Mario Moreno is a much-loved professor of art at Delta College. Students speak fondly of Moreno, a veteran teacher of 25 years who is known for his encouragement in helping students find their voice through expression.
Moreno, though, has also played a key role in helping students of indigenous heritage find a way to share their culture.
He has helped facilitate the presentation of indigenous drumming and dancing groups at various times. He has also helped organize powwow and Aztec dancing events, as well as sponsor an indigenous people’s organization called the Talking Spirits Club.
Going to meet Moreno in Budd 103, one has to find the way through a forest of easels and paint-stained students lost in reverie.
His office is covered by pieces of art made through years of students getting in touch with their creative sides. He is proud of his students.
Another thing he is proud of is his indigenous heritage.
When asked why he cares so deeply for the indigenous population, he shares some incredible knowledge.
“I am a member of the Tarascan nation, the Purépecha people of what is now Mexico. The native struggle can be seen from Alaska to Chile, and even Hawaii. We are on Yokut land right now,” he said. “When we look at the history of this continent we see some dark things. Agents of oppression have been prolific here for hundreds of years. Some nations have survived and some have not. Legislation that outlaws your language, growing your hair, singing, dancing — as basic as those things are — are denied. A lot of people think I’m making stuff up when I talking like this. The people don’t forget”
He calls it “multi-generational memory,” that links back in time like a chain.
“It is a solemn history but it is also a tradition of resilience. The fact that we can say ‘Were still here’ is an empowering statement,” he said.
It’s vital young people claim their heritage. People often think of us as something that existed in the past. Just because there are so very few in those governing bodies to raise the issues, does not mean that we aren’t still here, we are still here. We have to reclaim the conversation and reformat it.
The general culture is consumed with capitalism and its hard for those who have been disinherited to break through, Moreno said. We are trying to reformat the conversation, not in a capitalistic perspective. How do we go back to a society that believes in sharing? That if I have something it does not solely belong to me, it belongs to all of us. The air we breath cannot be owned and that is the rule of reciprocity, he said.
We all stand — or we all fall — together. There are a lot of people who have a lot of yachts and a lot of power, but what about the stewards of the land? Where is their rightful place?”
As for the importance of art, and his passion for nurturing students, Moreno explains.
“The arts bypass bureaucracies that would usually silence a people. The arts have been one of the few avenues where cultures can survive.”
Dancing, songs, bead-work, painting have all been ways in which native Americans have passed on their values and stories to future generations, and in this day and age, to the public, when they listen.
Nov. 28 was Native American annual Thanksgiving “day of mourning” on Alcatraz island, “The 50 year anniversary. That was a big hero of mine, Richard Oaks. The living tradition of resistance. I can confidently say he gave his life for the indigenous peoples.”
Oaks was a Native American activist who helped bring the struggles of indigenous peoples to the forefront of America’s attention.
Every Thanksgiving, members of tribes from all over the American continents gather for reunion and prayer. They have been doing so since the civil rights movements of 1969.
This year more young people attended the event than has previously been seen.