‘Daughter of Shyamala, how many times/ did they mispronounce your mother/ into a jumble of letters, doubt/ her crimson intonations, her fragrant/ words?[ …] did she crave return?’ are Leticia Hernández-Linares’ first lines in her poem Bienvenida, which are speaking to Kamala Harris, painted on a bright turquoise wall at her Sala de Deseos.
On Aug. 26, the 2-year-long-awaited work of 10 local artists at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) was presented during their closing ceremony called Dreamseeds.
U.S.-born Salvadoran artist, educator, poet, and activist, Hernández-Linares is one of the YBCA10 who presented her art installation called Sala de Deseos.
“We were given the opportunity to bring life and add color to a space previously known for its stark white walls and to make a really overt statement about art as a tool of social transformation and consciousness-raising,” Hernández-Linares said.
As an artist in residence at the YBCA, Hernández-Linares saw what it was like to work with abundance, to have support, resources and space.
“I have been creating with the bare minimum in my 25 years of experience; it was kind of nice to have a moment of a little bit of lujo,” Hernández-Linares said.
Hernández-Linares’ Sala de Deseos was born as a poetic response to Vice President Kamala Harris’s unwelcome message in a press conference on her trip to Guatemala in June 2021.
“I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come,” Harris said.
Harris is the daughter of two immigrant parents that moved to the U.S in the 50s. Shyamala, Harris’ mother, is from India. Hernández-Linares in her poem, Bienvenida, speaks to Kamala as “daughter of Shyamala.”
Hernández-Linares clearly points out that she did not want to cause harm with her stanzas.
“How could you [Harris] simplify a very complicated situation? Have you looked at the legacy of laws, interventions, and imperialism the U.S has done in Central America,” Hernández-Linares said.
According to The Associated Press, the United States has officially directly intervened with military coups in Central America at least five times since the 20th century. Political and economic instability, tied with foreign corporate interests have resulted in flooding violence, socioeconomic inequalities, and corruption in the region.
The Sala de Deseos was also born out of Hernández-Linares’s nostalgia for the living room of her childhood, and typical of immigrant households.
“I wanted it to be like my own living room that shows the profound closeness I felt with El Salvador even though I grew up in the U.S.,” Hernández-Linares claimed.
Hernández-Linares’ parents immigrated from El Salvador in the 1970s. Their storytelling was so strong and their pride so vibrant that Hernández-Linares always felt really connected and understood what her culture and heritage were.
“I also wanted to center our own individual power to envision and manifest our future, so that is why La Muñeca sin Pena at the entrance of the sala is not a worry doll, she is an anti-worrying doll,” Hernández-Linares said.
La Muñeca Sin Pena was the welcoming prototype of the Sala de Deseos full of symbolism.
Anna Lisa Escobedo, an artist and member of the YBCA staff, helped work on the doll. Mercedes Huerta, who also works at YBCA, unexpectedly gifted the huipil for the muñeca from her family of Guatemalan weavers. It was a team effort.
One step in the sala and a counter on the right had a yarn with dried corn leaves where you could write your own manifestations, tie them up with the yarn, and hang them outside.
The center of the room had a wooden marimba, built by the YBCA team, and led by Yoni Asega. Visitors played it and created short melodies after manifesting their wishes.
Hernández-Linares wanted to provide opportunities to interact with it, touch things, read a book, feel comfortable, and take up space.
On the left-side wall, an excerpt of her poem Bienvenida stood out. Sitting below it, a small Central American library had around 80 books by authors like Gioconda Belli, and Rigoberta Menchu, next to Hernández-Linares’ book Mucha Muchacha.
“I wanted the doors of my libreria to have a painting of the Latin American buses that usually have fruits, chickens, gente and I wanted to have books on the top, like a bookmobile,” Hernández-Linares said. “Fred Alvarado beautifully painted exactly what I wanted on the doors of my librería.”
Hernández-Linares would dedicate her Sala de Deseos to the Central American diaspora, specifically to the one in the Mission.
“I would dedicate my work to other first-generation kids like me who grew up inside a house, where your culture was rich and celebrated, but outside people were misrepresenting and dehumanizing,” Hernández-Linares said.
The Sala de Deseos welcomes you in response to the violence of Kamala Harris saying ‘Do not come.’
Hernández-Linares is currently working on a poetry book called Vecina, and on new projects with the Women’s Building.
On Día de los Muertos, Hernández-Linares will be hosting poetry readings at Potrero del Sol park.
For the near future, Hernández-Linares has further plans too.
“I do want to expand this library idea from my Sala de Deseos, I’m hoping one day SF State will have a Central American library,” Hernández-Linares said.
Hernández-Linares’ Sala de Deseos will soon leave the YBCA but will be relocated to the Mission Cultural Center in a few weeks and next March to a local bookstore in the Mission called Medicine for Nightmares.