A few weeks ago I was working at my dad's Mexican restaurant and a man came in asking for a hard-shell, ground-beef taco. We told him about our carnitas, our tamales and even offered to make a beef taco on a toasted corn tortilla. But nothing we could come up with appealed to him. Clearly he was expecting us to be Taco Bell.
I was once told by a professor that I should paint "more Mexican." I was shown a video of Puerto Rican artist, Pepón Osorio (who is an amazing artist) and told to learn from it. Now, looking at artists from different parts of the world and different time periods has been helpful in my development as an artist. However, some of my experiences as a Latino artist -- as a Latino, really -- have left me feeling like people often want and expect me to be a Latino caricature.
I realize it's easier to think of cultures as neat little boxes that contain people's styles, histories and tastes: African-American, Native American, Latino, Asian, African. But we have been living in a time period -- for quite some time -- where these precise, tidy lines have been blurred by technology. I feel that all artist perspectives are valid when they are narrating their personal experiences and making their own statements (or non-statements), but I am wondering if sometimes we ask artists to create an art product that references their heritage at the expense of really listening to what their experiences are.
As a person who was born and raised in Mexico, I can tell you that the only Day of The Dead altars I ever made were for school. My experience of growing up in a larger city made growing up in Mexico different than for someone who grew up in a different part of Mexico where making a Day of the Dead altar is part of their generational family tradition. Their experience is not more authentic than mine, but it is definitely more fun.
What feels wrong to me is becoming a performer of a tradition that is not mine in order to fit into an experience that is meant to be inclusive of other cultures. To put it bluntly, why is the Day of the Dead the most visible face of Latino art in our city?
Recently, I went to Chicago and visited the Mexican Museum of Art and was blown away by the diversity of its collection. I felt it truly represented the experiences of Mexicans of many walks of life. They had an exhibit about Jewish artists in Mexico; they highlighted a Mexican Magic Realist painter. There was even an exhibit called Galleria Sin Fronteras highlighting an art gallery from Austin, Texas, in the 1980s that featured Chicano work. In Galleria Sin Fronteras, artists addressed many aspects of life beyond the fun token multiculturalism: the Chicano labor movement, LGBT identity, feminism, drug use, discrimination, and immigration issues. And these are all issues regarding Mexican culture within the United States.
And so I find myself in the midst of Hispanic Heritage month, searching for art-related events that reflect and honor Latino visual arts in our city. But there are none. The only hyped event coming up is FIESTA Indianapolis.
Having worked as an organizer, vendor and now this year as a volunteer and journalist, I've realized you can't cram all the depth of Latin America into one day in downtown Indianapolis. But it has always been clear to me that FIESTA actually works to scratch the surface of La Raza. FIESTA will be featuring a healthy sampler of music and food from different countries. It will also feature booths representing people who today call themselves "Hoosier" and "Latino."
So what else can we do in the arts to reflect the variety of these experiences without Tacobellizing them? I am interested to hear your ideas.