Hispanic Heritage & DIY Making in the Techno-Vernacular

Guillermo Bert’s “Encoded Textiles.”

In the late 1970s, Hispanic was used to refer to people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South America, or other cultures of the Spanish diaspora. It was also used by Mexican Americans to encourage cultural assimilation into American society among all Hispanic/Latino peoples and move away from the anti-assimilationist politics of the Chicano movement. In other words, the designation can be problematic depending on where you are and who you talk to. In this article, I use Hispanic/Latino interchangeably.

From “Symphony 505" by Down Low Car Club, Christopher Marianetti and Mary Margaret Moore.

In my book Techno-Vernacular Creativity and Innovation I explore contributions to DIY maker culture and STEAM by Hispanic/Latino communities. This includes rasquachismo as a practical application of TVC reappropriation, which refers to the “counterhegemonic practice of repurposing things in ways that revalue, resignify, and relocalize artifacts from mainstream, or dominant, cultures.” Low rider (car) culture is one example:

My book mentions the film Underwater Dreams that features a Phoenix, AZ high school robotics program where teachers’ adaptive expertise in science (computer science and engineering) helped link students’ knowledge about Mexican cultural practices (i.e., lowriding) to TVC reappropriation. I looked at artist Guillermo Bert’s collaboration with Maya and Zapotec Indigenous communities (see top image). His ‘encoded textiles’ incorporates QR codes alongside traditional Indigenous symbols. Each QR leads to a webpage that plays a video or audio segment.

“Gambiocycle” by Lucas Mafra, Fred Paulino and Paulo Pessoa.

Gambiarra is the Brazilian practice or art of improvisation in order to make do with whatever is on hand. Gambiologia is the ‘science’ that studies this form of creative improvisation and celebrates it by combining it with electronic-digital techniques. “Gambiocycle” (see above) is a tricycle containing electronic gear for interactive video projection and digital graffiti in public space. The vehicle gathers elements of performance, happening, electronic art, graffiti and “gambiarra” (makeshift, kludge): “what it advertises is only a new era of straight democratic dialogue between people who participate in the interventions and their cities.”

Researchers João Tragtenberg, Gabriel Albuquerque, and Filipe Calegario compared and contrasted Gambiarra and Techno-Vernacular Creativity in the context of increasing cultural diversity in music research. Their paper emphasizes the appreciation of different works from multicultural and pluralistic perspectives:

The authors of the paper wrote about “Disque-Som”, which used electronic components such as buttons, potentiometers, resistors, capacitors, and Arduinos. They converted an old telephone into a MIDI controller. This project reminded me of the MIDI controllers created by high school music students in the STEAM Lab at Boston Arts Academy (see above). I refer to their project as “purple constructionism,” because they listened to a lot of music by Prince while building their devices.

Weaving a Storytelling Interface Instructable

Inspired by Guillermo Bert’s Encoded Textiles I created an Instructable titled “Weaving a Storytelling Interface” that embeds stories in paper textiles to help students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively using MaKey MaKeys, small devices that turn objects into buttons for the computer. It works by creating electrical circuits. For this project, the MaKey MaKey replaces QR codes and the computer keyboard, and make a paper textile into a storytelling “interface.” I look forward to creating more projects that celebrate Hispanic/Latino heritage and DIY making.

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.