Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands Virtual Exhibition
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Mexic-Arte Museum presents the virtual exhibition Life and Experiences in the U.S/Mexico Borderlands, on view now through the Museum’s website and the Museum’s CultureConnect portal. In early 2020, Juan Antonio Sandoval Jr. (1946 – 2021), a former reference librarian and subject specialist for art and Chicanx studies at The University of Texas at El Paso, donated his vast collection to Mexic-Arte Museum, which he had amassed over 30 years. The Sandoval Collection is comprised of over 1,500 artworks, many of them created by Mexican and Latinx artists. It includes prints, photographs, paintings, sculptures, and popular art from the El Paso region, as well as Mexico. The Collection also contains hundreds of publications and ephemerae. Juan Sandoval’s dedicated patronage to the arts is a monumental achievement, and his legacy will allow countless generations to engage with these important works. Mexic-Arte is grateful that Juan Sandoval chose to donate his work to the Museum.
In addition, a large part of the full exhibition focuses on artworks on the Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands, and features a unique virtual component. Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlandsexamines the cultural history and social issues of the border as portrayed by artists in the El Paso/Juárez and the U.S. Mexico border region.
This part of the exhibition is enhanced with a web page, an online exhibition and a virtual lecture series, all established in order to better reach a broader audience. The exhibition is made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands is divided into five themes: Creating a Border; Land, Fauna, and Allegories; I am Immigrant You Are; Immigrant Dream and Nightmare; and The Culture Continues/La Cultura Sigue. The Sandoval Collection represents the unique distinct history and culture of the borderlands or la frontera. In keeping with our mission, the Museum’s Collection is a vehicle whereby the public can gain access to valuable information on cultural heritage. Humanities programs encourage an understanding of humanity in the broader culture of Texas, and in the global community.
Artwork used in event banner: Luis Jimenez, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, 1989, Color Lithograph on paper, 42″ x 57 1/8″. Mexic-Arte Museum Permanent Collection
Virtual Lecture Series
As part of the exhibition, the Mexic-Arte Museum will be hosting a series of online lectures led by art historians and professors from March 6th – May 1st. The virtual lectures will be live streamed via Zoom and Facebook Live, and moderated by Mexic-Arte Museum Curator & Director of Programs, Dr. George Vargas. Participants can pre-register for any of the events, or simply view the lectures on the Museum’s Facebook page on the day of each event.
CultureConnect is a new mobile tool that Mexic-Arte Museum is utilizing to make exhibitions and artwork accessible to the community. Through CultureConnect, Mexic-Arte Museum can present curated information about the artwork and give the viewer a chance to explore the artist and artwork in depth!
1492 marked the beginning of the European invasion, when Christopher Columbus reached what he dubbed La Isla Española (what is now known as the shared island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Inhabited by the Taíno people, the region was soon flooded with European colonists. One of these early colonists was Hernán Cortés, a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition to invade the Aztec Empire. In 1519, Cortés illegally led a campaign into the mainland of the Western Hemisphere in an open mutiny against Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, the Governor of New Spain. During a disagreement, Velázquez revoked Cortes’ charter. Actively ignoring orders, Cortés landed on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mayan territory. Cortés arrived in the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan, on November 8, 1519, formally claiming the land for the Spanish crown.
On May 26, 1521, Cortés returned with renewed resources and troops, invading the Aztec Empire once again. Tenochtitlan fell on August 13, 1521 after 75 days. Nueva España (New Spain) was established in the “New World”, and along with the Aztec, Spain invaded the Maya, and Inca people, occupying their vast territories, while controlling native populations and natural resources, such as gold, silver, and salt. Hoping to exploit the natural resources of New Mexico, Spanish explorers led entradas (expeditions), searching for a pass to the north. In 1581, entradas began to branch into the region.
In 1598, Juan de Oñate led an entrada of 400 soldiers, 130 families, and farm animals across the harsh Chihuahuan Desert and discovered El Paso del Norte (the pass to the north) near the Rio Grande, a passage leading through the Franklin Mountains to New Mexico. The Manso people of the region fed the explorers, and on May 1, 1598, Oñate organized a ceremony, el toma, to claim the lands for Spain, celebrating their survival, giving thanks to God. Oñate marched through El Paso del Norte towards New Mexico, invading pueblos of the Gipuy (or Kewa Pueblo) along the way.
