NSights Blog

El Grito of the University: celebrating arts, family and Hispanic heritage roots

Drs. Jafeth E. Sanchez and Sandra Rodríguez look forward and consider the significance of the upcoming community-wide, free event, which will be held on Sept. 17.

Dr. Sandra Rodríguez approached me in January, shortly after being named the director of the Latino Research Center, and asked if we could partner to write a grant. She explained that having displayed three lowriders on campus the previous year, the local community had suggested a larger event next year. She considered requesting funds from the Nevada Arts Council for a bigger community-wide, free event and reached out. Our meeting was in mid-February, and the grant was due the following month in March – long story short, we are now two weeks away from executing the vision of our El Grito of the University. This event will celebrate arts, family, and Hispanic heritage roots with ties to past and modern lived experiences. El Grito means the battle cry of independence, which we found fitting within our Battle Born State and our University’s “Law of the Jungle” poem to help mark the strength of our diverse University. Additionally, our intentional inclusion of both languages in the event name reflects the community-university collaboration, and everyone is invited to attend this free event!

El Grito will be the first of its kind to invite lowrider aficionados to engage in a cruise beginning in downtown Reno toward the north campus of the University. Lowriders are considered artistic masterpieces intertwined with Hispanic identity (Latino/a/x/e), family, and religion. Visually, the cars display vibrant colors, patterns, and symbols; unlike other cars, they are designed to be slow-moving works of art. The art is emblematic of Hispanic soldiers from WWII who took their military service funds and invested in cars that captured their history, family, patriotism, and love of community.

From the Latino Research Center’s lens, we would be remiss not to mention some research. Notably, lowrider cars are often coupled with the boom of the sound system; ethnographies of automobility have found that sound, such as the car radio, is specifically tied to the sense of the car as “home”—the ultimate nexus of place and identity” (Morris, 2014, p. 332). As such, these artistic beauties are passed from one family member to another, which creates intergenerational links and emphasizes family tradition (Bright, 1998). Morris (2014) highlights the origins of lowriders through WWII soldiers who returned to our country with a desire for normalcy and the American dream and explored alternative automobilities. In a post-war era, lowriders were used for “dramatizing Latino and other communities’ limited economic means and valorizing their aesthetic sensibilities and creativity” (p. 333). Therefore, lowriders are known to represent community consciousness, which we hope continues to permeate the work we all do to better support our communities.

Yet, the dominant culture took this affinity and connected it to gang activity, so a primary goal is to give the art form its rightful place in American culture. Event attendees will engage in multiple cultural and artistic experiences beyond watching a lowrider cruise. First, a children’s competition of a grito, and the reciting of the university poem with information shared about the meaning behind these endeavors, will occur. We will have Vanessa Vancour, former TV anchor and university faculty, serve as the Master of Ceremonies. Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Aguirre will provide the historical context for our event. The historical context will be entwined with live musicians, folkloric ballet, and Aztec dancers, as well as spoken word (by university students), along with a kid’s section to color Wolfie, create chalk art, and face painting; attendees will also be able to explore booths, resources, vendors and participate in a brief campus tour for children. The unique focus of the campus event will be the lowrider vehicles and bicycles on display with various cash awards provided, including the “Nevada’s Choice” selected by a panel of students.

Our event’s goals, objectives, and outcomes are centered on the well-known Arts and Culture Continuum of Impact (see the continuum of impact guide). The overall goal of the Lowrider event is to create a space for Latinx arts and culture that unites the University and community. The successful completion of each activity will serve as objectives toward this goal, with increased outcomes in (1) Awareness, Knowledge, and Understanding by sharing the history of “El Grito” (broadly unknown to many) and working to remove a lowrider stigma. Speakers, poetry, music, and tabling will support (2) Dialogue and Deliberation of fact-sharing across the day to more strongly appreciate art and culture; while resources in place will further attend to participants’ needs. Additionally, (3) Attitudes and Motivation will be addressed by allowing individuals to identify positive and significant contributions of the Latinx demographic to our nation’s history, and on-campus activities are aimed to bring all participants a stronger sense of belonging at the University. This directly ties to our goal of (4) Capacity, which will allow Latinx individuals and all attendees to network and learn from each other so that continued advocacy toward the arts and culture can be more widely accepted. Therefore, positive changes in (5) Behavior and Action will result in seeing the benefits to arts and culture from many groups, and (6) Conditions, Systems, and Policies can be impacted because this can directly support the campus’s emerging Hispanic Serving Institution aligned to increased access, recruitment, and retention in higher education through artistic means.

We thank the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts for the opportunity to launch this event. We are incredibly grateful for the grant-matching support from the City of Reno’s Councilman Oscar Delgado, Greater Nevada Credit Union, Concha Durham, the Discovery Museum, the local lowrider clubs, and numerous community members for their contributions.

Please visit the El Grito fundraising page you’d like to donate to help make this event a reality.

For a $25 tabling/booth/vendor or vehicle/bike participation, please register via the El Grito participant registration page.

We will see you at El Grito of the University on September 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.!

Sandra Rodríguez and Jafeth Sanchez headshots
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