Bato con High School Jacket by César A. Martínez

Art and Mexican American Identities

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Emerging in the 1960s, the Chicano Art Movement worked to resist and challenge ethnic stereotypes while celebrating Mexican American identity. Today, a new generation of Mexican American artists draw inspiration from the Movement, continuing its work challenging social constructs and racial discrimination while creating their own definitions of what it means to be Latino in America.

Artists in the Chicano Art Movement focused on social, political, and cultural issues of Mexican Americans, like civil rights, immigration, and police violence. They also recognized shared experience and history, creating spaces of ethnic affirmation and cultural unity. Artists like César Martínez (b. 1944) pulled from their lived experiences to create new images of what it meant to be Chicano. Describing the Movement, Martínez said, “We had nothing to relate to so we had to make it up as we went along. And that was the road to a deeper understanding of who we are.”

A major figure in the Chicano Art Movement in the late 1970s and 1980s, César Martínez’s paintings telegraph a specifically South Texas history and culture. For his Bato/Pachuco series of paintings, he drew from his childhood memories of growing up in Laredo, Texas, as well as photographs in high school yearbooks and magazines from the 1950s. He presents a colorful cast of fictional characters that celebrate and elevate stereotypical depictions of Chicano pachuco subculture — zoot-suit wearing youth who resisted mainstream American culture in the 1940s. As he describes his series, “I was working with all those physiological types, trying to come up with characters that were very specific but also at the same time very universal to the Chicano experience.”

Today, Martínez continues to explore what it means to be Mexican American as well as the culture and terrain of South Texas, his place of origin.

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Bato con High School Jacket by César A. Martínez Artifact from Laredo, TX
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