Never before has the interest in Chicano art and culture been so vogue and hip. Finally in 2003, Chicano visual and performing artists and celebrities have soared to popularity. 2003 may be the beginning of the Chicano renaissance of political and social rebirth. Chicano artist Gonzalo J. Plascencia of El Paso, Texas, has created several Chicano mural posters that reclaim our Chicano/Latino roots and honor both contemporary and historical figures.
Gonzalo was born in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. He and his family later moved to Califas. Here he attended Alisal High School in Salinas, California. He continued his education majoring in Chicano Studies and Art at San Jose State University and California State University at Northridge. Gonzalo has returned to El Paso, yet he travels extensively throughout the United States promoting Chicano art and culture.
Many of Gonzalo’s posters contain dozens of images painted in a collage style. He often read Q-vo, Lowrider and Firme magazines in the 1980s. He says that he liked the artistic graphic layouts in Firme in those days. He even painted a replica one of his favorite rucas suave girls from his favorite Firme cover. Back then, there were not many publications that promoted Chicano or Latino celebrities, artists, sports stars or historical figures. Gonzalo has also included Chicanos dressed in Lowrider T-shirts on one his posters. His interest in these publications and Chicano history ignited his passion to document through art the most prominent images of our Chicano history
Gonzalo’s poster entitled 460 Years of Chicano History and Art includes many of his favorite icons and historical images. He gives tribute to the Virgen Guadalupe. This mural/collage poster recognizes various stages of our growth as a Chicano nation. He includes ancient Pre-Columbian symbols as well as revolutionary leaders such as Don Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juarez, Pancho Villa, Cesar Chavez, Joaquin Murrieta, Reies Lopez Tejerina and Corky Gonzalez. He depicts the diversity of our Chicano identity by including sports figures such as Jim Plunkett of the Oakland Raiders. He weaves highly recognized celebrities such as Anthony Quinn and Ricardo Montalban next to homeboys and lowrider Chicanos standing beside Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Mexican comedian Cantiflas.
Gonzalo’s poster entitled The Mexican Revolution of 1910 has prominent illustrations of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. He included the role of Mexicana soldadas in this poster. The Mexican flag and key slogans such as “Plan de Ayala” and “Tierra Y Libertad” are placed strategically next to images of death by firing squad and dead Mexican revolutionaries hanging by their necks at the end of a rope.
Gonzalo formed a collaborative effort with Frank Garcia Berumen, author of The Chicano/ Hispanic Image in American Film, to present a pictorial history of the Latino presence in the motion picture industry. Sixty-nine prominent images were chosen from early screen era to each subsequent decade to the present. Many prominent Latino film artists were not even recognized as Latino because the studios promoted them as non-Latino. These included Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn, Raquel Welch, Lynda Carter, Jimmy Smits, Charlie Sheen, Ruben Blades and Salma Hayek. Rita Moreno is the only Latina to have been honored with an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony award. Various Chicano artists who were often negatively stereotyped in roles by casting directors to play gangster and barrio roles include Danny De La Paz in Boulevard Nights, Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez and Edward James Olmos for his portrayal of a gangster, mafiosa crime syndicate member in American Me.
In a recent interview with Gonzalo, I asked him various questions about his motivation and inspiration for his art. Here’s what he had to say.
LRA: Why have you selected to paint these themes?
Gonzalo: From my earliest recollections I have been inspired to learn and paint the history of Mexico as seen through my eyes. My family members were migrants.
LRA: What was that experience like? Did you get art training then?
Gonzalo: Yes, in some ways, you know ese, all the teachers were “gavas.” They didn’t consider Mexican art valuable. I saw a painter drawing on butcher paper. He was painting European castles and kings. He was painting a mural. I was inspired to develop ideas for my own mural.
LRA: When did you start the 460 Years of Chicano History poster?
Gonzalo: The poster started as a college art project while I was attending California State University at San Jose. My instructor said to pick a theme so I picked Mexican history. I originally made it in two parts so I could change it around. Later, I renamed it 460 Years of Chicano History. It is by far my most popular poster. This poster took me about four years. After the first year of class, it became a labor of love.
LRA: I noticed that various images are drawn from other media. Case in point, as you know, I published Q-vo Magazine and later founded and published Firme Magazine. Did you put together a visual collage of images you saw in those publications?
Gonzalo: I grew up reading your magazines and Lowrider Magazine. I even painted a poster of my favorite Firme Magazine cover; you know the one of Juanita Rodriguez in front of a “bomb.” Firme Magazine was one of my inspirations.
Gonzalo stated that he gets a mixed review of his posters. “Some people who see my posters are elated others are offended. I’m a Chicano artist.” He explained that many people outside of California are offended by the use of his term “Chicano” on his posters although they like the majority of the images. Some people don’t like the image of the Chicanos wearing “Lowrider T-shirts ” included with the historical figures in 460 Years of Chicano History poster. He looked within for an answer. He said that the people who were most active and sacrificed the most for the Movimiento declared themselves “Chicanos.” In contrast the “vendidos and opportunists” would reap the benefits. They called themselves “Hispanics.” Therefore he came to the conclusion that he would declare himself Chicano. “My motivation is to enhance the pride of our people. How can our people develop self pride if they don’t know their history?”
Chicano is not only a name but also his belief system. Gonzalo said, “I know people who live in El Paso who don’t go out of the area and never feel discrimination. When some of them leave El Paso to go to Austin they realize that they’ve left the “safety zone” because there they begin to feel discrimination.” I agree with this “carnal.” There continues to be controversy over what we choose to call ourselves. There is no dispute that Chicanos pay the price to preserve the past, the present and the future of our Raza. Chicanos continue to put themselves on the front lines. This writer appreciates and supports the work of Gonzalo J. Plascencia. I encourage others to add his posters to your collection. That’s my opinion. We welcome yours. Write us or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.