Meet the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award winner:
by TONY KAY
Photo by Katherine Wickhorst
Jorge Enrique González Pacheco has amassed such a sizable list of titles—poet, lecturer, teacher, filmmaker, co-founder of the Seattle Latino Film Festival, and now Mayor’s Arts Award recipient—that it’s invited concern from loved ones for his wellbeing. “My friends ask me when I get time to sleep. I don’t really have an answer for that,” he says with a laugh.
Pacheco’s unflagging energy has seen him through a creative and spiritual journey that began with personal loss. Born in the Marianao District of Havana, Cuba, González Pacheco experienced what he describes as “a typical childhood,” enjoying a close, supportive relationship with his mother until her death when he was 12 years old. “She was my best friend,” he says. “Losing her was devastating, but writing poetry was a way for me to talk to my mother after she was gone.”
He continued writing poetry throughout his teens. As he developed creatively, his relationship with his father became increasingly contentious. The senior González served in the Cuban military working directly with Raul Castro and had little patience for his creatively inclined, ever-questioning son. “He was so close to all of this power,” González Pacheco says, “and he was a strict man.” González Pacheco admits that his own rebellious streak didn’t help. “My father was a single parent, dealing with me. I was a little complicated, and a troublemaker, up until the age of 18.”
González Pacheco found his focus at the University of Havana, where he studied for his Bachelor’s Degree in Latin American Literature by day and worked in a food factory by night. Tuition was free (“It’s one of the few things you can applaud about a dictatorship,” he says), and in five years he earned his degree—though he felt limited by the state-dictated curriculum. “With Cuban education, you have censorship. You come out of the system knowing a lot, but not enough.” With the encouragement of one of his University of Havana professors, González Pacheco journeyed to Spain to attain his Master’s Degree in Hispanic Literature from Complutense University of Madrid.
During his tenure in Madrid González Pacheco met Octavio Paz at a lecture. The Nobel Prize-winning poet was stirred by the young student’s reading of a poem dedicated to him. “He said that, even setting aside the fact that I’d dedicated this poem to him, my work was good enough to be published,” González Pacheco recalls. Soon after, a friend submitted some of his poems to Alaluz, a prominent Latin American literature magazine. One was published—and González Pacheco’s career as a published writer was on its way.
“I don’t feel like my poetry is connected with anything that comes from the 21st century,” he says. He cites the mysticism of Cuban poets of the 1950s and Spain’s Generation of ’27, a collective of Spanish poets whose work attempted to bridge the gap between Spanish popular culture and folklore in the 1920s, as formative influences. His evocative style avoids overt politicizing, employing surrealism and metaphor to touch on universal themes of love and death. It’s an aesthetic informed by an eye for beauty and a distinctively Cuban sense of place. González Pacheco writes poetry almost entirely in Spanish: “It’s a beautiful language, and it allows me to do so much with metaphor.”
Shortly after his studies, he became involved with the Cuban Film Institute, where he became an assistant director on various projects and learned about film production in depth. “Fidel Castro thought a lot of the Cuban Film Institute,” he says. “It was one of the few cultural institutions where an artist could find a little bit more freedom to create and express themselves.”
But despite all of the acclaim for his writing and the knowledge of film he’d gained from his work at the CFI, life beyond Cuba beckoned. In 2003, González Pacheco was invited to the International Book Fair at Miami-Dade College on the strength of a recently published anthology of poetry he’d compiled. While there, he decided to make the United States his home. “My family in Florida encouraged me to stay. It’s a place that has a special love for Cubans.”
He move to Seattle in 2006, partly to remove himself from the comfort zone of Cuban-centric Miami. “Miami is a city of Latin American countries in the United States. I wanted to learn more about what America is like inside, and I wanted to improve my English,” he says. He was also eager to settle in a city with a thriving arts and culture scene. The life he’s developed here—lecturing, teaching and writing—would be impossible in Florida, he says.
Nine years ago, González Pacheco co-founded the Seattle Latino Film Festival with the intent of spreading Latino culture to a broad audience. “There are many Latino organizations in Seattle that are focused on social issues but not as many devoted to art,” he says. The Festival has blossomed from a single weekend to an eight-day-long affair replete with red carpet events featuring prominent celebrity guests and some 70 films from 10 different countries, including Mexico, Cuba and Brazil. The Festival, González Pacheco says, draws a lot of people outside of the Latinx community as well as a significant number of younger, second-generation Latinx folks. “Younger members of the Latin American community recognize the importance of the Festival and what it represents for them,” he says.
True to form, Jorge Enrique González Pacheco shows no sign of slowing down. His latest collection of poems should be published later this year, and he’s flying to Spain soon to interview one of iconic singer Celia Cruz’s oldest contemporaries for a documentary he’s producing. For now, González Pacheco is ensconced in work on the Seattle Latino Film Festival’s 2018 iteration, which opens Oct. 5. The fundraising and logistic challenges of putting on this very large event have done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. “We are a cultural organization that’s here to add a special touch to Seattle,” he says of the SLFF. “I think the festival helps make this city even more cosmopolitan and beautiful.”
Jorge Enrique Gonzalez Pacheco: 2015 HIPGiver
Written By: Erin Ginder-Shaw
Photo by Katherine Wickhorst
Jorge Enrique Gonzalez Pacheco was not raised a giver. Not in the traditional sense. His path to professional and personal success cannot be attributed to any one person or event, but it does directly coincide with his deeply rooted philosophy on giving.
