Mural narrates struggles of Latino community in America

by Frances Cha | 7/5/05 5:00am

As part of the Encuentro Latino Dartmouth Summer Arts Festival, painter Ernesto Cuevas '98 returned to Dartmouth on Saturday, July 2 to help create a collaborative mural in the Latin American, Latino and Caribbean House. Cuevas has returned to his alma mater several times to work on creative artistic pieces with current students.

The event was spearheaded by the Humanities Center, which contacted Cuevas and asked him to come and add an art component to the Festival. The Festival already had music, dance and drama events scheduled, but a visual arts dimension remained absent. Cuevas, who still maintains a strong relationship with the Latino community on campus, was the obvious choice.

Cuevas's works are bright, colorful and expressive, and focus on Latin themes. For this mural, Cuevas and the students spent almost their entire Saturday in discussion and deliberation for what particular image it would depict and what message the mural would contain. In order to finish the mural by Monday, July 4, the painters planned to stay up to paint all night on Sunday.

By Sunday evening, the mural was well underway with nine or ten students helping Cuevas sketch the base and paint in the outlines. Encompassing two walls, the mural was composed of six large panels placed side-by-side. Although there were fluid transitions between all of them, each panel still had an individual story and concept.

"There were two main debates over the content," Cuevas said. "The first was whether it should be celebratory or more of a narrative of the struggles of the Latino people, while the second was whether it should be focused on Dartmouth issues or broader, national and international issues."

After a prolonged debate and discussion that took up most of Friday, Cuevas and the students were able to literally sketch out a narrative in six parts.

The first part focused on the corruption and migration of the Latino people, showing a migratory flow of people who had been oppressed in the countries of their origin.

"We wanted to show the paradox between immigration and free trade and the reasons behind people migrating," Janet Vargas '07 said. The panel depicted the migrating Latino people and their perception of America as the land of opportunity, and the movement towards the U.S. The second panel focused on what happened when they got there -- the struggles of the first- and second-generation working classes.

Although the mural focuses on the oppression of the Latino people, the painters said firmly that it was not about "finding a scapegoat."

"We acknowledge our own responsibility in our history of oppression and exploitation," Cuevas said, adding that the mural was an exploration of the Latino identity, its underprivileged nature and the cyclical history of exploitation.

The third part consisted of showing the children and grandchildren of the migrant workers and their full integration into the pre-existing American structure. That depiction then transitioned into the image of a house with an American family, which ignores the Latino labor force that is such an integral part of its day-to-day life.

"We wanted to show how ingrained the Latino laborers are into the American life, and yet how the American family chooses to ignore us and contributes to the general attitude of wanting the Latino community to leave," Cuevas said.

The last panel was devoted to an urban setting and comprised of two separate parts. One depicted an image of a cleaner corporate America, while the other showed a harsher and dirtier setting where puppeteers were incorporated to "represent how we are manipulated into fighting each other," Cuevas said.

"I personally feel that this image dictates the success that so many people feel when they are pressured into entering corporate America," Elkin Cabas '06 said. He added that he also saw the ladder-climbing mentality and the struggle to get to the top as being oppressive in its own way.

Although quite a few of the participating students were studio art majors or minors, there were some who had no experience in painting or drawing, but still joined in with great enthusiasm. Participants included Alejandro Martinez '07, Yuki Oishi '07, Luz Lomeli '07, Janet Vargas '07, Jonathan Davila '05, Jose Ojeda '07, Elkin Cabas '06, Stephanie Johns '04 and Vanessa Durand '03.

"Everyone has ownership of the mural and it's about creating one artist together," Cuevas said. "What's important for me about this is creating a learning experience not only in technique but also in communication."

This brilliantly colorful, expressive and collaborative work of art celebrating and reflecting Latino history and culture was set to be completed by July 4 Independence Day holiday.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!