Héctor Duarte

Chicano, Illinois

The name Chicano, Illinois symbolizes the struggle of Mexican-Americans in Chicago for their civil rights, and for the right to consider the city theirs. The central image in this piece is a heart with a bandana tied around it. I utilize hearts often in my work; the heart is an image that resonates strongly with Latinos—we find it all over our culture, in the Mexican game of Loteria, in Catholicism as the Sacred Heart. The bandana of course was used frequently by Chicanos at the end of the '60s, and it was used earlier by Mexican farm workers to wipe the sweat from their bodies.

Within the heart is the skyline of Chicago with its shiny skyscrapers—this is where the money is in Chicago. In the background is a flat horizon. Angled lines give the impression of distance. To me, the lines are something like streets, forming the blocks that lead to the barrio, which is flat and barren in contrast to the shiny skyline. Although the barrio may be physically close to downtown, the angled lines make it seem far away, which is the reality culturally and economically.

The bright colors and lines in motion express the energy of the Chicano Movement in Chicago. I painted this piece thinking about those who grew up in the 60s and lived during a time in which they identified strongly as a community with their Mexican heritage, painting murals with Mexican or Aztec themes and symbols and protesting for their civil rights. It was my intent to capture something from that movement as a way of holding on to it, as a way of pointing out that there are important things to be taken still from that struggle.

El regreso del vigilante

El vigilante, or "lookout," is a common sight in many Latino neighborhoods in the U.S. Charged with watching out for rival gang members or the police, vigilantes stand at their posts—they often wear hooded sweatshirts—looking from side to side and calling, whistling, or signaling to their fellow gang members or rivals. Generally they have a specific site—a certain corner, a certain store, the doorway of an apartment building. In their faces I've always seen a profound sadness and agony.

El regreso del vigilante was a way for me to represent the lookouts, many of whom are no longer at their posts—they've been replaced by others—killed by rival gang members or picked up by the police. At the place where they are killed, which in Chicago is often right on the sidewalk, near parking meters or light posts, it's not uncommon to find votive candles, notes from loved ones, photos, pictures of saints. I created this piece for the Day of the Dead, or November 2, when the dead are thought to return. In this case, the lookout returns to his post dressed in black, with a votive candle and a tear.

It was obvious to me that I should paint the young people who are killed every week in the barrio. I've felt a sadness for the way in which they disappear, and for the impotence of adults in the community to do anything to stop it.

Pancho Villa and the Wetbacks

Pancho Villa and the Wetbacks pays homage to the anonymous heroes who fought in the Mexican Revolution with Pancho Villa. The image of Villa in the center of the work is meant to be something like an apparition, a reflection of the illusion that I think lives in people of Mexican origin. I use the three primary colors to reflect the decomposition of light, which for me represents a very magical state. This is how I think Pancho Villa exists in the minds of people of Mexican descent—I think when you talk about Villa, people see him as almost magical in their minds, like something unreal or surreal. They tend to view him almost as a mythical figure in history, because of his valor and his participation in the Revolution.

Before I left Mexico, I didn't paint Pancho Villas; I was focused on the Mexican vanguard. When I moved to Chicago, I began to adopt images of Villa and other images that had been important in the Chicano Movement. The reality is that when I found myself outside of Mexico in an environment adverse to Mexicans I felt more Mexican than ever before—I think this is something that all Mexicans and lots of other immigrants feel. You feel the absence of your country and you begin to value it more culturally. So symbols that represent Mexico and Mexicans suddenly become important in this new context.

I say this is an homage to the anonymous heroes who fought with Villa. To create the work I started with a photograph of Pancho Villa and his "muchachos," as they were called, in which I erased the faces of the "muchachos" to represent the anonymity of those who fought with Villa. Villa's face I left alone, and his face is reflected above, painted, in an aura of energy under which the anonymous heroes pose. I wanted the viewer to think about the fact that those who fought with Villa are never recognized. The photo I used for this work was taken by a gringo after Villa's army invaded Texas. Villa is the only military leader in history to have invaded the U.S. by land. Today, Villa and his army can be seen as harbingers of a "reconquista" now taking place—in nonviolent form—with so many people of Mexican origin living in the U.S. as "wetbacks."