Get to Know: Casandra Hernandez

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We will get to know Casandra Hernandez, interpretation and programs coordinator at the ASU Deer Valley Rock Art Center. She will discuss how she uses anthropology as a tool to think about everyday social realities.

José Cárdenas: Tonight we'll get to know Cassandra Hernandez. Hernandez is an anthropologist and also the interpretation and programs coordinator at the ASU Deer Valley Rock Art Center. We will talk to Cassandra in a moment, but first here's a look at the "Desierto Remix Performance in the Desert." It was an event where she helped bring internationally renowned performance artists to the ASU Deer Valley Rock Center….Joining me tonight is Cassandra Hernandez, interpretation and programs coordinator at Arizona State University's Deer Valley Rock Center. Thank you for joining us. That's a fascinating video. I want to talk about what we saw and what it means to your program. But let's talk first about the Deer Valley Rock Art Center.

Cassandra Hernandez: This is an archaeological site, 47-acre desert preserve, managed by the Arizona state University School of Human Evolution and Social Change. So this is a very ancient site where for thousands of years different groups carved petroglyphs on rocks, so they left symbols, and we don't know exactly what they mean, but this is a site that was inhabited and was actually used for all kinds of economic activities, and right now it's just a very beautiful kind of urban oasis where we can learn about our past.

José Cárdenas: And a performance which we're going to talk about in a moment, was part of the broader project you're involved in. Tell us about that.

Cassandra Hernandez: I'm working with Mary Stevens, the producing director for ASU performance, and we spent a year and a half creating these large format cultural events where we blend art with scholarship and activism and we look at building spaces where we can have cultural discussions that have a presenter and analysis of power and justice. And looking at the ways we can bring diverse communities in conversation about political issues, and issues of class, gender, citizenship, and ability. And so creating a platform for working the culture to work the politics.

José Cárdenas: I should have mentioned before when I asked about the Deer Valley Rock Art Center, we do have a picture of the physical facility. And we'll put it up on the screen now. This is the exhibition space we're looking at here?

Cassandra Hernandez: Yeah. That is the exhibition space, so you get to learn about the history of Arizona, and also about the significance of the site for contemporary people's and also about the work involved in understanding sites here in the southwest, and particularly petroglyph sites.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about the performance that was there, the Desert Remix. What was that all about?

Cassandra Hernandez: This was quite a phenomenal event. It was an outdoor performance, so we brought an international group from Colombia, and they are street artists. So they actually perform in some stilts, and so they created this procession through the desert landscape, and it was a mediation on time, and space, looking at how we can use our bodies to understand landscapes and how we can reinvent our identity as contemporary desert people's. And we also brought a group from Tucson. So they produced the show together, and they do a multimedia piece, they built this giant barrel cactus screen, a 360 screen and they do a spoken word piece with music and performance where they can talk about border identity and sort of the various histories of Arizona. And it's very political, looking at stories from snow birds, to the realities of our immigrant communities along the border.

José Cárdenas: The traditional Mexican -- The weeping woman in Mexican folklore.

Cassandra Hernandez: Yeah.

José Cárdenas: The -- Part of what you do is symposia. We've got another picture of one of the events you did called Breaking Boundaries. We'll put it up on the screen. Tell us about that.

Cassandra Hernandez: This was a public panel where we brought artists whose work engages with contemporary issues ranging from hip hop theater, to -- We had a producer who's working with an indigenous group in Chile, and they're weaving -- Creating traditional textiles into QR codes and they're coding their language and their oral histories into these textiles that are touring the country in exhibitions. We have people who are working locally in issues of ecology, and how culturally we understand our landscape, and really it was a gesture towards understanding how art can help us think how we can be different, how can we use art to get at social engagement and the way that we think of our city and maybe designing new conditions for life in Phoenix.

José Cárdenas: I want to talk about two other advance projects that you had under this bigger umbrella. One is called Exhibiting Ourselves.

Cassandra Hernandez: Yes. It was a project back in 2009, I was actually a graduate student at the time, but we cure rated this national symposium that for the first time since the 70's and 80's looked at the state of minority operated museums. So we brought scholars and also museum petitioners from all over the country from the Smithsonian, to also local cultural producers, and took a look at politics of representation in museums, at the history of Latino presence in museums, and then focusing specifically on the state of latino public culture in Phoenix. At the time there was a group here that was igniting a movement to open a latino cultural center that now exists, so we were looking at discussions about cultural representation and what it means really to represent ourselves hence the name, and looking at the politics of cultural representation.

José Cárdenas: You've got another major event coming up, I think this Saturday?

Cassandra Hernandez: Yes. I'm really excited about this one. It's called Native Now, and it's this Saturday at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center from 10 to 4.

José Cárdenas: We've got some information on the screen.

Cassandra Hernandez: We -- This is a festival of indigenous art and culture, and the idea behind native now is to look at the ways that the mainstream media and society misrepresent native cultures. I think we can all think of stereotypes that are pervasive in our culture, some of them perhaps a little more innocent, some of them very damaging. And so the idea was to create a space where we could have meaningful dialogue and meaningful understanding of what it means to be native now. We have artists, performers, cultural producers who recent gauging the conversation of what it means to be indigenous in Arizona, and to express diversity of voices that really takes a stand against these stereotypes and misrepresentation and talk about the political struggles affecting these communities. Looking at issues of education, health, you know, issues affecting native communities along the border. And so we have some musical act to performance, to indigenous foods, and visual arts to engage this broader understanding of what it means to be native today.

José Cárdenas: It sounds exciting. Last thing, a little bit outside this project, but something you've had some involvement in, I think a lot of people would be surprised to know ASU is the lead research institution at the Magnificent Ruins near Mexico City, there's an exhibition going on right now. Tell us about that.

Cassandra Hernandez: The exhibition is called City Lights, experiencing the world of --

José Cárdenas: We've got a couple of pictures.

Cassandra Hernandez: And so it's an exhibition about daily life at the site. Many times exhibitions represent the life of the elite.

José Cárdenas: And here's the pyramids themselves.

Cassandra Hernandez: I actually took that photo from a balloon. I was lucky enough to fly in one of those.

José Cárdenas: We've got one more picture of something in the exhibition.

Cassandra Hernandez: And so the idea is to look, try to reconstruct daily life, and this is one of the first urban centers in the Americas. So we're talking about a place that had potentially 100,000 people at its height.

José Cárdenas: It was abandoned with the Aztecs arrived in Mexico?

Cassandra Hernandez: Way before that.

José Cárdenas: That's still going on, people can see that?

Cassandra Hernandez: It's going to be up until May. And the museum is open from 11 to 3, and this is the ASU Museum of Anthropology on campus in Tempe.

José Cárdenas: That's great. Thank you so much for sharing that information and the other interesting projects you're involved in.

Cassandra Hernandez: Thank you so much for having me.

José Cárdenas: That's our show for tonight. For all of us here at eight and "Horizonte," I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good night.

Casandra Hernandez:Interpretation and Programs Coordinator, ASU Deer Valley Rock Art Center;

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