"Se Recomienda Firmemente"
digital photo collage-2007
variable size as needed
—Horacio Sanchez Valderas y Victoria Moctezuma Valderas and El Puente de Reynosa, Tamaulipas—
The story of a Frontera Mexican-American Gothic
La Fontera, where I come from, is a magical land full of archetypes and icons that provided for me the elements to construct compositions derived from my experiences there—its called the Magic Valley of the Rio Grande for a reason. Sandwiched between two countries, it is an area that is isolated from the nearest metropolitan area to the north by at least 200 miles and to the south by 100 miles-San Antonio to the north and Monterey to the south. This expanse acts like an invisible mountain range that isolates the area into a valley of resacas in the east that cradle farmland and citrus groves that give way to caliche brush land to the west.
I created "Se Recomienda Firmemente" after a visit to the Mexican border city of Reynosa which is located across the river from Hidalgo just south of McAllen in 2007. These two cities had fields of farmland in between them but have grown into each other like every town in the Valley and now you can hardly tell where one city ends and another begins. The McAllen-Ediniburg-Mission Metropolitan Area has grown to 774k as of the 2010 census. It is very much the same on the other side of the border in Reynosa and all along the frontera until you reach the mouth of the Rio Grande. In Mexico it is called El Rio Bravo-The Wild River. With all the friction going on recently the river really lives up to its name. Since I moved to San Antonio the violence along the border has increased due to the drug cartels are fighting for control on the border.
In late spring of 2007 I used Se Recomienda Firmemente as and example when I introduced a lesson to my art students about identity, symbolism and archetypes in Grant Wood's "American Gothic" done in 1930. "American Gothic" is one of the most recognized parodied art pieces in art history—now it was my students' turn to make their own American Gothic Parody. After reviewing the piece, talking about the things going on in the painting and discussing how Grant Wood composed the painting from different components of images we jumped right in. The lesson continued with my students participating in an exercise on symbols and meanings connected to American Gothic then moved on to developing their own list of symbols and icons related to themselves and their own identity. I suggested that they look into their family history, think about issues that concerned them and research icons, symbols and archetypes that they identified with to begin their project. Showing my students my own art influenced by this iconic artwork was my way of showing them how I incorporated aspects and characteristics of the cannons into my work in order to communicate my message. So I had to tell them my story of Se Recomienda Firmemente.
photo credit: FB La Grulla, Texas
As it turns out, the act of crossing the border ran the gamut of experiences for me. In my early years it was about visiting my grandparents, los welitos. They lived on a farm near Diaz-Ordaz, a town across the border from Los Ebanos, a small town just east of Rio Grande City. Los Ebanos has a ferryboat and "According to a plaque posted by the Texas Historical Commission, the first recorded usage was by “Spanish explorers and colonists under Jose De Escandon in the 1760s.” So needless to say, visiting my welitos in Mexico was an adventure.
photo credit: https://www.elmanana.com/fiestas-patrias-podrian-mejorar-ventas-reynosa-mercado-zaragoza-comercio/4054360
Crossing the border was also about visiting family members in Reynosa and visiting the oldest mercado in town. The Mercado Zaragosa is a place that is in the memories of many many generations that grew up along the frontera. The mercado presents a colorful collection of textiles, ceramics, curios, cook ware, clothing, candies, fruits & vegetables, flowers, dry goods of all kind. The visual experience alone of visiting a mercado is enough to create wonderment in young and old eyes.
What inspired me to create "Se Recomienda Firmemmente" came from an experience earlier in the year 2007. I had taken a trip to the border to visit my mom who lives in McAllen, Texas. While I was there I decided to go across to Reynosa and have some lunch at one of the popular long established restaurants. Reynosa is a city of close to 1 million people and is a major trade hub along the border for produce coming in from northern Mexico. It was nostalgic for me since these were my old stomping grounds during my college art school years. We would get together and go out for a night of club hopping and then in the morning we would eat breakfast on the way back home. This was one of my memories of crossing the border.
However my visit to Mexico this time turned out to be a scary one. As it turned out, I was unaware of the transition period before the changes in documentation requirements to enter the United States and I had left the country with just my Texas Driver's License. When it came to my turn to speak to the ICE agent at the international bridge I was told that my TXDL was not enough to allow me back in. The female ICE agent then gave me an information sheet and pointed to the bold text printed "It is strongly recommended: " and it went on to list the required documents for U.S. citizens to gain entry back into the U.S. The agent kept pointing at the requirements and went as far showing it to me on the Spanish side in case I didn't understand English. "If you don't have 'em we can lock you up indefinitely", she grumbled at me.
Meanwhile my friend was going through the same thing in the next lane with another ICE agent who was being much kinder and understanding of the situation we were in. Noticing we were together the two agents stepped back and met quietly about our situation then came back to us. "Move along, and make sure to bring your passport on your next trip." I kept that information page. I used it to make the ground that my parents are standing on in front of the International Bridge of Hidalgo & Reynosa.
acrylic inlayed relief plate, birch -2008
8' x 4' x1"
Corporate Collection of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center
The image that I ghosted behind my mother and father in Se Recomienda Firmente is the earth-mother image that I created for a large scale printing even held in 2006. Coatlicue 2008(shown above) is a color inlaid relief print plate, acrylic on birch wood (carved and printed in 2006) In the corporate collection of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center-San Antonio. The prints made from the plate were created for the Steamroller Print Events held by the now de-funked Stone Metal Press. I own two of them and the rest are lost. More on the hand colored print TBA soon.