Learning about the history of this region, from its original Mexican name as the province of Nuevo Santander, to what we know today as the Río Grande Valley, the search for my cultural identity has led me to sociopolitical art. Study of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and its aftermath has opened my eyes to the injustices that have plagued this area. The loss of land ownership and resultant second-class citizenship has turned this region’s pueblo into a poverty-stricken majority.
I seek to blend four types of images in my work in order to evoke the total identity of el pueblo and its quest. Earliest and most primordial is the Pre-Columbian heritage of the indigenous folk’s roots that could only be channeled by Christianity but not destroyed. Second, like the trunk of that tree, I incorporate Christian icons because they are the language of the core cultural beliefs of el pueblo’s migrants: The great majority is Catholic and the Christian images represent their plight and the sacrifices made to come to the United States. Third, cartoons in the Mexican and Mexican-American tradition are not simply casual communications, but a primary means of consciousness rising used to warn each other and combat abuse. Cartoons are our first exposure to principles of justice. Caricatures not only convey a message of right and wrong but they also buoy up our spirits by adding a sense of humor to an otherwise dire situation. Just like cartoons are the first introduction to the principles of justice so is Lucha Libre. Masked men fighting for what is right, fighting for justice is what children are exposed to living along the border. Finally, the positive and negative tendencies that can either lift us up or hold us down are inherent to images of folk celebrities. Our celebrities can fill us with pride of accomplishment as they continue elaborating our beautiful culture, but they can also create illusions of life styles and attitudes in disharmony with it, distracting us from the real problems plaguing this area. I combine all these elements to form one voice through which I can convey the struggle against the alienation and sociopolitical injustices of this region.
I have selected the media of drawing, painting and collage to express my cultural identity as a Chicano artist. The use of paper in my paintings stems from the Aztec belief that paper was sacred. Images drawn on paper were ritually burned with the belief that transforming them into smoke and sending them to the heavens gave them a transcendent existence. This reflected the core concept that creation and transformation cannot be achieved without destruction and vice versa.