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THE STORY OF ARIZONA "LATINO" CRAFTS AND ART

In the early 2000s when I had Sueños Latin American Imports as a retail store in Phoenix, I made the decision (mistake?) of opening up my inventory to the likes of "Latino" Arizona crafters.  As I was importing crafts from Latin America at a considerable mark-up, I told the local "Latinos" that I would carry their merchandise if it fit the themes and the pricing structure of the store.  As I was an import store and I was dealing in lower-end items, I didn't expect anyone to take me up on the offer.  Some did.  I have some remnants of my store's inventory here that I am offering for sale.  These are one-of-a-kind pieces.  Once I sell them, there is no more.  I no longer represent these "artists."

The story of "Latino" art in Phoenix is a brief, sad tale.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s with Ricky Martin on the airwaves and "Latino" actors and television personalities becoming more prominent in the media, there was a sudden interest in this broad, mostly undefined ethnic group which had been recently elevated to special (victim?) status as America's newly-minted minority.  Many of the "artists" I came into contact with rushed onto the scene to make a quick buck by convincing non-Hispanics that what they were doing was authentic art based on a Mexican culture they had little or no connection to.  I was really surprised that most of the people I dealt with who considered themselves representatives of "the culture" were woefully lacking of any non-American culture in their lives.  Sure, they may have grown up eating tamales at Christmas ("Now, is the singular form of the word 'tamal" or 'tamale'?" - this was an actual quote last Christmas by one of them), but that was pretty much the extent of their exposure to Mexican culture.  Yes, they had the last names and they had the genetics, but pretty much all of these "Latino" "artists" were completely clueless about Mexico or Mexicans and only one of them I remembered even had a rudimentary grasp of the Spanish language.  Not one of them had even the slightest sliver of curiosity about their own heritage to take the trouble to ever visit Mexico.  With the dawn of the internet, information became readily available online, and while these "artists" didn't have a tradition of celebrating holidays in their families like Day of the Dead, for example, they used the new information tools to pass themselves off as "experts."  They began "marketing" to unsuspecting non-Mexican-Americans who hung on their every word and believed that these "artists" were actually knowledgeable in the culture that they were supposedly representing. 

Many of these "artists" who were embarrassingly lacking in any sort of cultural awareness back then still have not lifted a finger to do the minimum amount of work to learn anything relevant in the past 20 years.  That said, it's no wonder that for many of them not much has really changed in that time, either (ie they are still broke).  Anyone exposed to basic Mexican culture, for example, should know that the flaming heart is the Sacred Heart of Jesus and is a very profound religious symbol.  You don't just use that symbol willy-nilly as part of your logo because you think it means "burning passion," or "burning love," in some sort of pop culture, Elvis kind of way.  As the owner of Sueños who had the "art" of these people in my store, often times I had to fix their mistakes, so to speak, and correct misinformation that they had spewed to unsuspecting buyers to make a sale.  I will never forget someone who came into my store looking for a skull milagro, sent there by one of the "Latina crafters."  When I told the customer that a skull milagro charm didn't exist because milagros were charms for healing and a person wouldn't have to heal a skull (a symbol of the dead), the customer argued with me citing this crafter's "expertise" and said, "Well, she should know."  Well, no she shouldn't, because she learned about milagros in an obviously half-assed way on the internet.  This "Latina crafter" was also the same one who I overheard telling a customer who asked, "What is Day of the Dead"? that it was, "The Mexican Halloween."  Really?  Come on.

Because the "Latino" "artists and crafters" did not have an authentic culture of their own to draw from, they began copying each other based on what was selling to non-Hispanic people.  They were engaging in a form of what sociologists call "dissociative acculturation."  This is when a minority group inside a dominant culture adopts the symbols and cultural norms that the dominant culture expects of them.  So, if your last name is Martinez and you are "Mexican" (although you are 3 generations removed from Mexico), members of the dominant culture (mainstream America) think that you should be celebrating Day of the Dead and you should have a picture of Frida Kahlo hanging in your living room because, "That's what Mexicans are supposed to do."  You, Martinez, go along and do Day of the Dead and Frida Kahlo as a result of this expectation. The copying and dissociative acculturation led the Phoenix "Latino" "artists" to recycle the following 5 tired themes with little exploration of anything outside these themes:

1.  Day of the Dead
2.  Frida Kahlo
3.  The Virgin of Guadalupe
4.  Mexican wrestlers
5.  The Loteria, or Mexican bingo game

The execution of the above themes was sometimes just a simple rip-off form of decoupage, and sometimes it was actually pretty good (see for yourself in the listings here).  It usually sold well among "the gringos" who thought they were buying authentic representations of culture.

