Richard Moreno, Jr. was born in 1954 in San Diego, California, on Mexican Independence Day, September 16. It’s hard not to know about your Mexicano culture when all of your vecinos and primos, and all of Mexico and most of Aztlan have fiestas on your birthday. When Rick was school age, his family moved to northern California. He moved to Morgan Hill near San Jose and Santa Clara.
Rick recalls that he would draw on the edge of his homework. At times, the teachers would disapprove because Rick would draw fantastic original borders around his incomplete written assignments. Although Rick was not a very strong student academically, he did excel in the visual and performing arts. His mother and art teachers were very pleased with Rick’s talent and they actively encouraged it. Rick’s seventh grade teacher displayed one of Rick’s drawings, “a witch” in the classroom window. He remembers this as the first time that he began to receive many compliments regarding his artistic ability and potential from peers and other teachers. His seventh grade teacher consistently complimented him and encouraged him to keep developing his talents. At open house, she would draw attention to his projects such as Navajo art themes for class projects.
Rick attended Live Oak High School. He laments that the textbooks in schools rarely highlight the beauty and splendor of Mexico. He had always had an interest and desire to learn more about Mexico, the history, the art, the heroes and the culture. Unfortunately, this was not presented in the curriculum in the ’60s and ’70s. Although Rick’s mother always promoted Mexican pride at home, Rick wanted to see first hand the land of his cultural roots.
The San Jose Valley used to be one of the most fertile food baskets of the world. San Jose and the surrounding rural areas began to change rapidly. It was difficult to imagine how it used to be with beautiful rolling green hills and abundant fruit orchards and shady trees. Today, the farmlands and orchards have been paved over and destroyed. People no longer refer to the San Jose/Santa Clara Valley as an area with an economy based around agribusiness. It has instead become the technology capital of the world, and the Mexican names of cities are mispronounced, renamed or replaced by terms such as “the Silicon Valley.” It feels as if there is a move to wipe out our Mexican cultural contributions and local history. Many people have lost the spirituality and connected feeling to be in harmony with nature.
Finally one summer, Rick traveled to Mexico the first time. Rick was amazed to visit the pyramids. The size and splendor of the great Pre-Columbian Pyramids surprised him. He was surprised by their size because few books described the true beauty of this hemisphere’s legendary pyramids. In school, the focus was always on the amazing superior design of the Egyptian pyramids. Why didn’t teachers talk about all of this history and honor the contributions of our people? Visiting Mexico and viewing in person the majesty of the pyramids and the other cultural sights Rick’s senses were bombarded with spiritual Mexica symbols.
He knows that there are still many American Chicanos who have never visited Mexico. So often the images that are displayed regarding the motherland are negative or stereotypical. Unfortunately, too often the images portrayed of Mexico are the “bad and ugly,” presenting our cultural past as barbaric or pagan, bloodthirsty and brutal. Rick paints peaceful and tranquil scenic beauty of the lush landscapes, majestic volcanoes and breathtaking waterfalls. He paints the mariachi musicians and Mexican folklorico dancers. He paints the indigenous mothers and the traditional open-air mercados. His art images are like “visual postcard promotions of Mexico.”
“Many people view Chicano art as the art that is associated with inmates in prison or jail,” says Rick. “However these people don’t look at the symbolism. They view the symbols as trouble and jailhouse art. Perhaps the fact that there are more minorities and Latinos in the jails contributes to those false perceptions. God only knows. Perhaps the Whites are more innocent and more angelic? I disagree because we live in an American free society that states that we were all created equal.”
“In my opinion, science and religion and government have separated. In contrast to the ancient times when religion and government were so interrelated. Societies and governments honored a specific spirituality. Today, the boardroom and special interest groups unfortunately rule our government. It’s no longer the wisest man who is elected, but rather the individual who can sell himself to special interests groups who in turn fund his campaign so that he/she can promote their agenda. The pre-Columbians were tribal and spiritual. It was so unique. They had to manage to work together to meet the challenges of nature.”
The conquest of Mexico was to destroy the culture. Even the Manifest Destiny was the second conquest of Mexico. The technology revolution has the potential to be another weapon of cultural genocide. We Latinos can either use technology to preserve our own images, history and spiritual icons or see them distorted, perverted, destroyed or ignored! Once again the “electronic textbooks,” the Internet images of today, can inaccurately document once again who we are!
Rick was once commissioned to paint a mural on the tropical landscapes of the Philippines. Although he had never been there he actively researched the area, including the plants and trees of the region, to accurately portray the sense of respect and appreciation for nature. Since he himself is not Phillipino nor had he ever visited there, he felt the obligation to honor the Phillipino images he was commissioned to paint. He had to use reading skills and technology skills to research the area. He needed to study the history, cultural symbolism and natural resources of the area. He had to become familiar with the people, their fashion, and their facial features too. He needed to use math skills to prepare the mural for size and depth and perspective. He had to work hard to preserve and honor their mural project. Rick was willing to do this because he has a sincere respect and tolerance for diversity. He is a true historian and promotes the beauty of cultures. He is an expert on Mexica symbolism and honors and preserves these spiritual icons for our youth today.
Rick knew that he had a mission and desire to preserve these icons, symbols and images for others to see and enjoy. He felt a strong desire to share the pride and joy he experienced in awesome, beautiful sunsets of Puerto Vallarta and the detailed and elaborate architecture of the historical buildings, museums, missions and cathedrals of Mexico. Since then, Rick makes a yearly pilgrimage back to his roots. He renews his sense of pride and feeling of connecting spiritually to the past to focus his present direction. He strongly feels an inner responsibility to bring the “best of Mexico, the art, the music the culture and the sense of spiritual unity to Mexicanos and Chicanos north of the Mexico/U.S. border.
Later, Rick moved to San Jose to join a Mexican folklorico dance group called Los Lupenos. Later, Los Lupenos joined with the Xochipilli dance group. Rick has also developed his love of the music. He currently is a director of Los Cumbancheros. His group plays Jarocho, Huasteco, Michoacan, Boleros, Corridos and music regional to Alta California He has studied intensively the traditional music and dances of specific regions of Mexico. He continues to perform for groups large and small, and share his love and knowledge of visual and performing arts with everyone. Ironically, Richard Moreno, Jr. who was once a reluctant student in school, is now an instructor of history, music and culture through his presentations and performances! He considers himself a realist/surrealist because he paints landscapes and portraits and mystical Mexica symbolism. Rick is also a muralist. “To me, art is an expression,” he relates. “It’s something that I’m compelled to do.”