So much of my youth was shaped by my father Don Beto’s, stories of crossing the border from northern Mexico into South Texas. I would sit with him on countless occasions listening intently as he described: why he left Mexico, the many failed attempts, getting shot at by border patrol agents and his own dreaming. His and crossing was motivated by wondering what life would be like for him and us as he dug deep to motivate himself to continue his journey.
I also remember that my fathers motivation to cross, to struggle, to fight for his life and that of his family often, I believe, made it really hard for him to appreciate who I was becoming. He had a very distinct vision for who my siblings and I would eventually become. Near as I could tell it was some sort of bible wielding doctor or lawyer with several children and paying for all of my dad’s bills by the time I would be 28.
Needless to say that never happened. In moments of frustration and to an extent cruelty he often remarked about how I disappointed him. Thankfully, I learned to define myself not by his affirmation but my own vision for who I want to be. That said it’s important that my dad taught me how to dream and fight and despite the anger I sometimes felt towards I embraced the lesson. With my father I learned how to tell stories. Where my father focused on his voice I stretched it further learning to make tell stories through filmmaking, this website, podcasts and tattoos. This most recent tattoo tells the story of my relationship to Latin America by focusing on 3 moments that have been at the center of my reflections for quite some time. The three images are:
Assassinated on March 24, 1980 Monsignor Óscar Romero stands as one of the most deeply felt assassinations in a period of intense upheaval. His presence in El Salvador is constant and loved.
A lot of who I am as a progressive and activist was germinated and flourished as I was challenged by the readings of the man above and the others that fought for emancipation in the Americas. Monsignor Óscar Romero transformed alongside the weighty period of the 70s and 80s when a spark of outrage was becoming the flame of liberation for our peoples.
I wrestled with his words and elements of his vision in my time in the indigenous base communities of Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala in 2003-04 and remain unbearably restless for something better for myself and those that I love. Following the 2004 Massacre at Nueva Linda, that I covered and made a film about, I was lost, overwhelmed and pained with the agony of what had happened. I sought peace and comfort at a time where I couldn’t return to my family. I boarded a bus for El Salvador to find solace in the land Romero had walked. I went to his tomb and the Universities remnants of his life.
The image and life of Monsignor Romero has left an indelible mark on me. I think about Romero every day but I wanted to most remember as a political actor who was to threatening to be allowed to stay alive. A martyr for our cause, Romero’s assassination was the apex of his authority. The tattoo also includes my favorite Romero quote, "La justicia es como las serpientes: sólo muerde a los descalzos.” You will be remembered and loved.
This painting was actually at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I used to know one of the workers and before a meeting she took me to the closest size Chicano section (more on that another day). I was immediately captivated by the depth of the representation and how it immediately brought me to my father’s stories.
“Accomplished artist and professor Luis Jiménez (1940–2006) drew inspiration from his personal experience as a person of Mexican descent who was born in the United States. Through his art, he illuminated recent social struggles for Mexicans living in the United States and political conflicts that still arise along the border. [http://www.artnet.com/ artwork/426092860/727/luis-jimenez-cruzando-el- rio-bravo---border-crossing.html] Jiménez lived in New York in the mid 1960s and early 1970s, when many artists were focused on minimalism and conceptual art, styles that explored abstract ideas and non-representational forms. Instead, Jiménez began producing figural art with emotional intensity. His heritage can be seen in his art, influenced by social realism and Mexican colors. Jiménez is best known for his controversial sculptures made of fiberglass, a material commonly used by the working poor to build or repair cars. These dramatic political sculptures displayed in public places recall the work by the muralists. [
Instead of telling stories about Mexican history, however, Jiménez’s narrative is about his Mexican American upbringing in the poverty-stricken city of El Paso, Texas. He intended to give a voice to those who are marginalized, e.g., immigrant laborers, steelworkers, and cowboys. Prints by Jiménez also show the human experience of contemporary Mexican American life. His images incorporate
Native myths and legends into illustrated stories about the disadvantaged, suffering from poverty, unemployment, and unjust working conditions. He depicted many of his subjects in crisis, distress, anger, or conflict, and addressed the emotional plight of Mexicans living in the United States by exploring complicated subjects such as immigration. His commentary on the suffering of Mexican immigrants evokes Posada’s illustrations of the deprived populace. ….
In Tan Lejos de Dios, the viewer confronts a chaotic scene reminiscent of the montage style of Mexican murals. Mexican men, women, and children are shown trying to enter the United States illegally.
To the left of the group, a woman’s body is sprawled on the ground, perhaps having been hit by the automobile nearby; only the frantic woman in front of her appears to notice. The others move onward in pursuit of what appears to be a hopeless goal of leaving Mexico. “
Disappeared for almost 50 years the mural Glorious Victory depicts a 1954 CIA backed coup of democratically elected president of Guatemala Jacobo Arbenz ending the “10 Years of Spring” the followed the overthrow of the Dictator Jorge Ubico. The dynamics of this coup led to the beginnings of the 36 Armed Conflict between Marxist guerrillas and the state that would end only after the Guatemalan security forces had committed genocide by systematically killing the indigenous Maya. Over 200,000 had been victims along with over 1 Million fleeing to Guatemala City and the border with Mexico in the Lacandon Jungle out of a population of 6 million.
For radicals of the era the coup in Guatemala served as a stark listen of what the United States would do to protects there interests in Latin America. Iconic figures such as legendary Argentine guerrilla leader Che Guevara had been in Guatemala during the coup before meeting with Fidel Castro in Mexico city and became radicalized. Rivera painted the mural shortly after the overthrow.
This images and there presence on my left arm serve as a reminder, something to hold me accountable to our histories and where this work is moving me towards. It also represents something beautifully out of something horrible. Through our pain can emerge life and vision.
If you seem me be gentle though. Sometimes folks grab my arm to take a look and rotate while forgetting that its attached to my shoulder. And yes it HUUUUURT!
-Filiberto Nolasco Gomez
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