Chicano artist José Luis Gonzalez talks art, activism at LSU panel during Latinx Heritage Month

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Mexican American artist José Luis Gonzalez and LSU co-president Eduardo García in Bioscience Building 113 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 6, 2021. Em Balaghi/ The Occidental

The Latinx Student Union (LSU) hosted the event “Chicano Art and Activism: The Role of Art in the Chicano Movement of East LA” Oct. 6 featuring Mexican American artist Jose Luis Gonzalez. The event took place in Bioscience Building 113 and was arranged in part to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, which is from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year.

Gonzalez was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico in 1939, and grew up in East LA. He graduated from the Don Bosco Technical Institute at Rosemead in 1959 and gained experience in various art forms ranging from mural painting and restoration to sculpture under the tutelage of local artists. In 1969, Gonzalez opened his first Goez Arts Studio & Gallery with his brother Juan. Now, he owns five galleries.

During the event, Gonzalez presented many of his art projects, accompanied by photos. Some of his projects include an official mural for the 1984 Olympic Games in LA, a 60,000 square feet painted map of the U.S. for the “Hands Across America” event to fundraise for hunger reduction and restoring a sarcophagus that contained Mahatma Ghandi’s ashes.

According to Gonzalez, he initially wanted to become an engineer, but an unexpected recruitment by Fusek’s Studio when he was in high school made him pursue a career in art.

“I was contemplating going to school and studying engineering, and then going from mechanical engineering to aeronautical engineering. That was my dream,” Gonzalez said. “Then a gentleman came over to my school, and he told the teachers, ‘I need a young man that could do art.’ I was surprised they picked me.”

Jennifer Becerra (sophomore), an Angeleno and LSU member who attended the event, said the talk was reflective of Latino immigrants’ contribution to the LA community.

“A lot of his works are things I grew up seeing in different locations around LA,” Becerra said. “It’s important to understand the fabric of our culture here is made up by immigrants and by the Latino community.”

Mexican American artist José Luis Gonzalez presents his mural “Do Not Fear for I Am Here” installed at the White Memorial Hospital located in LA, in Bioscience Building 113 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 6, 2021. Em Balaghi/ The Occidental

Ray Corpus (junior) said a previous class he took called “Art of the Mexican Revolution,” taught by professor Amy Lyford, inspired him to attend the event to learn more about Chicano art.

“[Gonzalez] mentioned he was influenced by muralists like [David Alfaro] Siqueiros and [Diego] Rivera from the Mexican Revolution, so I thought it would be interesting to see more examples of this Chicano art,” Corpus said. “[Gonzalez] is 82 years old — you don’t see a lot of people talk and act like that anymore. He’s a very energetic guy.”

According to Eduardo García (senior)*, co-president of LSU, he first met Gonzalez at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, where they chatted about Gonzalez’s work, which led to García eventually inviting him to speak at Occidental. García said LSU received funding from the Remsen Bird Fund for this event, as well as support from the Intercultural Community Center (ICC) and Marcus Rodriguez, director of the Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement (SLICE) office.

García said he was excited that he was able to get Gonzalez to speak at Occidental, because of Chicano art and activism’s importance.

“It was really amazing to hear him speak and then also have members from outside of Latinx Student Union there to not only support the club, but also [being] as interested within the the topic itself of Chicano art and activism,” García said.

According to García, LSU members only elected the club’s executive board in early September, which meant they had limited time to plan and advertise events for Latinx Heritage Month.

LSU club treasurer Adrian Manhey (junior) said he would like the college’s help publicizing events in order to reach a wider audience for LSU’s initiatives.

“We try our best to organize and plan these events, but at the end of the day, we’re still students who have things going on,” Manhey said.

García said Latin American history and culture extends beyond just the Latinx Heritage Month and he hopes to see more support from the college. LSU was able to host the event with help from SLICE and the ICC, but García said executing the event was difficult as students had to take full initiative to make the event happen.

“I 100 percent think that the college should be taking a more supportive and more engaging stance with not only Latin American Heritage Month, but with the Latino and Latinx students on campus,” García said. “We don’t only want the activism and action during Latin American Heritage Month, but throughout the whole year to support the Latinx students here on campus, especially with claims that the college makes around diversity.”

According to García, LSU is planning a fundraiser Oct. 27 with pupusas and aguas frescas while they watch the Mexico vs. Ecuador World Cup qualifier. Updates on all future events can be found at @latinxstudentunion on Instagram.

*Eduardo García is the Translation Coordinator for The Occidental.

This article was revised Oct. 20 at 5:33 p.m. to correct the spellings of José Luis Gonzalez’s and Eduardo García’s names.