The Art of Jacinto Guevara: Documenting Unique Latino Culture
by Ricardo Romo
First published in Ricardo Romo’s Blog, Latinos in America, November 19, 2021. Reprinted in La Prensa Texas, November 26, 2021.
The seventies are remembered as a monumental decade for most Americans. In the early years of the decade President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade dominated the news. Earth Day, Godfather movies, and disco music fascinated young people. The advent of the computer revolution marked a major change in society.
For Latinos, the decade included significant events as cities across the Southwest experienced school walkouts, and California farmworkers won important union and legislative policy victories. Talented youth introduced Chicano poetry, plays, and film, and universities developed Chicano Studies classes and programs.
Chicano artists who grew up during the seventies witnessed great transformations as they saw for the first time a flowering of their own artistic cultural creations. Jacinto Guevara of San Antonio emerged as one of the fortunate individuals who rode the early waves of this artistic movement. His story provides some important insights into one of the most significant eras of Chicano artistic creativity.
From an early age Jacinto Guevara discovered that art represented an important means of communicating. Guevara came of age artistically during the early 1970s while attending Belmont High School in East Los Angeles. At the time, few Latinos went to museums but most grew up surrounded by commercial art, usually in the form of billboards and posters. Significantly the early expressions of Arte de La Raza appeared in public art.
Chicano art originated with the mural movement in California. Art historians place the birth of Chicano art between 1968-1973. Guevara was a teenager when Chicano artists painted a mural at the headquarters of Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers Union in Del Rey, California. Some of the earliest Chicano murals originated in the heart of East Los Angeles, in close proximity to Guevara’s home.
When Joe and John Gonzalez decided to convert an abandoned meat market into an art gallery, they recruited two future Chicano art stars, David Botello and their brother-in-law Ignacio Gomez, to paint what UCLA art historians have identified as the first public Chicano mural in East Los Angeles. Muralism became the most prominent creative development of Chicano art.
Guevara enrolled at California State University Northridge [CSUN] in 1975, a time when colleges throughout Southern California were reaching out to East Los Angeles students. Guevara had seldom gone to the San Fernando Valley, home of the Northridge campus, but he liked CSUN’s Chicano Studies Program which was in its sixth year. He majored in Ethnic Studies and took classes with famed Chicano historian Dr. Rudy Acuña. Guevara loved music and joined the mariachi band headed by Professor Beto Ruiz. Guevara became a frequent art and cartoon contributor to El Popo, the Chicano student newspaper founded in 1970.
After graduation from CSUN in 1980, Guevarra painted on a regular basis and also joined several musical bands. During these years, while Guevarra remained an early aficionado of the emerging Chicano murals in his community, he focused on his drawings and canvas painting. He bought one of his first canvases for three dollars and spent a half day cleaning it.
Guevara worked at his art but could not seem to make the right connections to get his paintings in galleries and had a difficult time making a living as an artist. An invitation in 1990 by the established B-1 Galleries in Santa Monica offered him some hope. He was invited, along with several of the leading East Los Angeles artists, including Frank Romero, Wayle Alaniz, and Paul Botello to exhibit his paintings. Although Latino art was gaining in popularity, few of the paintings sold. After that show, Guevara began to think of leaving Los Angeles and was attracted to San Antonio because of the city’s thriving Chicano culture.
Guevara found the San Antonio weather suitable for his preference of open air painting, or what the French called “plein air.” Some of his favorite subjects included abandoned railroad stations and warehouses. He delighted in finding unique subjects for his paintings, such as icons and buildings in San Antonio that most observers had overlooked. Many of his paintings reflect the older sections of the East and West side of town. He looked for old houses, residences that did not necessarily catch the public’s attention. These residential structures were simple, but attractive. He told me that these houses “weren’t necessarily pretty.”
