Growing Up Chicano

Art and Story by Xavier Lopez

Part 1: To the Batpoles

This has been a great month and I have been busting my hump working on art, from live painting at the Summit Hill Block Party to being part of a post “Pop-Surrealist” group show at Vermillion. Next month,  On October 30th, Ryan and I will be “Live Painting” for the Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Seattle Art Museum, and recently we were both invited to the Seattle Latino Film Festival opening gala as guests.  October has always been my favorite month and Fall has always been one of my favorite times of the year, a time of change when days are getting shorter and darkness is more prevalent.  It is a period in which to look back on the past year, (and years) and as I have been preparing for “Day of the Dead” and painting the largest painting I have ever done in time for Seattle Art Museum’s pre-Halloween night celebration I have been doing a lot of thinking about issues of difference.  Current issues in the news about the border and terrorism and a few other things have made issues of race come to the forefront of all of our minds.  I was recently speaking to good friend and local muralist, Ryan “Henry” Ward about this and we both agreed that now that we get most of our news from Facebook and the “powers that be” have figured this out–it seems that they can better focus their message and right now that message seems to be to try to get us all at each others’ throats and to focus on our differences.  Why do you think that Facebook was running experiments on us for the last few years–they wanted to see how better to manipulate their “caged rodents”.  And the rats have indeed been energized–every group on Facebook right now appears to be up in arms and in some cases in each others’ faces.  It is interesting to watch the psychology of groups–but that is a topic for another time.


All my life I have been bullied–for being fat, for having paint, crayons and even mud all over my hands, for being the smart kid, for being awkward and talking too much–and especially for saying the wrong things at the wrong time, for being too Mexican or not Mexican enough, for being too “effeminate” and especially for that greatest sin of all sins that any male can commit–being bad at sports. But recently I have returned to issues of gender and race.  Those things that as far as we can tell using science and psychology–you have no control over.  The things that are written in our eyes, the things that are written on our skin and on our bedroom walls.  It is these things that make us special, make us different–that give us a different take on life and love.  It is these things that rather than meaning that we don’t fit in, actually bring spice to our collective experience.   It is also these things that create underdogs and I have always had a soft-spot for the minority position.   I have always felt for and fought for the underdog over those in power and abuse of power has always been my clarion call.


This is part one in a series wherein I will deal specifically with issues of race and what it has meant to me to grow up Mexican in a period in which so much has changed. I will be calling extensively on my own personal biography and will more than likely be taking stances that not everyone will agree with, but I hope to generate many complex discussions–but not as somebody looking in from the outside as happens so very often–but rather from the point of view of someone who has been dealing with these issues before he even realized that they would inflect every aspect of his life.


My relationship to my own race, to race in general and to racism has always been very complicated and multivalent, changing over time and even different from situation to situation. The logics that have lead to my relationship to race are, like all systems of desire, complex, messy, libidinous and convoluted–as convoluted as identity–they have been built up over a life-time of experiences–many of which happened before the eyes of a defenseless child.


It is interesting that so much of who we are–so much of the incidents that make up our identities happen when we have the developing minds, the lack of an adult global overview and operate under the emotional makeup of children. Because of this, so many of the moments that define us have almost too much power and are tinged with the magical vision of our developing minds.


Over the course of a few blog posts–I am going to share some of the events that have defined me–a portrait of the artist as a young Latino, Mexican, Chicano or what have you!   Specifically, I will be writing about the events that somehow tie into issues of “otherness”–and in the case of this story, specifically issues of racism and homophobia.10746849_10205046211611868_1422124440_o

I don’t remember exactly how young we were, pretty young–I don’t think there were even three of us yet–so it was just my brother and I at the time. It was evening in Los Angeles, East L.A., Pomona, Montclair–the Chicano parts of town.  Back then it was possible to be Mexican and to still feel like part of the middle-class.  My dad was in Law School at the La Verne Colleges and he was studying to take the “Baby Bar” and my mom was taking classes at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga–before the systematic destruction of the middle-class and especially any minority middle-class, we used to love walking all over the campus as children–taking in all of the sights and playing Batman and Robin–and did we play in style–we colored in our own costumes with crayola crayons and I made masks out of found parts and the hoodies of old coats, we had excellent capes and loved to get fully dressed up–just as we did that very dark day.


My childhood was an era when a boy could learn to read by following the adventures of Batman and Superman–and above all, the adventures of Robin–the “Boy Wonder,” who held his own in the world of men, with a slingshot and a batarang.


