Rebellion Inspires Artist

By Daniel Ucko

Local hip-hop/spoken word artist and activist Olmeca discussed
modern society and its contradictions. Olmeca also performed rhymes
for a crowd of about 50 students and staff at Ursa Minor on
Tuesday. From starting social revolutions to promoting a powerful
voice in music, artistic expression and the community,
Olmeca-literally the so-called mother civilization of America and
Mexico-spent a year in Zapatista territory in Mexico where he found
influence for his latest album, “Semillas Rebledes.” Visiting
multicultural studies professor Enrique Ochoa hosted “Olmeca: An
Artist In Rebellion” in collaboration with multiple organizations
including the Multicultural Council, Department of Ethnic Studies,
and the Walter Weglyn Endowed Chair of Multicultural Studies, which
Ochoa chairs. “[This is] one of a number of programs we’ve been
doing to raise awareness and create dialogue on these issues of
multiculturalism and social justice,” Ochoa said. “It’s aimed at
creating awareness about multicultural social justice struggles on
campus.” With captivating life stories like a narrow, movie-like
escape, over the US-Mexico border, Olmeca discussed his roles as
both an activist and independent artist and how his Hispanic
background influenced him. “What stood out most to me about Olmeca
was his sincerity,” said Tori Barreto, fifth-year journalism and
political science student. Olmeca-who has performed alongside
prominent hip-hop acts such as Wu Tang Clan, Ice Cube and Mobb
Deep-spoke about the responsibility of the artist in his or her
community. He stressed that any type of artist, especially one with
such an important cultural background has an obligation to inform,
inspire and engage in their surrounding communities. “How can you
be real if you have no experience?” Olmeca asked the audience
during his presentation. “Is your art making enough contribution to
make the change you believe in?” Ochoa described the significance
of the event, noting its worthy cultural aspect and encouragement
of student voice and activism on campus. “A lot of the events that
we’ve been doing this year have been dealing with globalization and
its impact on local communities throughout the world but also at
home,” said Ochoa. “A lot of our interest is to see how different
communities are resisting or coping with these global changes and
the ways in which they might be linked to the communities around
us.” Born in the United States but raised in Mexico, Olmeca’s
parents brought him to the country in order to gain citizenship for
the family when he became of age. After turning down football
scholarships from private universities such as New York University
and Brown, Olmeca preferred to maintain his local roots by staying
in Los Angeles and attending Cal State L.A., where he was the first
family member to attend college. Olmeca garnered respect in the
underground hip-hop world through his experience with groups like
Acid Rain and Slow Rider. In the latter, he discovered the value of
integrity in music and oneself when he convinced his band mates to
turn down a contract with Priority Records and later, a commercial
deal with Nike. “For the entire time he was with us, he was real
and he was honest,” Barreto said. “I think both are important
qualities to have as an artist.” “I like the way he paralleled the
role of an artist in society; they should be engaged in the art but
also in some sort of struggle,” said Ochoa. “Could we also be
involved in trying to change things? It gives you something to
think about and grapple with.”

Daniel Ucko can be reached by e-mail at or
by phone at (909) 869-3744.

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