Monday, February 2, 2009

Un hombre: su pueblo

Manuel Diosdado Castillo Jr.
November 23, 1968 - January 6, 2009

One of the highlights of my time in San Antonio last summer for the NALAC Leadership Institute was a visit to San Anto Cultural Arts---and meeting Manny.

He took us on a wonderful walking tour of the murals on the Westside, peppering us with stories and information on how San Anto Cultural Arts was making a difference in the life of the community. Afterwards, a group of us went out for dinner at a local outdoor spot and I had a chance to speak with him over a beer for nearly an hour.

The idea he was mulling over in his head, at the time, was to start a more advanced version of the Leadership Institute---a "boot camp" of sorts, he said---to further train Latino and Latina arts administrators. He wanted to impart what he had learned from his own experience to the next generation of arts administrators in Latino arts.

Something that caught my attention and was a testament to his stature in his community was a long-term fundraising initiative that went like this: He persuaded quite a number of people in his community and beyond to agree to have a modest amount of money deducted from their bank accounts, every month, to further the mission of San Anto Cultural Arts. It was a fundraising program that was in its relative infancy---and it was brilliant. But it worked because of the trust and respect he commanded (parents saw first hand the effect his center's programs had on their kids). People signed up willingingly to have $5, 10, 15 dollars deducted from their bank accounts every month and deposited into the coffers of an organization that was making a difference in the lives of ordinary people---above all, youth.

At the time that I met Manny, San Anto Cultural Arts was set to move to a new location---one that was going to present more challenges. Manny was looking forward to it. In short, he was the most inspiring person I met that week. He sat on the board of directors of NALAC, an organization that had this to say about him:

"NALAC laments the passing of Manuel Diosdado Castillo Jr., a member of the NALAC board of directors from San Antonio, who lost his battle with cancer on January 6 at age 40. Manny was our youngest board member, elected to the board in 2004. A graduate of the first NALAC Leadership Institute in 2001, Manny was a major force in the community cultural arts movement in San Antonio and across the country. He will be missed by many.

As a leader, Manny was kind, caring and always available with advice,support and an open door. His boundless spirit and energy, sense of humor and willingness to collaborate with others enabled Manny to accomplish great things. He was extremely respectful, and we never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. Manny's love of art, community, music and culture was expressed through his work, both as an Executive Director and a professional drummer. Manny was equally comfortable making a presentation to a foundation, hosting a community barbecue fundraiser, or jamming on drums with a local Conjunto legend.

Through his non-profit organization, San Anto Cultural Arts, Manny created programs that provided opportunities to youth from San Antonio's Westside for creative expression as muralists, journalists, photographers and filmmakers. Through San Anto's programs, local youth would gain valuable experience, transitioning into mentors for younger students,and then emerging as young adults able to pursue a college education or a career in the arts.

In a single decade, San Anto artists painted more than three dozen murals on the Westside dealing with such issues as mental health, domestic violence, tributes to community leaders, and local Vietnam War veterans.

There is also a special mural where the names of recently deceased community members are memorialized each year as part of San Anto's annual Dia de los Muertos procession. Through his artist-in-residence programs, Manny brought in talented artists from Georgia, California, New York, Philadelphia and Kansas City to work with local youth.

Through San Anto's youth newspaper, El Placazo, Manny created a vehicle for local children to become engaged in their communities and connected with their culture. Its pages feature articles, interviews, youth poetry, inmate art, and photo essays on issues impacting the community. In El Placazo could be found stories on diabetes, nutrition, teen pregnancy, environmental pollution, other health issues, and profiles of community figures. Like San Anto's other programs, El Placazo chronicled the contributions of people doing important work who may not be recognized by the mainstream media. The San Anto Multimedia Institute and new online version of El Placazo provide a larger forum for the talented youth who call San Anto home.

Manny was an important member of the NALAC Board and was a tireless advocate at the local and national level on issues impacting the Latino arts field. His understanding of the role of art as an integral part of community life, as a healing force, and as a bridge connecting generations serves as an inspiration to us all. We honor his time on the NALAC board.

We will miss Manny dearly and are grateful for the time we spent with him. Our deepest sympathies go to his family and friends.

For those who wish to send cards or expressions of sympathy, please direct them to:

San Anto Cultural Arts
1300 Chihuahua St.
San Antonio, TX 78207"

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