Robin was my hero, an awkward, boy with two big locks of hair and the shortest of short green trunks. Though when my brother, sister and I played superheroes, fighting invisible bad-guys, since no one wanted to be one, I played Batman–but when I read the comics, it was Robin who’s adventures I followed.  As I was saying though, during the long-tea-time of my childhood, it was comics that taught me how to read, it was also comic books that taught be how to see the world and taught me all about right and wrong.  They taught me that there are good guys and bad guys, that bad guys usually traveled in packs and often wielded the power–that good guys worked alone or with their buddies–and fought for the right–even when it looked like the world was against them.


Something else was happening to me as I was reading these books–the difference that racism requires in order to wield its power over an individual was being thwarted at such an originary level that it would actually seem alien, cowardly and comedic the very first times that I would actually confront it. As I grew up, as I collected the experiences that would make me up–my heroes would never be cowboys–rather they were super, they wore capes and they looked exactly like me. (More on this later–of course–and don’t worry, I will deconstruct it.)


We were hyper that day–I and my brother David–as he was known back then, always held his shit together better than I did–I could always tell that he was smarter than me and that despite his being two years younger than me, that he understood better how things in this world worked–better than I ever would, actually! Anyway, as I was saying we were hyper and it was way past dusk,which meant it was way past time for us to come in from playing outside–only my mother hadn’t called us in.  When we did finally saunter in there was all kinds of a hullabaloo.  My dad was on the phone and my mother sent us to our room to get dressed.


We knew something was up! We heard bits and pieces. Uncle. Dog. Police. My dad decided to go on ahead and we would follow if needed.


Some things you should know–My uncle was a closeted gay man, who had recently bought a new house–a beautiful, two story affair, which he had filled with antiques–especially anything with a Rococo styling.  The man loved his rocaille–what can I say!  He used to take us to Hollywood and up Indian Hill Blvd. to the antique mall and I absolutely loved the world that he introduced us too–to this day I can spend an entire day shopping for antiques–well mostly window-shopping since I’m still a struggling artist–but I know that that all comes from him and those lazy days spent “antiquing” through most of Los Angeles!  God, those were the days!


Sadly, it would all end soon enough when my parents freaked out because I talked my uncle into buying me a Barbie Doll because I wanted a partner for my G.I. Joe–but my parents went hysterical and became certain that my uncle was going to turn me gay! But that life-long scar was not going to be inflicted for at least another year at this point.


But we knew something was up and so we hatched a plan! This was a job for Batman and Robin!  We planned to keep our costumes under our civilian clothing and as soon as we had a chance–we would spring into action and save the day!  If the police were there–we reasoned–then they would definitely need the help of Batman and Robin!


Mamita was agitated and hustled us into the car and when we arrived at my uncle’s–he was inconsolable–my dad and his brothers were all huddled around him and there were police cars all around. My mother told us to stay in the old sedan and to pretend we were “Silent E’s” just like on the Electric Company–that lasted for about five minutes.


Alone! At last! This was our chance! We got into our pajamas and capes and prepared to fight the good fight!  But just as we were going to head into the house and ask the police if they needed any help from Batman and Robin–my mom stopped us dead in our tracks!  Javierceeeto y Daveeed–where do you think you are going!  You will not go into that house!  Do you hear me! Her voice was filled more with terror and if I had been paying any attention I would have noticed that there was a motherly sincerity there that was not normal–a worry–like this wasn’t as arbitrary as some of her other requests!  And just where was my uncle’s dog!  Mom grabbed my kid brother and pulled him into her arms!


I saw David’s ignominious capture, but I wasn’t going to be stopped! This was definitely a job for Batman!  This was it and all I could see was the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy–and so I bolted and ran past all my relatives–ran past my inconsolable uncle–ran past the front door and past some of the cops and just stood there in absolute and utter shock and horror!


Now, I need to stop here for a minute and say that what follows I can’t seem to remember as well as the rest of the story–I think I went into a kind of shock and so what I’m about to describe is partially reconstructed and only partially from memories.


I looked up and my little bootied feet gave way. Hanging on the wall was my uncle’s dog–and blood–lots of blood.  Blood was everywhere. The dog had been disemboweled and stretched out in a kind of Christ-pose and written above on the once-pristine-white walls and between two large antique-filled vitrines was my very first introduction to hate speech.  I think it said something like “Die Spic Faggot.” or “Spic Faggot” or something like that–but I cannot be 100% certain.  As I stood there prepared to say something heroic–the words were taken right out of me and a pair of arms grabbed me and swooped me out of the room as well.  My first superheroic adventure had come to a quick, unexpected end.


And to this day–I don’t remember anything more from that night.



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