by Carlos Francisco Jackson
Constructing the Chicana/o imaginary
In 1996, the Chicano printmaker Malaquias Montoya spoke to a group of students at Casa Cuauhtémoc, a theme dorm on the University of California, Davis, campus, where I was a first-year student and resident. Malaquias showed us a photograph of a mural that he had painted in Tijuana for the Festival de la Raza ten years earlier. It had taken only a few days to paint the mural, he said, but much longer than that to learn about the environment, meet with residents in the nearby community, and talk with community leaders, activists, educators, and cultural workers before a drop of paint was put on the wall.
Malaquias was a towering figure to Chicana/o students on campus. Later, in a class that I took with him, Malaquias became impassioned when he showed us drawings and prints by Ester Hernandez and Yolanda Lopez. It was powerfully moving to see him humbled by their works. I now understand that this emotion was an expression of respect for artists who dedicate themselves to producing art within the framework of a movement.
When I was a student, some Chicanos, especially those who were most politically active on campus, had very strict notions of what constituted the category “Chicano.” The Chicana/o community membership had rigid boundaries defined by politics, dress, and language. Malaquias’s work was liberating because it crossed boundaries and borders. What unified his work was a commitment to speak against injustice and to make images and ideas accessible to a broad community.
The posters on view in “Serigrafía”—a traveling exhibition of some of the most prominent printmakers to have emerged from the Chicano movement and the development of a Chicana/Chicano consciousness in California—show that Chicana/o identity has been fluid ever since the initial Chicano manifesto, El Plan de Santa Barbara, was written in 1969. The posters give us a view into an artistic space in which Chicana/o identity and consciousness have been imagined, explored, constructed, expressed, and challenged while simultaneously serving community advocacy and engagement.
I remember looking at the images projected on a screen in Malaquias’s darkened classroom when I was a student and wondering why I had not seen them before, why they were not part of my upbringing. Today, as a faculty member in the Chicana/o Studies Program at UC Davis, the questions I most often hear from students in our classes are the same: “Why didn’t I know this earlier? Why wasn’t I taught this before I arrived on campus?” Why did I have to come to UC Davis, 400 miles from home, to learn about who I am? The knowledge and history of who I am and where I come from rightfully belong to me.
These images represent my family, my mother, my uncles, cousins, grandparents, and community. These works are not simply mirrors for their likenesses; they are images that transform their likenesses to represent gods, heroes, leaders, monuments, myths, and inspirations for action.
“Serigrafía” is at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through 20 April 2014, and then travels to the San Francisco Public Library from 20 July 20 through 7 September 2014.