Latino and Art


Piece by Maritza Davila, “Jackie en el Jardin Secreto”  – Mi Sur / My South


Recently I’ve been honored to participate in a group show of Latina/o artists working in Memphis titled Mi Sur/My South. Earlier this year I was invited to have a solo exhibition in a summer series showcasing Latino artists at the Centro Cultural Latino Cultural Community Center at Caritas in Memphis, TN, again invited by my friend Richard Lou, the Director of Fine Arts at the University of Memphis.

When Richard first invited me I accepted graciously then immediately googled whether Brazilians are considered to be Latino. They are, as Brasil is a Latino Country, although the spoken language is Portuguese not Spanish. Still, I felt as if I had a lot of explaining to do as I don’t openly identify as a minority, or person of color, or as a Latina. All my life I have checked the ✓other box. I am biologically Brazilian-American. Not a color (white), or Latino, or African-American, or American Indian…just “other”, but actually a little bit of all of those. (I’m sure we all agree the options are grossly limited in the statistical realm.) “Brazilian”, by the way, is not an ethnicity instead it describes a nationality that consists of mixed ethnicities like “American” does, so I’m pure mutt.

My Brazilian part comes from my father’s side: I have a grandfather who was a 3-way mix of African, South American Indian – Tupi/Tupiniquim and Portuguese – and a grandmother who was 100% Italian. My American mother received her French, English and German from her parents. I was born in Brasil – my first language was Portuguese – my family became broken.

Then, I was raised in the Midwest where I always stuck-out…I was obviously different. I looked like “the one who must be from somewhere else,” I had a foreign last name that was hard to pronounce. Then I got a normal last name but it didn’t match how I looked. I’ll turn 40 this month and no matter where I’ve lived (I’ve lived 6 places in the US) people ask me, where are you from? You don’t look like you’re from here. I tell them where I grew up and they say…you knowww, I mean where are you froooommm? They feel relieved when I put them at ease and say, I was born in Brasil.

At (almost) 40 I think I’m from the stars, the cosmos, and why not? The more I get to know all that’s in my mind and heart I know that I’m much more than this person called Stephanie with this attached timeline and map. There’s more going on in here and that’s where I’m from. The unnamed place. I know that sounds ridiculous, I mean, come. on. but seriously, I don’t like to identify with made-up things – things that man made up, like: nation, race, status, profession etc…and if you don’t identify with all the things then you are an outsider. It’s not on principle that I don’t identify, I guess I’m just naturally adverse to these confinements…and I do pay a price! It’s never easy to feel like an outsider, as we all have the need-to-belong written into our DNA—as a survival mechanism, but it’s in this act of “going the other way” that I’ve felt most like an outsider, more-so than because of my ethnicity. I never really identified with either of the countries I straddled growing up. I have dual-citizenship so I never felt legally in danger and I was raised a fluent English speaker which made all the difference in how I was treated, comparatively.

Still, I can fully appreciate the reason for having these Latino-identified art happenings. (In case you weren’t sure) it’s to help elevate this group of persons that have felt invisible in American culture. This group of folks who have been treated as less than an American citizen because they identify so strongly with the home they come from. (Oh The hypocrisy, Europeans-turned American!) I won’t get into a history lesson but the main point is the inhumanity of Colonialism. How gunpowder and steel decided who would get to be “in” and who would be cast out. It being fairly recent (as in, still happening I dare-say), we can easily find people who believe the benefits of Colonialism outweighed the costs…that attitude is still prevalent. (ummm, were there any benefits?) A majority of the Latino community could possibly be in danger at any moment under American law if it were to change. So, any effort to illustrate the humanity of Latino/a persons is a beautiful effort that I will graciously stand with! and I do.



PS. …and although I don’t usually write or talk about how my personal map figures into my work, it most obviously does, and how could it not.



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