November 17, 2003

Martinez Remembers Day Hall Takeover

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The week-long commemoration of 1993’s Day Hall Takeover culminated last Friday with a lecture and discussion with artist Daniel J. Martinez. Martinez, the creator of the vandalized artwork which spurred the takeover, spoke about culture, artistic philosophy and minority issues which the Day Hall events addressed.

“Its difficult to live in a world and believe you cannot have an effect,” Martinez said. “Students who participated in [the Takeover] are extraordinary.”

During his talk, Martinez recounted his family’s move from Mexico to Los Angeles, as well as formative experiences such as the 1965 Watts Riots, which occurred near the neighborhood where Martinez lived. He spoke extensively on the importance of minority participation in arts and culture, which Martinez characterized as the most essential and lasting aspects of civilization.

“Architecture, knowledge and art,” Martinez said. “These are the fundamental things. Go to any museum.”

A decade ago, Martinez began a project on the Arts Quad which would, after its completion, ignite the controversial takeover. He cited the social unrest of the 1968 Paris uprisings as the inspiration for the work, which consisted of a series of black walls constructed around walkways on the Quad. Several phrases were spelled out across the tops of the walls, with messages such as “In the rich man’s house, the only place to spit is in his face.” Martinez said his original plan was to duplicate the layout of barricades used in Paris to block sidewalks across campus, forcing students to find alternate paths.

“Lo and behold, the University didn’t let me do that,” Martinez said with a chuckle.

The artwork’s presence in the center of the Quad began to arouse the ire of students, who started to deface the artwork with their own messages — after Martinez was mistakenly quoted as saying he welcomed students’ participation. The student art took an ugly turn with the appearance of anti-Latino slurs, and the work became a rallying point for students demanding a university response to Latino and minority concerns.

From the Quad, protesting students marched to Day Hall, which they occupied for several days while drawing up proposals and waiting for a meeting with President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes. A large crowd of students gathered outside the building to show support for the protesters. When the Takeover came to a close, many of the students involved were suspended, but eventually allowed to return to the University. The administration created the Latino Living Center and the Latino Studies Program as a result of the event.

“These people were willing to risk something,” Martinez said. “It takes exceptional courage.”

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the Takeover and was celebrated with a series of lectures and events. Talks on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday explored issues such as the history of Latinas at Cornell and the importance of art and music. Blustery weather temporarily interrupted plans for an annual candlelight vigil on Thursday, which was postponed until Saturday afternoon.

While the Day Hall Takeover did achieve concrete results, many students feel that more remains to be done in addressing minority concerns.

“Amidst still lingering ignorance or indifference, and racism that no one can deny exists … the Latino community hopes to vanquish the struggle in both the social and academic arena,” said Anthony Garcia ’04, former co-chair of La Asociacion Latino.

“I hope that the anniversary celebration informed people about the events that occurred as well as … the demands that were made and were not met,” said Angela Zavala ’06, treasurer of LAL.

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco