By Armando Vazquez
My former high school, San Fernando, located at the time in the very segregated, racist and conservative San Fernando Valley, California, suffered through student riots in both 1968 and 1969. I remember vividly the graffiti that documented our angst, anger and audacity of the time, “Education not Prisons”, “F—- the Pigs”, “Chale con Vietnam”, “Support the UFW-Boycott Grapes”, “Venceremos” and my favourite “Power to the People”. Spray can in hand I was actively involved in the liberation of the school walls and in spreading the revolutionary messages of the Chicano Movimiento. Along with my homies we articulated a poetically crude but honest assessment of the violent, hostile, alien, and foreboding world that seemed to be closing in on us.
Due directly to the social upheaval and the student maelstrom that sucked most of us in the Americas and the world into its intoxicating vortex I became a social justice activist, I became a Chicano artist. It was in high school that I turned my passion and attention away from athletics to social justice activism, using my art as my newly found weapon. Throughout the Southwest many Chicano artists joined in the Movimiento and used their artistic skill and talents to support The Chicano Movimiento in our struggle for equality and social justice.
From this chaotic and exhilarating student driven and lead revolutionary struggle beginning the Chicano Art Movement. Almost from the inception the Chicano Art Movement soared and roared, helping to articulate, document the many trampled, blunted and deferred aspiration, dreams and struggles of the Chicanos in the United States and in particular in our barrios throughout the southwest. Many of us turned to our Mexican art maestros, the original revolutionary artists from the turn of the 20th century, for guidance and inspiration.
Here dear reader is where social justice and art history, and this story, takes a wonderful and insightful turn; and an affirmation that I have been asserting now for 50 years. Namely, that the Chicano Art Movimiento is the incontrovertible revolutionary progeny of the Mexican Revolutionary Artist, and as such the continuation of the most influential art movement of the 20th century.
The Mexican Revolution began in 1910, and is recognized as the first major political uprising and revolution of the 20th century. At the vanguard of the Mexican Revolution where warrior peasants like Villa, Zapata y Las Adelitas, intellectuals like Jose Vasconcelos and artists like Jose Posada and Francisco Goitia all working to over throw the brutal dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. It is during this protracted and bloody civil war, and the turbulent years of reconciliation that follow that the Mexican artists would take the center stage in documenting the painful and sputtering transformation of Mexico from tyranny to a fledgling democracy, and the social justice aspiration of Mexico and the 20th century world.
In a recent fascinating article written by Natasha Gural, a multiple-award-winning journalist, which center around the current ground-breaking, revolutionary and historic exhibition entitled Vida Americana: Mexican Muralist Remake American Art, which opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York on February 17, 2020, Grual quotes Barbara Haskell, the world renowned art historian and curator of the Vida Americana exhibition that, “the Mexican artists had the most profound and pervasive influence on American (the Americas) art of the 20th century”
World renowned art historian Barbara Haskell and Armando Vazquez, Chicano artist, writer, and curator from Chiques, Cali concur and thus dismiss the Eurocentric, racist, and prevailing myth that the French, or the Germans or the Spanish; or in fact any and all art that emanating in Europe had the greatest impact on artists of the Americas and the world. Haskell research of over 10 years for the preparation of the Vida Americana exhibit lead her to conclude that 20th century Mexican art is, “an epic, socially moving document” that influenced the 20th century art world, “South to North, rather than East to West”
The Vida Americana exhibitions highlights over 200 works and more that 60 artist both Mexican and internationally renowned artists that were deeply influenced by the Mexican Maestro Artistas that include: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Miguel Covarrubias, María Izquierdo, Frida Kahlo, Mardonio Magaña, Alfredo Ramos Martínez and Rufino Tamayo, Thomas Hart Benton, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas, Marion Greenwood, William Gropper, Philip Guston, Eitarō Ishigaki, Jacob Lawrence, Harold Lehman, Fletcher Martin, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Ben Shahn, Thelma Johnson Streat, Charles White, and Hale Woodruff, among other giants of the 20th century art world.
The Mexican Revolution and Chicano Movimiento were forged in the blood, terror and death of war, art became one of the indispensable weapons of communication for the struggling masses. For over half a century Chicano artists, like the Mexicans before them, have been documenting as Barbara Haskell put it “an epic, socially moving document” Chicano art maestros like Margaret Garcia, David Flurry, Pattsi Valdez, Frank Romero, Judith Baca, Carlos Almaraz, Linda Vallejo, Frank Martinez, Jaqueline Biaggi, Lalo Garcia, Diane Gamboa, Margarita Cuaron, Yreina D. Cervantez, Magu, Leo Limon, Maya Gonzalez, Carmen Loma Garza, John Valadez, Joe Bravo, Guillermo Bejerano, Sergio Hernandez, Yolanda Lopez, have continued with the epic art documentation of the Mexican/Chicano Art Movimiento here in the United States.
If you have been an astute and passionate buyer/collector of Chicano, art dear reader,then you are in the enviable position of owning some of the most influential and important contemporary art in the world today.
That is why it is such a shame and disgrace that cities like Oxnard (80% Chicano/Mexicano) with its artistically/culturally bankrupt politicians and functionaries reject and dismiss overtures by Chicano artists and community activists to begin the creation of a Chicano/Latino museum in the community. Nothing creates community awareness, pride and progressive civic direction and economic development faster than a culturally sensitive and congruent art and cultural scene in a local community struggling for identity as is the downtown sector of Oxnard. I have tried for over three decades to generate and garner the support from city politicos and officials of Oxnard to convert one of the many abandoned building in the downtown area into a Chicano/Latino Art Museum, it has fallen on hostile and culturally tone deaf ears. I will not stop in my effort to create in Oxnard and other communities of Southern California multiple Chicano/Latino Art Galleries and Museum. These art and cultural institutions are desperately needed to educate, inform and inspire the next wave of Chicano artists/activists and their supporters to work for equality and social justice for all by continuing to utilizing the arts as one of the most powerful and transformative weapon of the 20th century.
Armando Vazquez, M.Ed. is Executive Director of Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition
Editor’s Note: This is an opinion article.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.