Cultural Identity in Chicano Art

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Kelly Zahorski
CHIC 3221

Cultural Identity Through Art: Literary Critique
With the start of the Chicano Movement, not only did the rebellious youth of the 20th century create a drastic change in the connotations associated with Mexican-Americans but they also sculpted, painted, sang and danced to form a cultural identity unique and distinctly their own. Mainly focusing on Southern California during the 1940’s to the present, Chicano Art took its roots from Mexican painters like Rivera, Siqueiros, and Viramontes. The struggle for a Chicano identity, one that was not instilled by the dominating Anglo community, was the goal of muralists and painters alike. It was this search for identity that led to the Chicano Movement. By comparing images from the mid 1900’s and understanding the political, social, and economic pressures of that time period I argue that Chicano identity in both the private and public sectors was depicted in various art forms, not exclusive but limited to murals, paintings, music, and fashion, and that during the breadth of the Chicano movement these forms of artistic expression were an integral part of forming the cultural identity of the Chicano people. Jazz music, the Zoot suit, and urban graffiti also added to this formation and these elements combined created the revolutionary Chicano Movement. The search for the Chicano “identity” started around the 1920’s. The Mexican government commissioned Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente, known as “Los Tres Grandes” or “The Big Three” to paint murals in major areas of certain cities. The goal was to introduce the public to art and widen the scope of knowledge about Mexican painters and muralists alike. The murals depicted historic events, Aztec gods with famous symbols like snakes and the Virgin of Guadalupe, and religious ceremonies. It was the birth of these murals that soon inspired young Chicanos in Southern California to slip out from the oppressive grip of the Anglo-American community and create an identity based off of their own experiences. These young Mexican-Americans expressed their cultural identity in various ways, which eventually led to the acknowledgement of the Chicano’s as an essential part of the growing American nation. The changing face of American society in a time of War and Depression on the home front and Fascism and Anti-Semite behavior abroad enlarged the value of nationalism and an influx of Chicano art during that time was seen as “un-American” in many ways. This was especially prominent in Los Angles when “in 1932, David Alfaro Siqueiros’s, at the time one of the world’s most famous artists and a member of the Mexican Communist party, arrived” (Marin, 14). His murals in Los Angles caused controversy and exposed Americans as racist. I plan to, with the aid and critique of three literary sources, examine and justify why murals, posters, and street art became quintessential parts of the Chicano movement and their fight towards equality. In many forms of art, especially in murals done by Siqueiros, hegemony played a large role. The subliminal clues in works from Siqueiros and Rivera showed the power struggle for equal rights, livable wages, and better living conditions among the Anglo community. It was also to acknowledge the large part of a growing city, which was overrun by a minority group without a clear voice. A voice that was not accepted as Mexican by forsaking their roots of Atzlan and a voice that also was not American enough. During the next few paragraphs, I will critique from three academic sources, paintings, murals, and posters that explore these subliminal clues about hegemony and the search for a cultural identity of the Chicano people. Although not largely documented until the last few decades, Chicano art is a thriving part of the Mexican-American community. The first image, (fig 1) is a series of 16 works done in oil on canvas of various faces throughout the Chicano...
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