by Alex Rubio
In the late 1970s, hip-hop rose to the surface and blossomed amongst the violence, poverty, and oppression of New York City. With a mic and a beat, hip-hop gave unheard voices a means of expression to share their own stories and experiences. The MC became the poet-philosopher who taught us how to examine and see past the issues and realities of life in the margins. But the Big Apple was too small for hip-hop, and it eventually took its turntables and headed west, influencing and being influenced by the communities it converted.
As hip-hop spread across the country, it made its way down to the borderlands of El Paso, Texas, where it found teenaged Arturo Hernandez and renamed him Artson. “Hip-hop saved my life,” he says, “There’s no question, it saved my life. It gave me an outlet to express myself.” From rapping to dance battles to graffiti, hip-hop introduced Artson to a culture that was both new and familiar.
A descendent of the Tarahumara people, Artson recognized the connection between hip-hop and indigenous culture. “Graffiti is like the ancient petroglyphs, DJing and breakin’ are like the fire and the circle we used to dance around, and the MCs are the chanters telling the modern-day story,” says Artson, “like our old chanters who would tell stories of the past.”
In the same way that hip-hop gave black and Latino New Yorkers a shared language and a vision beyond the ghetto, hip-hop has empowered indigenous peoples across the country by giving them an influential voice to share their history, struggles, and dreams of a better life on and off the reservation. There’s still a lot of work to do, but Artson is willing to do it.
Just as his Tarahumara ancestors ran hundreds of miles to carry messages, Artson is on a lifelong journey to spread his own message of courage and strength. Like he says in the opening lines of Brave Star, “It took me a minute to find the strength, to be brave enough to accept my power and shine my light.” And now that it’s shining, Artson can’t ... won’t let it go out.