When I was in elementary school, my parents fueled something of a tween and teen fashion sensation in our small border town. Between parenting, working and running the household, they somehow also began creating personalized bracelets out of nylon thread and thin strips of plastic packaging material. (Did I mention they’re also resourceful?)
Each two-toned bracelet featured a person’s name woven in the middle. It soon caught on and all of my friends and my older sisters’ friends wanted one, too. I began taking orders for all my classmates and got a quick lesson in creativity and entrepreneurism.
Memories of my parents creating these bracelets came flooding in during a chat with Gilberto Rocha or, as he’s known in the art world, Rocha Rochelli. He’s the guest curator for the Mexic-Arte Museum’s latest annual Young Latinx Artists exhibition “Beyond Walls, Between Gates and Under Bridges.” The exhibit, which runs now through Aug. 26, explores the complexities of the U.S./Mexico border region and showcases the artwork of 11 emerging artists from across Texas, California and Mexico. Many of the powerful pieces highlight themes of struggle, religion, death and language. Rocha dedicates the exhibit to all Latino parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
“Embedded into our beings are the dreams of our parents and abuelitos,” he says in his curator statement. “We are their living aspirations, their yearning hours of devotion for a creative opportunity.”
Rocha remembers how his mom would come home from work and make baskets to sell for Easter or how his aunt would make custom dresses. Later he found out that his grandfather made plaster figurines to sell. “Somebody was always doing something creative on the side to earn a little extra,” he says. “I grew up thinking that’s what everyone does.” Rocha thinks that many of his relatives would have loved to have been full-time artists and creatives. They just never had that opportunity.
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Now, as an artist and art teacher, Rocha says he carries that responsibility on his shoulders all the time. He wants a new generation of young Latinx artists to share the stories that their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents never could. “Molded with stories of hardship and struggle, religious upbringing, the smell of tortillas and sound of cumbias, young Latin artists today understand how crucial their creative role is in maintaining traditions and forging new ones,” Rocha says.
In a particularly moving piece included in the exhibit, El Paso artist Abel Saucedo created an installation displaying worn shoes on a rusted rack. For his “Tunnel Runner” series, Saucedo traded shoes worn by immigrants who were unsuccessful in their attempts to cross the border in exchange for a new pair of shoes. The rusted rack represents the border fence separating sister cities El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. From dusty men’s work boots to tethered girl’s pink flats, each shoe tells its own story.
Although Latinx artists created the artwork, Rocha says that there’s something in each piece that will speak to people of all cultural backgrounds. “We are all in a way struggling and we are all in a way trying to get better,” he says, “Hopefully we can see those commonalities and help each other because we all need each other.”
Visit the Mexic-Arte Museum free on Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $1 for children 12 and under on all other days. Click mexic-artemuseum.org for more details.
MORE CULTURAL ARTS: Check out Austin 360’s Cultura blog
Music that unites
At a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric keeps growing and debates over asylum seekers and border walls heat up, it might seem impossible to find solutions. But there’s one thing that does make it possible for traditions and culture to flow without barriers or restrictions — music.
In recent years, son jarocho, the folk music that originated generations ago in Mexico’s Veracruz region with African and indigenous influences, has been embraced by U.S.-based bands from coast to coast. Most Americans first heard son jarocho without realizing it with Ritchie Valens’ rock ‘n’ roll cover of the son jarocho song “La Bamba.”
Today, contemporary bands draw upon the traditional folk music to create a sound influenced by unique bicultural experiences. Bands such as Las Cafeteras from Los Angeles and Austin’s own Son Armado (currently on hiatus) have allowed a new generation of listeners to make the music their own. On July 7, Radio Jarocho of New York, another influential son jarocho-inspired group, will perform at 8 p.m. at Central Presbyterian Church.
Radio Jarocho offers a modern take on the genre, often fusing son jarocho with jazz, rock or flamenco. For their latest album “Rios de Norte y Sur,” Radio Jarocho teamed up with highly-regarded son jarocho musician Zenén Zeferino of Veracruz, who comes from a legendary son jarocho family. Zeferino’s family cattle ranch was often the place where neighboring musicians would gather after working in the fields to sing, play and dance.
But perhaps the heart of the music comes from Mexico City native turned New Yorker Julia del Palacio, who dances on a wooden platform called a tarima. When dancing, her body turns into a percussive instrument fueling the band’s beat.
The powerful pairing does more than create a moving live experience, the music builds bridges between Veracruz and New York; Mexico and the United States our past and present.
For more information, visit radiojarocho.com. Tickets cost $10.