The cruelty of the Spanish invasion in the Southwest continued. Upon reaching what would be established as Santa Fe in October of 1598, Oñate met the Acoma people. While at first Oñate and his caravan lived in peace with the Acoma, Oñate’s nephew Juan de Zaldívar took it upon himself to raid the Acoma in December of that year, taking food, prisoners, and their women by force. Zaldívar was killed in the ensuing struggle and Oñate retaliated in January of 1599 by taking the Acoma stronghold by force, murdering 800-1,000 people, and mutilating/selling approximately 500 others into slavery as further punishment. When King Philip II of Spain heard the news of the massacre, Oñate was banished from New Mexico, and Mexico, for his extreme cruelty to the Acoma people.
After 1680, Spaniards built three missions in the El Paso area, which connected many missions along the border and around the state. The Spanish constructed Catholic missions to convert the people of the region, abusing religion as a means to control the Original People. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, and by 1836 residents of Tejas declared independence from Mexico as the Republic of Texas, appealing to the U.S. for annexation.
Texas was not annexed until 1845 due to Texas’ slave trade practices, and in 1846, President Polk declared war on Mexico as a bid to continue the campaign of Westward expansion. The U.S. won the Mexican-American War in 1848, and forced Mexico to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The U.S. bought the Southwest for $15 million, and when the Gadsden Purchase (or treaty) was signed in 1853, the Rio Grande became the U.S. and Mexico borderline. With the development of the new borderline came a new borderland community, and its distinct economic, cultural, and social practices emerged.
Creating the Border: Art, Politics, and Stories
Lecture led by Dr. John Morán González
The Mexic-Arte Museum hosted “Creating the Border: Art, Politics, and Stories” Lecture led by Dr. John Morán González on Saturday, March 6th as part of the museum’s current virtual exhibition, Life and Experiences in the U.S/Mexico Borderlands on view now via the Mexic-Arte Museum’s website. The virtual lecture was live streamed via Zoom and Facebook Live and moderated by Mexic-Arte Museum Curator & Director of Programs, Dr. George Vargas. The Museum will continue to host four more lectures from now until May 1st.
The creation of the border state Texas, and its history and culture, was shaped by the Original People of the region, Spain, Mexico, and eventually the United States. At one time, la frontera or the frontier, referred to the border and the territory. Historically, six flags flew over Texas, representing Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the U.S. The origin of Texas’ name comes from the word ‘táyshaʼ, which means “friends” in the Caddo language, combined with the Spaniards term Tejas to name the territory.
Due to its size and geologic features, Texas claims a diverse landscape with five growing zones. Texas consists of prairies, grasslands, forests, mountains, the coastline, and less than ten percent of desert. Texas as a sparse desert land is a popular misconception throughout both historical depictions and pop culture. The cattle, cotton, timber, and gas/oil industries have historically driven its economy. El Paso, Juárez, Mexico, and Las Cruces, New Mexico all form a triad called the Borderplex, the biggest bilingual and binational work force in the Western Hemisphere.
One of the oldest cities in Texas is El Paso, the sixth largest in the state, with a population of 840,758, El Paso is opposite Juárez, Mexico, directly across the Rio Grande. Surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert, El Paso is located at the base of the Franklin Mountains. Since it affords a northerly passage into New Mexico when crossing the Rio, El Paso was dubbed El Paso del Norte. Part of the Chihuahuan Desert Ecoregion, it is considered the most diverse desert in the Western Hemisphere and one of the most diverse arid regions in the world. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most endangered regions in the world. Overgrazing, water depletion and diversion, changes in the fire regime, urbanization, increases in agricultural and resource extraction activities, invasive exotic species, and over collecting of native plants and animals are among the greatest threats to biodiversity in the Ecoregion.
Doves, the Mexican eagle, burrowing owls, ground squirrels, coyotes, mountain lions, Black bears, Gray and Kit foxes, rabbits, rattlesnakes, Brown Recluse spiders, and scorpions are among the many creatures found in El Paso. In 1883, J. Fisher Satterwaite, El Paso Parks and Streets Commissioner, introduced alligators to a newly founded San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso. The alligators thrived, and soon became the central attraction for tourists and El Pasoeans alike. Unfortunately, by the 1950s, violence and vandalism against the reptiles were on the rise, and by 1965, they were moved to the El Paso zoo. The history of the alligators lives on in San Jacinto Plaza (Or La Plaza de los Lagartos) with the installation of acclaimed El Paso born artist Luis Jiménez’s fiberglass statue Los Lagartos. Jiménez was among the spectators to see the alligators in downtown El Paso as a child, and the alligators have become a symbol many in the region recognize as distinctly “El Paso”.
