Across San Diego, a vibrant and diverse community thrives, illuminated by the stories and dreams of its young people. This is largely due to the efforts of Macedonio Arteaga, an educator and artist whose influence extends well beyond the traditional realms of education and the arts. In addition to being a poet, musician, playwright, actor, and teacher, Macedonio is also a bridge-builder, connecting men and boys to their cultural roots and identities. As the executive director and co-founder of Izcalli, an arts and culture organization that works across San Diego County, his mission transcends mere advocacy—it’s about creating a way for young people to embrace and explore who they are.
Arteaga, who has also worked with the San Diego Unified School District for more than two decades, understands the extraordinary power of the arts to tap into his students’ sense of identity. He encourages young people to write their own stories, which are later performed for the community. This practice not only fosters creativity but also breaks down stereotypes and builds a sense of belonging. “It’s the easiest way to teach an ethnic studies course without explicitly doing so,” Arteaga notes.
His innovative approach extends to his work with young men, particularly in rites of passage ceremonies. These events, deeply rooted in indigenous cultures, include learning traditional songs, making drums, and engaging in sweat lodge and sunrise ceremonies. Arteaga emphasizes the significance of these practices, noting, “We don’t think of it as art because we’ve been taught about the arts as a Western concept. But it’s baked into our native culture and existence.”
The impact of Arteaga’s work is evident in the lives he touches. The youth involved in his programs not only learn to express themselves but also gain a profound sense of belonging. They tell their stories—their own and those of their parents—unfiltered and honest, creating a powerful connection to their heritage and community. “When you as a teaching artist can back off and let people tell their story as raw as they need to, giving them that voice and creating that sense of belonging—they feel that they’re being seen,” Arteaga reflects.
Arteaga’s philosophy is rooted in a belief that at the heart of every culture lies ancient knowledge and wisdom. He strives to piece together these fragments of history and tradition to create a healthy rite of passage for young men and women. His work modernizes these traditions while preserving their essence, ensuring that the youth not only understand their past, but also feel able to shape their future.
Macedonio Arteaga’s journey with the arts and education in San Diego is a story of passion, dedication, and transformation. His leadership and vision have not only changed the landscape of cultural education in San Diego but have also provided a template for how the arts can be a vehicle for personal growth, community building, and cultural preservation.