Built Environment Specialists at the School of Architecture, Department of Urban Planning, University of Texas Austin. Through the activities laid out over the next year, Nansi Guevara envisions that those of us in the region “will see more of ourselves in order to build on the beauty and strength of our community.”

The yearlong schedule of movement workshops, performances, art installations, and charrettes is composed of four phases, considering the mind, heart, hands, and body of Brownsville, and will culminate in a Plan de Arte Cívica del Pueblo Entero (Civic Art Plan of the People).

This project aims to examine how colonial ideology has informed the architecture, city planning and the cultural infrastructure of the region, and to provide opportunities for participants to perform alternative embodiments of consciousness to collectively embody and construct new decolonial possibilities for their city.

Co-director of Las Imaginistas, Christina Patiño Houle says, “We are at a critical time in the future of Brownsville, the Border, and the United States. This project creates the opportunity for residents to come together and learn about the history of the region as they participate in imagining and building a more equitable future.”

The project will launch on July 14 with three-panel discussions and short workshops to take place throughout the month. At each event, participants will have the opportunity to participate in collectively imagining the future of Brownsville. After watching a panel discussion with featured presenters, attendees may respond to questions like, “What does equity look like in the built environment?” or “If you were to make a monument to a person who has lived in Brownsville who would it be?”

All events will take place at the Central Branch of the Brownsville Public Library, Main Branch (2600 Central Blvd.). All events are free and open to the public. Translation to Spanish will be provided.

July 14, History of the Land: Establishing and Visualizing the US/ Mexico Border
Dr. Christopher Carmona, Faculty Affiliate of Mexican American Studies Program, UTRGV; Scott Nicol, Co-Chair of Borderlands Team, Sierra Club; Gabriel Sanchez RGV and LGBTQIA researcher; Sara Walker, Executive Director of the Weslaco Museum of Local History and Cultural Art

July 21, Where Are We Now: Aesthetics of Colonial Hierarchies in the Borderlands and Brownsville
Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, Faculty Affiliate of Mexican American Studies Program, UTRGV; Chloe Dotson, Director of Real Estate Development, CDCB; Dr. James Jupp, Critical White Studies Scholar, UTRGV

July 28, Liberate This: Liberating Public, Private and Personal Space Via the Radical Imaginary
Joe Colon-Uvalles, Founder Drag Out HIV Program; Lupe Flores, Scholar, Curatorial Assistant, Border Studies Archive, UTRGV; Dani Marrero-Hi, Founder and Director, Neta; Dr. Catie J Merla-Watson, Latin@ Futurism Scholar UTRGV

To learn more about Las Imaginistas and their “Hacemos La Ciudad” (We Make the City) initiative, visit their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Ruben Garza is the art and community change fellow for Las Imaginistas.

This post was published under Neta’s “Community Voices,” a space for community members of the Rio Grande Valley to publish stories, opinions, information, and ideas. Posts in this section solely reflect the views of the authors. To read more from Community Voices, click here.