In 2016 Lewis Fisher published Saving San Antonio: The Preservation of a Heritage. It told a story of the San Antonio Conservation Society’s organized efforts to save historical houses from destruction. Guevara is also “saving San Antonio” through his paintings. His work captures the essence of the city, areas where not all the houses and buildings are spectacular, but they contain meaning and beauty for their owners. Guevara’s structural portraits, such as that of the 1880s building, “Liberty Bar,” which became a hangout for many Chicano artists, capture a heritage that makes San Antonio unique.
Ricardo Romo is an author, educator, and Latino Art connoisseur. He has degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (BA) and UCLA (PhD).
How the Holiday Season is Changing the National Identities of Mexico and the U.S.
If you have traveled abroad lately, you may have noticed that national identities are becoming a bit vague. The cultural uniqueness that used to distinguish one nation from another has been quickly disappearing thanks to the accelerated pace of cultural contact brought about by globalization. Mexico and the USA illustrate this well as we go through the holiday season.
Millions of Mexican immigrants, legal and undocumented, as well as tourism between both countries have created cultural contact zones unlike any in human history. As they have settled in these areas of the United States, Mexicans have adopted American habits even as they have maintained much of the cultural heritage they brought with them. For example, they love Thanksgiving turkey and on Black Friday you can find them shopping like crazy across the malls alongside Americans.
December, however, is a Mexican fiesta north of the border. Los americanos are growing accustomed to seeing and joining the solemn Virgen de Guadalupe celebrations around December 12th and breaking piñatas in the noisy, colorful Posadas on December 15th-24th. Moreover, Mexicans have fused seamlessly La Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) and Christmas Day, so they can have their tasty tamaladas and receive the birth of Jesus with tons of gifts the good old American way.
As many Mexican immigrants return to visit family in Mexico, they bring along these new cultural customs, especially their sons and daughters who were born and raised in the United States. You can see the influence of these new cultural ways in small towns and cities across the country. Mexicans now have their Buen Fin, a clone of Black Friday, and on Thanksgiving more and more people are preparing a turkey dinner a la americana or go to restaurants that offer a similar menu. As for Santa Claus, Christmas trees and carols, they are the norm everywhere. It may seem strange, but in Mexico City and Cuernavaca, you can even go ice-skating downtown!
You could say Cinco de Mayo was the first cultural celebration to bring Americans and Mexicans together, and that lately Día de los Muertos and Halloween have provided more cultural glue that binds people on both side of the border. But it is the long holyday season at the end of the year that is having the biggest impact on our identities and how we see ourselves in Mexico and the United States. Mexicans who visit the U.S. and Americans who travel to Mexico are bewildered by this turn of events. National identities may still be around, but the unique cultural elements that separated them are blending fast and, in some cases, disappearing and becoming a thing of the past.
Somos en escrito Literary Foundation Press published a compilation of Álvaro Ramírez’s observations on changing cultural traditions: Postcards from a PostMexican. Click the cover above or visit Amazon to buy a copy.
This postcard first appeared on Álvaro Ramírez’s Postcards from a PostMexican blog on December 24, 2019. This postcard was published under the title “How the Holiday Season is Changing Mexican and American Cultural Identities” in Cultura Colectiva, a Mexican online magazine, on January 2, 2020.
Álvaro Ramírez is from Michoacán, México. He migrated with his family to Ohio as an adolescent. He obtained a BA in Spanish and Education at Youngtown State University, and an MA and PhD in Literature from the University of Southern California. He has taught at various institutions including the University of Southern California, Occidental College, and California State University, Long Beach.
Since 1993, he has worked at Saint Mary’s College of California where he is a Professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures. He specializes in Spanish Golden Age and Latin American literature as well as Mexican Film and Chicano Cultural Studies. He also serves as Resident Director for the Saint Mary’s College Semester Program in Cuernavaca, México.
In 2016, Prof. Ramírez published a collection of short stories, Los norteados, which received an Honorable Mention Award at the 2017 International Latino Book Awards. In addition, he has edited two online publications of Conference Proceedings: Imágenes de postlatinoamérica, volumen 1 (2018) and Imágenes de postlatinoamérica, volumen 2 (2019). He has also published articles on Don Quixote, Mexican film, and Chicano Studies in several academic journals.
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