We had the good fortune of connecting with M. Jenea Sanchez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi M. Jenea, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
One piece of advice that I received early in my education was putting a family on hold until I established my career as an artist. Life had different plans for me, and I gave birth to my first child in my last semester of grad school. Would I recommend planning a family during a time like this, well not exactly, but if it happens, get creative! I now have three kids, and they inspire me every day and are very much a part of my art practice. They are present in all of the community events we organize and even listen in on planning meetings. They have also taken part in many of my personal projects, including a collaboration with Gabriela Muñoz titled Caldo de Pollo. In this video piece, Gabriela and I document the process of making chicken soup, starting from catching the live chicken from the coup to serving a community meal. My son and Gabriela’s daughter were present during the process where the women of DouglaPrieta Trabajan, a women-led community organization in Agua Prieta, guided us through this traditional practice that has skipped several generations in modern times. It was a special moment to share with our children while reflecting on our relationship to food and our ancestors who nourished the forthcoming generations. With that said, working as a creative while raising a family has had its challenges, but with an amazing support system from my husband, parent and in-laws, I have been fortunate to keep my practice moving forward.Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
When I reflect on my career as an artist and community organizer, I cannot help but feel fortunate to have intersected paths with so many generous and inspiring individuals. Progress throughout my trajectory only manifested because of the collaborative and giving nature of my family, creatives, and visionaries like Gabriela Muñoz, Cassandra Hernandez, Adriana Gallego, Amelia Malagamba, and Muriel Magenta, to name a few. When I think of these women, including my mother I, see trailblazers. Throwing your support behind an individual is a risk, and many risk-takers have paved the foundation for me to take a have a voice as an artist in this very moment. Growing up, I was not exposed to art or the art world beyond film and MTV/BET. I was a music video junkie and enjoyed making my own short videos with my cousins late at night using my mother’s VHS camcorder. It was not until my junior year in high school when I signed up to take a school trip to Barcelona and Paris that I first visited a museum or gallery! It was an extraordinary introduction to art, now that I think back. I was completely enchanted, moved in a way that I began to imagine a life as a creative. I had no idea where this pretty vague inner assertion would take me, but it was there to stay. When I decided to move from my small border community to the “big” city of Phoenix, I was advised by my family not to go. Luckily, once I had my mother’s blessing, I made all the arrangements, even took a 6-hour shuttle bus trip to Tempe to spend 20 minutes with an ASU counselor. Although I was unsure where my degree in Intermedia Arts degree would lead me, I was steadfast in my decision to make a career as a creative. Throughout my entire education, I felt like I was playing catch-up and felt that my lack of exposure to art, art experiences, and funds for art materials and fancy technology set me apart in a negative way. It took me many years to remove those self-imposed mental injustices to realize that my life experiences, drive, creative ability, and was more than enough to manifest my visions as an artist in a meaningful way for my community. We are conditioned through generational traumas to carry the burdens of white supremacy in our thoughts, at times through our actions, and especially in our bodies. My practice reflects a personal journey as fronteriza while attempting to present a beautifully complex reality of a place that perfectly sits at the margins.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
The first stop would be my home towns of Douglas, AZ/ Agua Prieta, SON. We would start by walking G Avenue in Downtown Douglas and pop into the Historic Grand Theatre, currently under restoration. As the Artistic Director/Founder of Border Arts Corridor (BAC), I enjoy opening the door for folks to take a peek at a piece of cultural history that has been closed to the public for the past 62 years! I like to share the theatre’s stories of the past and future plans with anyone willing to listen. Then we would head over to the Gadsden Hotel to pick up a latte at 333 Cafe before crossing the border to Agua Prieta. Once in Agua Prieta, we would visit some of the public art projects BAC has taken part in, especially the murals on the border fence. After that, we would head over to El Mago where we would delight in all the pleasures of a taqueria. I particularly loved the grilled nopales paired with a savory michelada. Finally, we would head back to Douglas to prepare for an outing the next day. Day 2 would be an outdoor adventure at the Chiricahua National Monument, where we would bask in the glory of the Southern AZ sun and breeze against the backdrop of the stunning rock formations. This environment would provide the perfect essence for old friends to catch up with each other’s lives with no distractions other than the majestic scenery before us. The following days would be spent catching up with old friends around town and visiting some great restaurants and locations like El Chef, Mana cafe, Blueberry cafe, Chatitas, Art Car World, and the hotdog food trucks at Raul Castro Park.Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give a shout out to one of my creative inspirations, Gloria Anzaldúa, poet, scholar, and activista, who was introduced to me by my professor and mentor, Amelia Malagamba. In her course titled “Border Art,” Dr. Malagamba assigned a few chapters from the book titled, Borderlands. I remember feeling a dual sensation of pride and betrayal. Pride because the words from the page felt like home, like the arrival of a tia, or cousin I yearned for. Betrayal because as a fronteriza, a border dweller, I had to be 200 miles away from my home, taking a course called Border Art to be exposed to words so true to my experiences, history, and inner consciousness, which I possessed limited vocabulary for. I felt betrayed that my education on the border erased our stories, histories and justified the barriers (real and invisible) that were ongoingly being erected between Douglas and Agua Prieta. Gloria Anzaldúa’s words gave me permission and space to think through how I may present the world I perceived with a lens grounded and conditioned in duality, and for that, I am grateful.