Common Sense Cultural Capital

Jun 20, 2019
10:24 AM
Originally published at

(Photo via the author)

A queer Chicana from the Rio Grande Valley is smarter than the leading sociologists from France and Italy (who were pretty smart, too).

I admire the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Antonio Gramsci because they are scholars whose work is about common folks and intended to change the lives of the community. I love Gloria Anzaldúa’s work because she dramatizes that vision in action. She lived it. Her life shaped the landscape of our community and the nation and world and continues to do so, as she wrote about it. That to me is the vision that all intellectuals, activists, scholars, community members artists aspire to.

However, I also think our generation is the first to be able to make that happen on a large scale.

In other words, structural discrimination is very real, as they write, and as we live. In fact, for our community, no scholar has to explain structural discrimination. We don’t need to figure that out. We need to figure out how to survive it.

And now, we have a chance to thrive despite it.

At this point, if I were trapped in the ivory tower, I would need to invest a book-length amount of words to “prove” my last four sentences.

Again, one of our volunteers, who is in college, just explained how his family juggled accounts to pay the light bill. That is a more eloquent explanation, so I can move on to our work on the ground.

Our community’s sheer numbers have brought us to the table.

However, our sheer talent and intelligence will deliver an era of fair exchanges of community cultural capital. That is what our community needs to thrive.

Tony Diaz with Cultural Accelerators (Photo via the author)

Yes, discrimination is still rampant. However, one sign (of many signs) of crack in the old structural barriers is that I don’t have to be as smart as Gloria Anzaldúa to become a Cultural Accelerator. Additionally, because of that, and because she and others paved the way for this, we have an entire generation of Cultural Accelerators who can make a difference.

But there are three important traps to keep in mind:

  1. We must not think that new structural barriers won’t emerge.
  2. We must not be led to believe that this period will last a long time.
  3. We must not be seduced into believing any of us can thrive without being directly connected to community.

Gloria Anzaldúa was deeply involved in the community until her last breath. That is reflected in every aspect of her work.

Antonio Gramsci wrote about this connection in his prison writings when he addresses “Philosophy, Common Sense, Language and Folklore.” He was jailed by Mussolini’s fascist regime for . . . this.

“…is a philosophical movement properly so called when it is devoted to creating a specialized culture among restricted intellectual groups, or rather when, and only when, in the process of elaborating a form of thought superior to ‘common sense’ and coherent on a scientific plane, it never forgets to remain in contact with the ‘simple’ and indeed finds in this contact the source of the problems it sets out study and resolve?”

However, this also opens my eyes to fact that the mainstream world has to be told this, reminded of this, and during our time —taught this— by us.

But to act on this, we must also not be distracted by the mainstream groups who will seek this information. They cannot set the agenda forward as they have in the past. We must must move forward and continue to engage fully with our community, and we must advocate for fair exchanges of cultural capital in the process.

This hit home for me during the workshops I was blessed to organize on Community Cultural Capital. I learned so much. I have added so many layers to my work.

My aim by writing about Community Cultural Capital is create a common sense handbook on these assets that our community can use to thrive.

Additionally, these writings will teach mainstream institutions on how to interact with us, for more than just their immediate commercial needs. This is the era when we all win by working together. In fact, that is the only way for all of us to even stay alive.

In future essays, I will share more information about ongoing projects putting these practices into play with mainstream and community groups. But let me make something clear, even for folks who do not read these pieces, they will see the effects of this written on Houston’s art landscape for generations.

This is our time.


Tony Diaz is a writer, activist, professor and media personality. More at He tweets from @Librotraficante.