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Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

PST LA/LA: From Latino to Latin American ... What does it mean?

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"…In reality, our north is the South. There must not be north, for us, except in opposition to our South. Therefore we now turn the map upside down, and then we have a true idea of our position, and not as the rest of the world wishes. The point of America, from now on, forever, insistently points to the South, our north." —Joaquín Torres García

As nesting swallows circled over a hip downtown restaurant’s courtyard recently, the Getty Foundation announced new torrents of funding for a brand new Pacific Standard Time set to bloom in late 2017.  This $5 million investment is explicitly intended to swerve the focus of much of Southern California’s arts establishment Southwards: from Los Angeles Latino to Latin America. They’re calling it, so help me, LA/LA.

As the Getty’s press release put it, “Through a series of thematically linked exhibitions, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA aims to take a fresh look at vital and vibrant traditions in Latino and Latin American art.”

Expanding of Los Angeles’ Latino tradition to include all of Latin America is long overdue. It’s 30 years since bellicose U.S. policies brought greater Los Angeles hundreds of thousands of new Hispanic immigrants from Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador and Guatemala—as well as tens of thousands of refugees from Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. The great circular current of migration and return we share with Mexico, of course, has been the pulse of our city since it was founded.

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Despite this, the world just beyond the Isthmus of Panama still seems more distant to many Angelenos than Asia. Not long ago, asking how a famous Latin American journalist would go about applying for a fellowship, I was told by an official of a prominent local graduate school that “We’re not interested in South America these days: We’re concentrating on China.”

When I told a local media pro I was visiting Uruguay, he asked me if I knew any Portuguese. An amazing number of Angelenos can’t tell you on which side of the continent Peru is. Or, for that matter, Brazil—let alone that Brazil is far more populous and economically productive than Mexico.

We think we know about Mexico. But what we forget is that people living from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego increasingly consider themselves Latin American, a many faceted, fast-evolving yet contiguous culture of over 600 million people living in 680 million square miles with an annual GDP of over a half trillion dollars.

A project like the Getty’s latest Pacific Standard Time iteration (whose name, unfortunately, forgets how much of Latin America faces the Atlantic)—focusing on Greater Latin American art, music, film and drama—is a huge step in the right direction.

It’s also impressive that the LA/LA project will include 46 venues spread over six Southern California counties. These exhibit and performing venues include so many colleges and universities, as well as museums. Local Latino art is given due place, as is the great art of Mexico. But the breadth of contributions from other Latin American nations and peoples defines the novelty of the Getty project’s promise.

Of course, it is possible that many people in those nations don’t much care whether they are discovered by us.

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South and Central Americans can justly blame so many of their current troubles on America—the '70s and '80s dictaduras and the neoliberal economic depredations of the '90s. So there is a feeling in countries like Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil that being ignored for a while by the U.S. might not be altogether a bad thing. The Cold War is long gone. Once-frightening Russia can’t even keep Venezuela from foundering. As Torres Garcia, one Uruguay’s great modern artists, notes above, it behooves Latin America to find its own focus—in the opposite direction from the United States. The Getty researchers are bound to discover that much of Latin America’s modern art reflects this idea.

Meanwhile, let’s keep our expectations in check. At the LA/LA announcement’s media conference, Garcetti called Los Angeles the “northernmost city in Latin America.” But your honor, what about Miami? More than 50 percent Spanish speaking, Miami is where most of South, Central and Caribbean America already do business, shopping and banking. It's highly favorable geography and unique half-century history of middle class Spanish-speaking immigration are not going to blow away, no matter what our mayor says.

But if the endeavor fulfills its promise, maybe Latin America can look beyond Miami and its banks toward a region that’s offering  a new appreciation of some of Latin America’s highest cultural achievements. A region that is, we may hope, willing to participate in the cultures that created them.

Even if the project name—LA/LA—is innately inane.

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