I will never forget the time when a "Latino" "crafter" who sold to me regularly was behaving in a very territorial way and was complaining about all the "copycat white ladies" who had jumped on the Day of the Dead bandwagon and were producing art related to the holiday.  Today, people on the "social justice left" call this "cultural appropriation."  Well, once again, we have an example of the sad state of "Latino" art in Phoenix:  The "Latino crafter" doing the complaining had no connection to Mexico, no knowledge of Spanish and did not grow up celebrating any Mexican holidays.  So, who was appropriating culture here?  I think there is a legal term for passing something off as authentic when it isn't.  It's called FRAUD.

The "Latino" art scene in Arizona continues in a similar fashion to this day, and even though I moved away almost a decade ago, I am still somewhat plugged in through social media.  Now, there is a huge "Day of the Dead Cultural Festival" in a major Phoenix park which serves as another venue for these people to sell their wares, and it is even put on by a "Latino" "arts organization."  At this festival you can see a Chinese dragon performance and Jamaican drummers alongside folklorico dancers.  Anyone from Mexico going to this event would proclaim one thing:  "What the hell is this?"  I feel sorry for the gringos who go to the event looking for any sort of authenticity.  I'm glad I am no longer in Phoenix with my store as I could imagine myself having to undo the damage done by these people by responding to off-the-wall questions and inquiries from customers. 

Of course, the lack of cultural authenticity does not say anything about the execution or quality of the arts and crafts here in this section.  The general rule for buying art is "buy what you like," and if that's the case it's not going to matter if it comes from a "Latino" who is generations removed from (and utterly clueless about) Mexico or a "copycat white lady."  In many cases, it's damn difficult to tell the difference.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  One piece of art here is done by a person who is currently incarcerated and doing "hard time," convicted on several counts including kidnapping and the attempted murder of a woman through strangulation.  Not a dime of the proceeds of anything from this section will go to the artists themselves, but will be going to Robert Bitto, owner of Sueños (whose only brush with the law includes 2 parking tickets).  It's quite interesting that even while behind bars, this artist continues to earn money by selling his work through people "on the outside," one of them being the "queen" of Mexican food in Phoenix, who has displayed his work in one of her "cafés" and has pictures on her website with his work in the background.  It's ironic that this businesswoman - who used her "privilege" to access minority/women-owned-business loans not available to others in order to build her culinary empire - once closed all of her restaurants for a day to protest President Trump, whom she believes to be a "racist" and a "sexist."  All the while, though, she hangs art in her restaurant to support someone who has been convicted of extreme violence against women?  Will she "disavow" this "artist"?  It makes no sense to me, but the whole "scene" doesn't really make sense, and I never should have gotten involved with it. The faster I can sell the remnants of this "art" the faster I can put the mistake of dealing with the "Latino artists" behind me.
Arizona "Latino" Crafts & Art

Displaying 1 to 8 (of 9 products) Result Pages:  1  2  [Next >>] 

Emily Costello Day of the Dead Painting - Smoking Frida

Emily Costello Day of the Dead Painting - Smoking Frida

An original painting by Emily Costello done in her early days as an artist (2003).  This measur...

$599.00




Emily Costello Day of the Dead Painting - Watermelon Skull

Emily Costello Day of the Dead Painting - Watermelon Skull

An original unframed work of art from Emily Costello's early days (2003).  On stretched can...

$599.00




Emily Costello Painted Day of the Dead Plastic Skull Calaca

Emily Costello Painted Day of the Dead Plastic Skull Calaca

Done by artists Emily Costello, the designer of the Day of the Dead lottery tickets.  This pain...

$29.00




LA CASA LOCA Latino Style Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo

LA CASA LOCA Latino Style Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo

New. Out of print (go figure).  Written by the Crapfty Chica herself, Kathy Cano-Murillo. ...

$6.95




Pablo Luna Original Painting "Sagrado" Thorned Sacred Heart

Pablo Luna Original Painting "Sagrado" Thorned Sacred Heart

An original painting on canvas by self-described "Xicano" artist Pablo Luna.  It meas...

$129.00




Patrick Murillo Day of the Dead ORIGINAL Painting - Las Malditas

Patrick Murillo Day of the Dead ORIGINAL Painting - Las Malditas

This is the ORIGINAL painting of this image found on so many prints and t-shirts.  It's on ...

$199.00




Patrick Murillo Day of the Dead Skeleton Keyboardist Sculpture

Patrick Murillo Day of the Dead Skeleton Keyboardist Sculpture

Signed by the artist.  Measures 5" by 4.5" and 10.5" tall.
...

$69.00




Patrick Murillo Day of the Dead Skeleton Zoot Suit Pimp

Patrick Murillo Day of the Dead Skeleton Zoot Suit Pimp

Measures 5" by 5" by 10.5" tall.  Made of wire, clay and wood, with cloth and ca...

$69.00

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