An Open Letter to Ken Brecher and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles

Header Image: An audience member asking a question with Antena Los Ángeles interpreters behind him, at “Rebellion! Public Art and Political Dissent” in the ALOUD Series at LAPL, part of Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in L.A. By Gary Leonard.

To Ken Brecher and the Staff and Board Members of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles:

The two collectives I co-founded, Antena and Antena Los Ángeles, recently received an invitation to participate in the upcoming Mobile Museum Fair that the Library Foundation of Los Angeles is organizing at the Los Angeles Public Library in January 2019. In the wake of the unjust and as yet unexplained firings of Maureen Moore and Louise Steinman from their positions as Associate Director and Director of the ALOUD series respectively, and the unanswered calls for accountability on the part of Ken Brecher and the LFLA Board, I am writing to inform you unequivocally that neither Antena nor Antena Los Ángeles will work with LFLA until this matter is resolved in an ethical, respectful and transparent way — as not just Maureen and Louise but also the many communities who love both the ALOUD series and the amazing beloved Los Angeles Public Library deserve.

Antena and Antena Los Ángeles have been so proud to be connected to the ALOUD series and the Los Angeles Public Library — our #1 favorite public institution — but at this point any association with LFLA feels entirely contrary to everything our collectives stand for. We encourage other writers, artists and cultural workers who are invited to participate in LFLA-sponsored events to take an ethical stand alongside us and register your dissent by non-participation accompanied by public statement, or by bringing these issues up as part of any LFLA-related programming in which you choose to participate.

We also encourage folks to sign the petition demanding LFLA take the ALOUD community into account in making decisions about the future of the series, alongside nearly a thousand people, including many writers and artists who have presented our work as part of ALOUD, and many readers and community members for whom the series has been a beloved source of inspiration and instigation. When I received the tone-deaf invitation to participate in an LFLA program, in fact, I began to wonder if anyone at LFLA has even read the petition (of which I am a signee) or the many articles questioning the decisions behind Maureen’s and Louise’s firings that have been written in venues like Cultural Weekly, LA Taco, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Los Angeles Times.

In the midst of my outrage over this situation, I’ve often thought about something Rubén Martínez wrote in his powerful open letter to Ken Brecher, published on the Los Angeles Review of Books blog on October 18. He wrote: “Truthfully, there are other matters that deserve my attention, personally and politically. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m so angry about the mess you’ve caused: it pales in comparison to the cruelties of our time.” I, too, have more urgent things to do than write this letter, as Antena and Antena Los Ángeles work as hard as we can doing language justice work in solidarity with movements for housing justice and against displacement, for immigrant rights and against detention, deportation, and family separation, for transformative justice and against incarceration, for a sustainable and livable world and against environmental injustice. I could go on with this list, but I’d prefer to go on with our work. Before I do, however, I’ll give a bit of context for those who might be curious.

Since our inception, Antena Los Ángeles, a language justice collective dedicated to working with community groups, non-profits and cultural/educational institutions in and around Los Angeles to create bilingual and multilingual spaces where no language will dominate over any other and all present can participate fully, has partnered with the ALOUD series to support an expansion of their Spanish-English programming. Antena, a language justice and language experimentation collaborative that uses a range of creative-critical practices to explore how cross-language social justice work can inform artmaking, became involved with ALOUD more recently when our AntenaMóvil project was part of the programming related to the internationally-renowned Visualizing Language show and series Maureen and Louise created with a group of community partners including Antena and Antena Los Ángeles. Antena Los Ángeles works with many groups and institutions that seek to expand their cross-language capacity and welcome communities that have traditionally been excluded from their activities and programming; few have been as successful at genuinely shifting their culture as the ALOUD series under Louise and Maureen’s direction. Of course there is always room for further learning and further growth; regardless, working with Maureen and Louise was deeply rewarding as they demonstrated again and again how genuinely committed they were to including the widest possible range of communities.

In October, LFLA issued a statement on public programming that highlighted their realization that they “needed to expand our reach and relevance in new communities throughout Los Angeles” — implying that this was not occurring under the programming leadership formerly in place at the ALOUD series. This absolutely contradicts our experience of working with Louise and Maureen. As one of many community partners who were directly involved precisely in expanding ALOUD’s reach and relevance in communities the series had previously not served at all, or not served well, we find this suggestion both offensive and disingenuous. In fact, it seems to us that it is perhaps the very success Maureen and Louise had in expanding ALOUD’s programming scope and extending the reach of the series into communities that have traditionally been underrepresented or unrepresented that caused Mr. Brecher to wish to destabilize their leadership. Antena and Antena Los Ángeles believe that shifting the structures of English-language dominance, white supremacy, and male power is the work this world most needs, and is the work we can do most effectively at the grassroots level — in our streets and parks, in our homes and relationships, in our jobs and schools, and in our libraries.

In struggle,

Jen Hofer
Writer, Translator, Interpreter, Language Justice Advocate
for Antena and Antena Los Ángeles

 

Poets Natalia Toledo, Layli Long Soldier, and Natalie Diaz, who do not share a common language, in conversation with the support of interpreters from Antena Los Ángeles, during “La lengua sin fronteras (Language Without Borders)” in the ALOUD Series at LAPL, part of Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in L.A. Image by Gary Leonard.
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