Linda Vallejo Bends Race and Represents Mexicans in an Anglo-Saxon Context

“Make ‘Em All Mexican” is a collection of mixed-media artwork by Linda Vallejo. The collection consists of Western and American icons–such as the Mona Lisa, Marilyn Monroe, and the goddess Venus–reimagined as Mexican.

On the Artist Statement Section of her website, Vallejo explains that she created these pieces of art in order to represent contemporary images through a Chicano lens. By taking a famous image of Marilyn Monroe, giving her a Mexican appearance, and renaming her “Marielena,” Vallejo blurs the lines between race differences and  reappropriates American culture as Mexican. Opting away from subtlety and towards irony, Vallejo injects existing iconic images with a racially charged quality, making race impossible to ignore while, paradoxically, shattering racial implications on social status and cultural connections.

Vallejo’s artwork receives varying reactions. “The Make ‘Em All Mexican series carries a strong electric charge,” Vallejo writes. “To some viewers, the images are hyper-political; for others, they are emotional portals to a past remembered and sometimes forgotten; and for another group, they are just down right hilarious.

Two particular pieces–a brown Statue of Liberty and a piece titled “Little Fourth of July Princess”–make us question whether or not Chicanos could be “All-American” and whether that implies a rejection or exaltation of our Mexican culture. On a different level, these two revolutionary pieces make Mexicans feel included in a country which has a history of rejecting us, deporting us back, and keeping us out.

“Make ‘Em All Mexican leads you down an ironic path to find yourself confronted by some of the most difficult questions of our time,” Vallejo explains.

The artistic statement on her website recognizes these questions:  “‘Do race, color, and class define our status in the world?’ ‘Is it possible to be a part of and earnestly contribute to multiple cultures simultaneously?’  ‘Does color and class define our understanding and appreciation of culture?’”

Vallejo shatters the American and Mexican border–physically and figuratively. She reimagines a world where Western culture and Mexican culture are one, and where Mexicans have a place in a global world.

Her artwork is currently on display at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (144 Haines Hall) until Friday, March 20th.

Grupo Folklorico de UCLA: Becoming a reality

Every Tuesday and Thursday night, Grupo Folklorico de UCLA practices on the Bruin Plaza stage. From bailes folkloric del Norte to bailes de Veracruz, Grupo Folklorico performs regional dances to tell the stories of Mexico’s past. Grupo Folkorico attracts students who wish to express their love for Mexican traditional culture.

Beginning in 1966, Grupo Folklorico was originally housed in the UCLA Dance Department. Due to budget cuts in the 1980s, the group lost its place but was rescued by alumni and community members. However, under new overseers, student members had little influence in decision-making. With cabinet meetings held in East Los Angeles and lasting up to four hours, students went out of their way to participate in the organization that supposedly served their demographic. “They were using student registration fees to fund [the group] when students were not getting some of the privileges of being in [it],” said Rosemarie Molina, a fourth-year sociology and global studies student.

Student members took action, developing a student constitution to consolidate the non-student membership into one vote. In 2007, with the help of mentors, the student members transformed Grupo Folkorico into student-run organization. With a new administration, Grupo Folklorico wrote proposals to USAC and held fundraisers to revive the organization.

With less than 10 students members in 2006-2007, Groupo Folklorico tripled in size by the end of 2008. Grupo Folklorico further expanded its horizons by reaching out to the community. “We have a program at Freemont High, which is a Title I school in South Central,” said Jearelly Pinedo, third-year sociology and public health minor and the 2008-2009 assistant coordinator. “We teach the students dances and hold workshops on nutrition and overall health. It’s a fun experience and you feel good doing it.”

“Grupo Folklorico promotes culture and diversity. No experience is necessary, and it helps students do something outside of school,” said Ruby Rivera, fourth-year Spanish & Community & Culture and Chicano/a studies student. Grupo Folklorico is a home-away for its members.

Grupo Folklorico has flourished into a strong, unified dance troupe. With its madrino and padrino buddy systems, current members reach out to new members to make them feel welcomed into the familia. Futhermore, Grupo Folklorico has also built networks with other Latino/a clubs on the UCLA campus.

Grupo Folklorico has endured successes and losses in the past 40 years, but the group maintains an inexhaustible enthusiasm and dedication to its art.

Printed Winter 2009