Salvador Roberto Torres was born in El Barrio del Diablo in El Paso, Texas. Just three months later he and his family migrated to Los Banos, California, where his parents worked as farmworkers at Facett Ranch. In 1942 the family moved to San Diego to find work at aircraft plants and tuna canneries. Salvador attended school and did farm work during the summers, graduating from high school in 1955. After two years at San Diego City College, he earned a certificate in commercial art in 1960. That same year he received a scholarship to the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, where he received a B.A. in arts and education in 1964. During Torres’s stay in the Bay Area he became associated closely with José Montoya, Esteban Villa (see entries on these artists), and other Chicano artists who would also play key roles in the blossoming Chicano art movement.
In 1967 Torres returned to San Diego to find his childhood neighborhood of Logan Heights badly eroded and bisected by the construction of the Logan Avenue Bridge. At that time he was drawing portraits for a living in downtown San Diego, where he experienced consumption. After recuperating for eight months in the San Diego medical center, he enrolled at San Diego State University (SDSU) in 1968, earning an M.F.A. in 1973. In 1969, during his time at SDSU, Torres painted the now famous Viva la Raza and shortly thereafter established El Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego’s Balboa Park, becoming its first director. Over the succeeding three decades Torres served as a lecturer, tour guide, and historian of Chicano Park and maintained an association with many artist groups.

In his famous Viva la Raza Torres raises the struggles of the Chicano community for social justice to the level of icon by boldly depicting the red eagle, the symbol of the United Farm Workers, soaring towards the firmament as a reborn phoenix. The oil on canvas is made visually effective by its use of the strong color scheme of the Mexican flag: red, green, and white. While the painting resembles a flag with its horizontal bands of color, simple central image, and sparse words, it is, however, an emblem on the move, an emblem in the making. The brushwork is broad and hurried with no concern for tightly defined details. The word “Viva” has the character of a message painted quickly on a wall. The words “la Raza” are scratched into black paint in the freehand style seen on public walls in urban barrios. The sum effect is to create a visually self-contained and self-reflexive semiotic with profound political reverberations that has moved viewers for more than thirty years.

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Viva la Raza
1969|Oil on canvas|36.5"x33.25"
Edition of 129

Salvador Roberto Torres