(This story originally appeared in Vivala)
It has only been 23 years since late farm worker and cofounder of the National Farm Workers Association Cesar Chavez passed away, and yet his legacy lives on, particularly inside the Mexican Heritage Center and Gallery in Stockton, California. Inside you will find gouache paintings of a smiling Chavez painted in various shades of gold are on display with his fellow activists in red — the main color used in the UFW flag, and another of a large, brown fist with the word “CHICANO!” below it.
The exhibit titled “El Hombre de Oro” by artist Roberto Valdés Sánchez runs through Cesar Chavez Day this Thursday. Sánchez, who was born in the small agricultural community of Yuba City, California, credits the late civil rights leader for influencing him to learn more about Chicanismo.
The 36-year-old artist says he didn’t learn about the labor leader till the day of his funeral in 1993.
“They were showing it on Univision. I remember my parents stopped me and said ‘This man helped our farmworkers.’ My parents were farmworkers.”
When Sánchez was in high school, he became interested in learning more about the icon and the work he did for Latinos. The artist says Chavez, like many other prominent figures, was taken for granted while he was still alive.
“After they pass away is when you realize, ‘Wow, this guy went up against the system. He was able to make change. This little guy, who was very soft-spoken, who had very basic education, was able to do this. He was able to create a movement.’”
Sánchez describes his work as cultural, historical, and political art from a Chicano perspective. For him, this perspective is important.
“A lot of what Latinos have done in the U.S. is bypassed in schools. They teach a lot of Western history and a lot of things from people here in the Americas are ignored,” he says.
“That’s why I want to put our perspective out there for people to see, whether it’s uncomfortable or not. I would like for my artwork to make some people feel uncomfortable. I want to put stuff out there that people don’t want to face . . . sometimes history isn’t pretty.”
Much like Sánchez makes some uncomfortable with his work, the late Chavez made corporations uneasy with his activism, nonviolent tactics, and chants of “Sí, se puede!”
“He was somebody in a list of a growing number of Latinos here in the U.S. who are making change, to show people who we are. I know Chavez in general, here in the Southwest, was one of the catalysts that started the whole Chicano movement. Because of him, a lot of people started taking pride in who they are and what they do, and they grew because of him.”
In his piece titled El Hombre De Oro, Sánchez depicts Chavez in a golden tone.
“I wanted to color everything in red tint, and I wanted for him to stick out,” the artist says. “He’s like the shining light of that group. He was one of the main people of it, which is why I named him El Hombre De Oro.”