Cacti are plentiful in the region, including yucca, sotol, ocotillo, cholla, barrel cactus, prickly pear, lechuguilla, and agave. Trees like the date palm, the windmill palm, cypress, mesquite, live oak, and flowering bushes thrive. Some distinctive habitat types in the Chihuahuan Desert include yucca woodlands, playas, gypsum dunes, and a diverse array of freshwater habitats. The borderland, its flora, and fauna are a shared experience for borderland inhabitants.
Allegorical symbols from the region include artist representations rejecting the appropriation and negative stereotypes of fauna and land, affirming both the pain and strength associated with their symbolic nature. The print Howl by El Paso artist Luis Jiménez rejects these stereotypes, celebrating his Mexican heritage, and much like the Mexican wolf he depicts, he is howling for the forgotten Original People, the struggle of his own people, and for the fast disappearing western frontier.
Land, Fauna, and Allegories: Performance, Art, and Video in the Chihuahua Desert
Lecture led by Dr. Laura Gutiérrez
The Mexic-Arte Museum hosted “Land, Fauna, and Allegories: Performance, Art, and Video in the Chihuahua Desert” a lecture and Q&A led by Dr. Laura Gutiérrez on Saturday, March 27th as part of the Museum’s current exhibition, Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands. The lecture was live streamed via Zoom and Facebook Live, and moderated by Mexic-Arte Museum Curator & Director of Programs, Dr. George Vargas.
Studies indicate that Homo Sapiens appears to have occupied all of Africa about 150,000 years ago; some moved out of Africa as early as 125,000 years ago into Asia, marking the beginning of migratory patterns in human beings. Migration to the Americas took place 20,000 to 15,000 years ago. Early humans migrated due to many factors, such as changing climate, landscape, and inadequate food-supply for survival.
In the 16th century, an estimated 240,000 Europeans entered American ports. In the 19th century, over 50 million people left Europe for the Americas alone. The local populations, or Original People, were often overwhelmed by incoming settlers. The term immigration was coined in the 17th century, referring to non-warlike population movements between the emerging nation states. When people cross national borders during their migration, they are called migrants or immigrants from the perspective of the destination country.
For almost a half-century after the annexation of Texas in 1845, the flow of immigrants was barely a trickle. In fact, there was a significant migration in the other direction: Mexican citizens left the newly annexed U.S. territories and resettled in Mexican territory. Beginning around the 1890s, new industries in the U.S. Southwest—especially mining and agriculture—attracted Mexican migrant laborers also fleeing stressed conditions under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) then increased the flow; war refugees and political exiles fled to the United States to escape the violence. Mexicans also left rural areas in search of stability and employment. As a result, Mexican migration to the United States rose sharply.
During the economic depression, immigrant workers from Mexico were pushed back across the border, and when economic prosperity and labor shortages arose, the workers were pulled back in to fill the void. During World War I until 1921, the first Bracero program opened the border to Mexican field workers. In 1942, the “official” Bracero program was enacted. The program called for braceros to be guaranteed wages, housing, food, and exemption from military service. Though this was the agreement promised by the United States, workers were denied for multiple reasons and were not given proper paperwork to work in America. Both El Paso and Juárez were prominent recruitment sites.
Geography, immigration, and displacement are common themes in Chicanx and Latinx art. Taking an activist approach, artists illustrate the historical presence of Mexicans and Original People in the Southwest, human rights abuses of undocumented immigrants, racial profiling, and the militarization of the border. Art provides a venue to challenge xenophobic stereotypes about Mexican Americans, and bring awareness to our broken immigration law and enforcement system, while simultaneously politicizing and mobilizing its audience to take action.
Another common theme is the labor exploitation in agricultural, domestic work, and service industry jobs, particularly of the undocumented. Artists worked to politicize the community and make a call to mobilize in an effort to stop immigration raids in the workplace and boycott exploitative and oppressive corporations, while exemplifying dignity and visibility to an often-invisible working population. The U.S. has a dubious history concerning immigrants, and economic and political forces determine how they are treated according to the “push – pull” factor.
