I recently collaborated with Rubie Simonsen on her project, Discovering Frida. You should check out what she's doing for the next year. Below is the essay I wrote for her blog.
Okay. I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m a white-washed Latino. When I was growing up I didn’t know about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their art or politics. I didn’t explore my cultural heritage until high school when I first started to learn Spanish. Even now I’m not fluent pero trato majorar cuando tengo tiempo. Me hablo con mi hermanita ahora, pero cuando mi mamá esta cercita siempre piensa estamos hablando sobre su vida. ¿Com no? ¡Pero tengo mío!
I didn’t learn until much later that my grandparents’ plight, my cultural heritage, was born of agriculture, industry and manufacturing. Not that dissimilar to the Detroit murals painted in the 30s by Diego. Mi abuelo grew up in Puerto Rico, mi abuela in Texas via Mexico. Mi abuela followed the grow season as a girl with her family to pick crops. Mi abuelo worked as a taxi driver and in a TV manufacturing company. He was also a Korean War draftee. Both bore heavily manual labor jobs throughout their adult lives.
The household they created together was a very traditional one where mi abuela did much of the home management. They didn’t teach their children Spanish. At the time it was frowned upon to be be unamerican. Español estaba el lenguaje secreto; the passionate language; the foreign language that was used to discuss all adult matters. These ‘discussions’ usually dissolved to mi abuelo verbally degrading mi abuela until she gave in to his point of view.
Hispanic women have it tough: have the kids, take care of the man, cook. You know, be domestic. This domestication of women is foreign to me. My first female role model was, and is, independent, fiery, street smart and opinionated to this day. She is also a daddy’s girl. This change from free to domestic has been a perpetual point of intrigue for me which I explore with many of the set up art shoots I create.
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”
“Pies, para qué los quiero, si tengo alas para volar.”
I learned that women are meant to be free. Have a free will, be the better half and treated right all along the way by men like me. Frida Kahlo, despite her disabilities, was able to transcend her traditional role of wife and mother. Her commitment to self reflection and self discovery through her art lasted a lifetime. For that, I admire her feminism and stance on those rights. These rights of independence have been modeled for me since I was very young and something I’ve been exploring since I could formulate my own visual opinions.