Chicano Park Day in Barrio Logan - San Diego, California 2018
With this exhibition I wished to honor the Mexican-American community living in San Diego and my own Hispano heritage by exhibiting portraits of Mexican-Americans from around the country side-by-side with portraits taken in the barrio. The installation was timed to coincide with Chicano Park Day, a day of celebration for the Mexican-American community that takes place in the neighborhood and at the adjacent park.
Although this installation may appear similar to others that I've created, it actually represents a deeply personal desire to connect with a community and people from whom I've been estranged since birth. By the color of my skin, I appear white, pero soy puro Latino. I was born to a Hispano father - Hispano's are ethnically Mexican-American but have resided in the territory now known as the United States prior to its annexation from Mexico in 1848 - and my mother is an immigrant from Argentina. Born and raised in New Mexico prior to World War II, my father abandoned his impoverished hometown due to rampant discrimination against the Spanish speaking population by the Anglos who had come to dominate the power structure there - often by illegal and deceptive means - in the aftermath of the Civil War.
My father settled in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles and became the first in his family to attend college, eventually receiving his doctorate. As the first Chicano professor at East Los Angeles College, he promoted an agenda of empowerment and education for the Mexican-American community and served as a behind-the-scenes enabler for the Chicano civil rights movement. He employed Brown Berets (a Chicano activist group roughly analogous to the Black Panthers) founder David Sanchez and conspired with noted LA Times writer Ruben Salazar before he was murdered by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
As was typical of the midcentury American dream however, upon marrying my mother, he moved out to the conservative suburbs and away from the Mexican-American community in East Los Angeles where he continued to work and engage. Removed from mis tíos, tías y primos, I grew up surrounded by Nixon and Reagan supporters and assumed the mantle of an assimilated white American. To the white middle class with whom I identified, to be a Mexican was to be a beaner, lazy and inferior. With the privilege afforded by my skin color, I shed my Latino identity and disappeared into whiteness.
Over time, with experience and knowledge, I came to embrace my brown heritage and desired to connect with my cultural home. For me this exhibition is not merely about presenting my art to the public, it is about placing me - me as an emotional and spiritual being - into a community to which, by virtue of birthright, I belong but, by circumstance, have been removed. In this exhibition, I displayed 41 portraits of Mexican-Americans from across the country and from all social economic stations - from lawyer, laborer, policewoman, business professional to farmworker, gang member, cowboy, and shop owner. Through this work, I've not only created a representation of the Mexican-American community, I've created a virtual community by virtue of the sheer number of large scale photos.
Into this mix of photographed peoples, I inserted a portrait of my 87 year old father, his shirtless brown torso exposed to the camera. Because I am a genealogical and cultural extension of my father, I am essence placing myself into this community. This placement of portraits of Mexican-Americans in the heart of the Mexican-American community is my statement of belonging. This is my statement of identity. This installation is my attempt to come home.