Immigration is much more diverse today. Migrants from Latin America during the early twentieth century came almost exclusively from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Today, immigrants come from every country in Latin America, and even migration from Mexico has diversified: people come not only from the historical sending states in the Mexican heartland, but also from Mexico’s gulf coast, from the southern states, and from other areas that sent few migrants before the 1980s and 1990s. That means that Mexicans and Latin Americans are creating truly new communities in the United States – communities based around a pan-Latin American identity, as opposed to a regional homeland identity.
Borders, Migration and Art. The U.S. Mexico Experience
Lecture led by Dr. Gilberto Cárdenas
The Mexic-Arte Museum hosted “Borders, Migration and Art. The U.S. Mexico Experience” a lecture and Q&A led by Dr. Gilberto Cárdenas on Saturday, April 3rd as part of the Museum’s current virtual exhibition, Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands. The lecture was live streamed via Zoom and Facebook Live, and moderated by Mexic-Arte Museum Curator & Director of Programs, Dr. George Vargas.
The borderland or la frontera is a living metaphor for the community who live and work there; in particular, the borderland is at the center of issues that emanate outward affecting the entire Latinx population. The selected artists interpret people’s dreams, aspirations, fears, struggles, and nightmarish misfortunes; their artworks also reveal a shared borderland cultural experience. “The American Dream” as a whole is an illusion; hard work, luck, and opportunity have become central to this idea, ignoring the reality. Many “opportunities” come from who you know, and the amount of privilege you were born into. Hard work often leads to nothing but more work, and you cannot rely on luck. The “Dream” many immigrants look to can easily turn into their worst nightmare thanks to economic disparity. The artists here depict an outlook concentrating on identity, social issues, racism, and false ideology.
The U.S. continues to control the sociopolitical environment of the borderland, affecting permanent residents and immigrants alike. America represents the land of opportunity, but to reach it, many must endure hardship and deprivation in the northward journey to el Norte, crossing from one side of the border to the other side (el otro lado) at the Rio Grande. Some willingly cross the border, while others are forced to cross, either fleeing violence back home, or being exploited by human trafficking practices. Although El Paso has a dominant Mexican – Mexican American/Chicanx ethnic presence, border culture is neither strictly Mexican nor American. Rather, it lives “in between” the two predominant cultures.
The border is a place of extreme conflict, conjuring images of barbed wire, federal agents of la migra (Border Patrol and I.C.E., or Immigration and Customs Enforcement) with automatic weapons and security dogs, surveillance helicopters and drones, and the infamous Border Wall. The region is a conduit for drug cartels, following migratory routes to major distribution points; immigrants are often forced to carry cargos of drugs across and beyond the border for the smuggler. By contrast, the landscape is beautiful, populated with a diversity of wildlife, flora, and friendly people. These works depict the binational culture of the region, and are reflective of how border cities thrive, acting as a hub for Chicanx, Mexican, Mexican American, Tejano, and Latinx culture.
Art created by Chicanx and Latinx artists is influenced by social, political and cultural issues. Many artists work to resist and challenge dominant social norms and stereotypes for cultural autonomy and self-determination. Some artists focus on building awareness of collective history and culture, and equal opportunity for social mobility. Latinx and Chicanx art challenges the social constructions of racial/ethnic discrimination, citizenship and nationality, labor exploitation, and traditional gender roles in effort to create social change. Activism takes form in representing alternative narratives to the dominant through the development of historical consciousness, illustrations of injustices, and indignities faced by Mexican American communities.
Drawing from the Chicano movement, activists utilize art as a tool to support social justice campaigns and voice realities of dangerous working conditions, lack of worker’s rights, truths about their role in the U.S. job market, and the exploitation of undocumented workers. Using the United Farm Workers campaign as a guideline, Chicanx artists put stronger emphasis on working-class struggles as both a labor and civil rights issue for many Chicanx people and recognized the importance of developing strong symbols that represented the movement’s efforts, such as the eagle flag of the UFW, now a prominent symbol of La Raza.
Dreams continue. With hard work and determination, some are achieved and some are not. However, dreams never die—“Si se puede” truly is the anthem of the daily struggle.
Mexican Mobility in Perspective: Building Futures / Closing Pathways
Lecture led by Dr. Sarah Lopez
The Mexic-Arte Museum hosted “Mexican Mobility in Perspective: Building Futures / Closing Pathways”, Lecture and Q&A led by Dr. Sarah Lopez on Saturday, April 17th as part of the Museum’s current virtual exhibition, Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands on view now via the Museum’s website. The virtual lecture was live streamed on Zoom and Facebook Live and moderated by Mexic-Arte Museum Curator & Director of Programs, Dr. George Vargas.
