Martha Gonzalez is a newly minted MacArthur Foundation fellow. She’s an associate professor in the Intercollegiate Department of Latino Studies at the Claremont Colleges and the director of the Scripps Humanities Institute. She’s also the lead singer of the Grammy Award-winning band “Quetzal.”
While Gonzalez doesn't think of herself a “genius,” she describes herself as an “artivista.” That’s the combination of the words artist and activist.
“[It’s] somebody who does what an artist/activist does, but also utilizes their skill sets to develop methodologies that include others in the making of art and music… The idea here is that we use our skill sets more than just to proliferate our own careers and our mediums as messaging tools, but also as ways of bringing communities into doing the work of creating music and engaging in important processes.”
Part of the way she does that is through music and dance. As a singer, songwriter, and percussionist with Quetzal, she finds inspiration through her students and her community.
“Music really grounds me in a way that’s not just about putting out fires [and] consistently responding to the urgencies of the world. …That’s a lifelong struggle. I think that because I work through the medium of music. I tried to also utilize music as a generative tool, and a way of trying to imagine a kind of future that is more just and has a lot more hope for the world.”
Gonzalez is a dancer, and teaches Fandango, a dance from the state of Veracruz with roots in Spanish, Indigenous, and African cultures.
“The participatory nature of it, is what has been inspiring to communities as of late, all over the world, but particularly in the U.S. But it's the practice of the Fandango that has been the most inspiring lately, because it really cultivates community, community-building. It's just made people really think about their lives beyond buying records. And then they start building out other ways of being and knowing.”
She says that music is a thread that helps tie movements and people together from all around the world.
“Music is what continues to give me that energy. It doesn't just take from me. Music always has a way of nourishing the body, the mind, the spirit, and keeps you going in many ways.”
Gonzalez adds, “But I can't tell you I don't need a vacation from time to time and that's of course, generative. But even on vacations, we play. I sing with my family. I play with my son and my husband, who's the founder of Quetzal. Music is just our way of life and it just permeates so many different aspects of our lives and it’s never tiring. Never.”