The Latino Chamber of Commerce’s
5th Annual Latino Art Fair
Printmaking & Politics
|Clockwise from upper left: El Sueno Americano; San
Toribo Romo González y Coyotes;
Undocumented Slavery; J. Leigh Garcia
“I had a teacher who encouraged us to be political in our work and taught us about the history of printmaking,” Garcia said. “We did prayer
flags and mine was about animal rights.”
This was a pretty big step for Garcia because on her mom’s side of the family comes a long line of cattle ranchers.
“My parents are really supportive,” Garcia said with a laugh. “But I don’t know if my cousins totally understand what I am doing on both sides
because meat is so tied to culture, both Texan culture and Hispanic culture. My Mexican family is like, ‘You don’t eat fajitas anymore?’ My
Texas family is like, ‘You don’t eat ribs and barbeque anymore?’”
Garcia continued to explore this theme more in college at the University of North Texas-Denton.
“I started making work about my mom’s side of the family who are six generations of cattle farmers in Texas,” Garcia said. “And then I went to
college and realized how horrible the cattle industry is for environmental reasons. I started making artwork about that and became a
vegetarian. I made a lot of work about being a vegetarian and how that relates to my Texas culture.”
And then she started becoming aware of the ultimate price that many immigrants pay coming over the border from Mexico.
“I found out about how many immigrants die every year when they cross the border,” Garcia said. “I was really astonished. I watched a
documentary called, ‘The Real Death Valley,’ which was made by The Weather Channel and Telemundo. It is a documentary about Brooks
County, Texas, which is 100 miles north of the border. Due to its proximity to the border, they find a lot of bodies of immigrants who died of
starvation, dehydration and exhaustion. I think being from Texas, I knew that people were crossing the border every day. But I had no idea that
they were actually dying just to get to where we are today. And of course, having my grandparents come over undocumented in the 1940s
really struck a chord with me. That one documentary really shifted my work.”
The shift is apparent in the work that Garcia is exhibiting at the Overture Center on the first floor. “El Sueno Americano” depicts migrant
workers at the bottom of a fruit case that is topped off with strawberries. The fruit case is almost a prison with bars for the migrants while the
sweet strawberries are packaged for American consumers. The case says Product of the USA.
Garcia’s father was a migrant laborer when he was a child, working alongside his parents traveling from Oregon to Texas pursuing the
harvest. In Texas, they picked cotton, something Garcia’s father hated to do. “Undocumented Slavery” is a portrait of Garcia’s father in a cotton
field as a child with an urban landscape in the background.
St. Toribo Romo González is considered to be the patron saint of undocumented workers entering the United States. Some have said that he
has appeared to them, leading them to water and safe passage. In “San Toribo Romo González y Coyotes,” Garcia depicts the patron saint
standing on top of water jugs surrounded by coyotes that are afraid of him and do not attack him. Coyote is also the term used for human
traffickers and smugglers who bring people across the border.
For Garcia, her art and political messages are inseparable.
“I love printmaking because it has a really strong historical connotation with political activism and spreading a political agenda,” Garcia said.
“It works well for messages that I am trying to get across. And I just think seeing how many injustices there are in the world, I’ve wanted to do
something about that. It’s just a natural pairing for that. It’s something that I personally enjoy doing. I love making images and crafting and
working with my hands. I also love being political and trying to make some kind of change, so they go hand-in-hand.”
Garcia came to Madison in spite of the cold because UW-Madison is considered the top printmaking grad school in the country. And she admits
that she has grown quite fond of Wisconsin cheese. When she graduates with her MFA next spring, Garcia will be heading back to Texas
where she plans to teach and continue with her political expression.
Texas should provide her with enough food for artistic creativity and political thought to last her a lifetime.
By Jonathan Gramling
J. Leigh Garcia has had a unique view of the American political landscape while
growing up in Dallas.
“I identify as Bi-racial/Latina,” Garcia, a featured artist for the 5th Annual Latino Art
Fair said in front of some of her artwork now being exhibited at the Overture Center.
“For me, my mom is sixth generation Texan, so that makes me seventh generation.
She comes from an Anglo background. And on my dad’s side, I’m a second
generation Mexican American. My dad’s parents came over the border
undocumented from Mexico.”
What has united the family has been love and expression.
“My parents are musicians, so I’ve always been raised with a creative drive,”
Garcia started taking art lessons when she was four years old. And for most of her
formative years, she was content with creating beauty in the world. But then she
took a printmaking class in high school and her view of the purpose art took on a