“You need to love yourself before you can give and share,” he said.
“You never lose when you give — you win all the time.”
Pacheco’s five books were published in the U.S., Mexico, Spain and Canada. He is a poet, journalist, artistic promoter, and the Seattle Latino Film Festival founder.
Born in Havana, Pacheco immigrated in 2003 and moved to Seattle in 2006. His mother died when he was very young, and his relationship with his father was tumultuous.
“I don’t have a person,” he said, “I have my passion for teaching and helping people learn. I have filmmakers, writers, musicians; they are my people.”
Pacheco knows that givers and artists do not simply appear, they are cultivated.
“When I came to Seattle from Miami, my first project was to try to find a way to give something to the community in Seattle,” he recalled. Right away, he realized that Latin American culture was sorely underrepresented, so he developed the film festival.
Through visual and written art, the Seattle Latino Film Festival is dedicated to doing outreach in schools, to educating students on immigration, and to helping young people understand that, “when you give, you receive.”
“I work primarily with the students,” Pacheco said. “Mostly the Latino second generation. They want to represent their parents and grandparents. They speak two languages — they are the people that I feel are inspired.” And Pacheco is no stranger to inspiration.
In addition to authoring five books, his poetry and prose have been published in magazines, anthologies, and newspapers in eight countries. Language and art are deeply rooted components of his creative and philanthropic makeup.
His recipe for triumph? “You need to have your vision really clearly in your brain, follow it, and believe it, think ‘give’ instead of ‘receive.’ ”
“I appreciate when people help other people,” Pacheco says. For him, giving is never ending, and the effort is all worth it.
“I want to see this festival representing our culture,” he said. “We need to understand the Latin American culture as a very diverse place. We need to dream, and believe.”
The 31 HIPGivers recognized in 2015 are collectively altering the landscape for our country. They are pushing the envelope by asking for more – more consideration, more awareness, more compassion, more action, more giving.
Click on the cover to see Jorge Enrique's portrait at the pages 44-45.
Shaping Seattle’s understanding of Latinos through film
By Blanca Torres
Many people in the Northwest tend to equate “Mexican” with “Latino,” but that’s a limited perspective. As a Mexican-American, I see that dynamic play out on a regular basis like when people think all Latinos wear sombreros and eat spicy food.
Even so, many people have a superficial view of Mexican culture based on chips, salsa and margaritas, and the knowledge level goes down even more for countries like say Uruguay and Bolivia. I’m all for exposing non-Latinos to not just Mexico, but to the cultural bounty of the 20-plus countries that make up Latin America.
Enter Jorge Enrique Gonzalez Pacheco, a Cuban immigrant who moved to Seattle in 2006 after a stint in Miami. He recognized the void of Latino awareness in the Northwest and founded the Seattle Latino Film Festival.
“This is a festival for Latinos and people who don’t know about Latinos,” Gonzalez Pacheco, a poet and writer told me. “There is much more to know about Latinos than restaurants and manual labor.”
The film festival, now in its sixth year, continues expanding its programming, locations and audience. This year, the festival is screening films at seven Seattle locations and on public television in Redmond and goes through this Saturday.
I talked to Gonzalez Pacheco about what film festivals can do to raise cultural awareness and why not just Latinos would be interested in watching Latino films.
Q. Why did you start the Seattle Latino Film Festival?
A. When I moved to Seattle in 2006, I saw that there was rich and varied Latino community here, but there wasn’t a type of cultural embassy to represent the various cultures here. I started to get to know the community here, who were the major players and most represented groups. In Seattle, I found that people here adore cinema and films, but the city lacked a good reference point for Latin American cinema. That’s when the light bulb went off in my mind and I decided to start a film festival. In 2009, we started the festival and to date, we have an organization that helps create awareness of Latin American culture in both Seattle and for the entire state.
Q. Are you targeting the local Latino audience or a broader audience?
A. The idea was to create a multicultural film festival. What is missing in Seattle is for the broader community in Seattle to truly know Latinos outside of just restaurants or washing cars and how we are on a deeper level. We as Latinos also need to let ourselves be known. The festival caters to a broader audience and helps Latinos to feel pride in our culture.
It’s important for Latinos in this country to not be seen as immigrants coming here to take jobs or break the law. On the contrary, Seattle is a city that is open and welcoming to immigrants and other cultures and that provides an opportunity for Latinos to showcase our culture and different experiences.
Not only are there Latinos from different countries here, but a new generation of American-born Latinos who also want more awareness of their parents’ and grandparents’ culture and homelands. The festival provides a new perspective on the intellectual side of a culture that is both beautiful and vivid.
Q. Why is it important to raise cultural awareness about Latinos?
A. Part of my own personal philosophy is that the more you can learn about the unknown, the better. When I arrived from Cuba, I was 33 and I landed in Miami. I stayed with family, who welcomed me into their home and took care of me. I appreciated their help, but staying in Miami didn’t satisfy my desire to see more of the United States. I ended up in Seattle and I remember my first winter, I had never driven in snow, so I went out and tried it. My friends were worried about me, but I wanted to master driving in the snow. In a similar vein, the film festival brings new experiences to people who don’t know about Latin American culture. I talk to festival goers all the time who tell me, I learned about something I didn’t know about my home country. We are entertaining people, but we are also educating them. When something is foreign to me, I want to learn about it. Curiosity is a good thing when it leads you to better understanding.