To better understand the culture of the borderland, one must remember that the land was a part of Mexico for many years. The community continued to grow and develop; cultural traditions were maintained, as well as transformed. As time went on, ongoing migration reinforced the culture. First, many fled the harsh conditions under the dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz, then in the early 1900s, when numerous Mexicans migrated to the U.S. during the Mexican Revolution. Immigration continues today, and migrants from Mexico and Latin America revitalize communities in the U.S. and rejuvenate American society as other immigrants have done throughout history. The largest sub-group in the total Latinx population, and the fastest growing ethnic minority, Mexican Americans represent nearly 11% of America’s total population, and comprise the bulk of the population in many cities throughout the U.S. Southwest.
In the 1960s, Mexican American/Chicanx activists organized the Chicano Movement (El Movimiento) to protest social injustice and discrimination suffered by the Mexican and Chicanx peoples. Inspired by Chicanidad (an awareness based on Chicanx identity), the Movement promoted cultural affirmation, political resistance, and self-determination in the struggle toward social freedom and equality. Chicanx art was greatly influenced by the Mexican Mural Movement and its ideology. Artists worked individually and in collectives to produce murals throughout the community.
Themes in the murals included Chicanx history, women’s cultural history, the United Farm Workers (UFW), cholo and street culture, familial relations, and religious iconography. Overtime, Chicanx murals became diverse in content and style. In Texas, artists from Brownsville, Kingsville, and Laredo, helped to foster the emergence of Chicanx art throughout the borderlands. Artists exhibited in major cities like Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, and throughout the state’s Valle (Valley). Eventually, Chicanx art migrated from the U.S. Southwest to Northern and Eastern states, changing to reflect differences and similarities in these regions. Chicanx art today has expanded throughout the nation, and Latinx artists from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and many other Latin American cultures with roots in the U.S. contribute to the contemporary art scene.
Mexican and Mexican American experiences have heavily influenced popular culture. While English is the national language in the U.S., Spanish comes in at a close second, and is the dominant language in many cities. Mexican influenced cuisine has increasingly become part of the American menu. Visual arts, music,
literature, dance, theatre, and film melded into mainstream culture. Catholicism and Christianity have merged with pre-Columbian traditions, creating new subsects of religious ideology. Immigration continues to inspire a creative outpouring in Mexican and Chicanx cultures at the border and in the American heartland.
The Texas-Mexico border is a living metaphor for the Mexican and American cultures that live side by side, speaking Spanish and English and engaging in cultural and religious practices. Living in the border region, people have made their own “in between” culture, often leaving behind expressions of their ancestral culture, language, and religion in the synthesis of the new. The explosive growth of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the U.S. reveals their indomitable spirit. Selected artworks refer to the traditions and customs that continue to transform borderland culture and inspire its fluorescence.
La Frontera /The Border as Reflected in the Cinematic Lens
Lecture led by Dr. David Maciel
The Mexic-Arte Museum hosted “La Frontera /The Border as Reflected in the Cinematic Lens”, Lecture and Q&A led by Dr. David Maciel on Saturday, May 1st as part of the Museum’s current virtual exhibition, Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands on view now via the Museum’s website. The virtual lecture was live streamed on Zoom and Facebook Live and moderated by Mexic-Arte Museum Curator & Director of Programs, Dr. George Vargas.
The PastPerfect Online portal is where you can further explore the entire permanent collection. You can be more specific and run queries depending on the art you’re interested in researching. Mexic-Arte Museum’s PastPerfect Online portal is always being updated with artworks newly acquired by the museum, so it’s worth investigating periodically.
Below are downloadable worksheets that can be printed or completed virtually on any mobile device. Tag (@mexic_artedu on Instagram) or email () with your completed worksheet for a chance to be featured on Mexic-Arte Museum’s social media! All featured advanced art lessons are TEKS aligned, and can be taught in and out of a classroom.
“When you first buy art, you start buying many disparate items and as your knowledge and taste becomes more sophisticated, you realize that there should be a focus. I decided to build a collection of Latino and Hispanic art which could be left as a cultural legacy to some organization that would make it available to Hispanics in general.”
– Juan Antonio Sandoval Jr.
From How a UTEP Librarian Became a Latino Art CollectorOriginally published November 14, 2014 By Kristopher Rivera / UTEP News Service
The Life and Experiences in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands
An online exhibition and lecture series are made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.