Ruben Hernandez

Chicano artists ready to pass mantle on to younger generation

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Will Chicano art survive the deaths of its practitioners?

Arizona culturistas asked themselves just that after Cheech Marin’s visit to the Valley last month.

Chicano artistas dotted the audience at Marin’s talk at Southwest Arts Conference. Luis Gustavo Mena, the Tucson muralist; Zarco Guerrero, Mesa’s contribution to the art world; Martin Moreno, Laveen-based printmaker and muralist, and Annie Lopez,  Phoenix performance artist, among others.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts had invited the Chicano actor and art collector to deliver a keynote speech about his book, Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge, and his traveling exhibition of collected works.

“Ninety nine percent of the mainstream art world has never heard of Chicano art,” Marin informed the audience. In the weeks following the event, Marin’s truth provoked mixed emotions – and debate – among Chicano artists. Chicano artists are beyond getting their feelings hurt by such statements. Since the Sixties, their art is born of resistance and protest to social repression, and is stimulated by mainstream’s lack of respect.

Two lines of thought about carrying on the Chicano tradition emerge from Chicano artists. The first concept is that when the last Chicano artist has died in around 50 years, their offspring – call them Chicano Juniors – will continue the Chicano art tradition.

Zarco Guerrero’s talented sons Quetzal and Tizoc proudly claim Chicano-dom. Both hijos draw, paint and compose music prolifically. But their future resides in a technological turf, and in a digital barrio that encircles the planet through the Internet, Zarco adds.

Other Chicano artists – either sadly or proudly – admit their young travel paths that diverge widely from their own lives, culturally and economically.

The second concept is that the second- and third-generations of recently arrived immigrants – legal or otherwise – will take on the mantle, if not the title, of Chicano artistic expression.

The similarities between the experiences of Chicanos and immigrants are striking, they say. Chicanos look around or view TV and see immigrants marching against injustice and racism. They see Brown people being rounded up and jailed. Oftentimes older Chicano activists march alongside their Mexicano brothers and sisters.

And they say they are starting to see Chicanolike art generated by GenMex – the hijos y hijas of Mexican immigrants. Guerrero describes seeing a group of Latino teens at First Friday, their faces painted as skulls, displaying art and rapping in Spanglish. They were clearly not Chicano, although their expressions were.

“They are pretty much in the same situation that Chicanos were in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Guerrero says. “My theory is that they are going to produce a lot of the same images, styles and metaphors that we as Chicano artists did 30 years ago.”

Luis Mena, a Chicano muralista, says that GenMex’s art mirroring the Chicano tradition is payback of sorts for the inspiration he and others received from Mexican masters such  David Siquieros, Diego Rivera and José Orozco.

“If they come here and take the title of it, there’s nothing wrong about it,” Mena says. “They may call themselves Latinos, not Chicano. It’s the same thing.”

Marin writes in a foreword to his book that the definition of a Chicano School “… is a visual interpretation of a shared culture….the DNA of common shared experience.”

Under Marin’s definition, some argue, the Chicano School is about to get an infusion of fresh blood that will endure for generations.

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