Keeping the Faith

The Chicano civil rights movement, or El Movimiento, emerged in the 1960s. Chicanos fought for equal social and political opportunities, for the introduction of Mexican-American history in schools, and for farmworkers' rights. Thousands of Mexican-American artists took notice of the social issues affecting their people, and picked up their palettes and brushes to decorate walls around the Southwest with cries for change, giving rise to the Chicano muralist movement.

These artists adorned the barrios of their cities with colorful murals that highlighted the history of Mexican-Americans in this country as well as their demands for social justice. Tucson artist and muralist David Tineo was a proud member of this movement. For decades, his murals were admired throughout the city. And Tineo, an award-winning painter, still has a lot to say about the issues faced by Latinos in the U.S. His upcoming exhibition, The End of Days?, echoes his stance on social issues, the ancient history behind Mexican-American murals, and the hope of muralists to bring about positive changes in their communities.

"David's work is all about his culture and heritage," said Eugene Contreras, owner of Contreras Gallery and Jewelry. "I used to see his work all over the walls in different locations downtown and just admire it. He is truly a Tucson icon who blends art with protest."

The implementation of SB 1070, the "Papers, please" law, and the decision to ban Mexican-American studies in the Tucson Unified School District was seen as an attack on Latino communities by local and state government. Today, Tineo's work is influenced by these emerging issues, but the purpose of his art hasn't changed much. His works are still an avenue for protesting, much like they were more than 20 years ago.

"As an artist, I have the freedom and social responsibility to talk about local and global issues," Tineo said. "The pieces of the exhibit are voices of protest coming through, trying to break down barriers. I want to see change, and The End of Days? refers to an end that will bring change, and will bring a new beginning."

In Tineo's eyes, Latinos must still deal with the obstacles they thought they had overcome through the civil rights movement. The reality, he said, is that racism is still very much alive in our community. The decision to remove Mexican-American studies from TUSD classrooms ignores the importance diversity has had in this country's history. Tineo, a former Pima Community College professor, is angered that local government would interfere with students' education by alleging that Mexican-American studies promoted radicalism and anti-American sentiments. "These courses taught cultural pride, not radicalism," Tineo said. "We need to learn about our history. What the state has done is pure embarrassment, and was a huge step backwards."

Many of the pieces in The End of Days? highlight the cultural pride Tineo speaks of. His work is an ode to his heritage. Tineo incorporates paintings of Aztec princesses and symbolism from Día de los Muertos celebrations. "There are these vivid images, throughout our history, that have empowered us and that have represented our traditions," Tineo said. "For example, images like the Virgin of Guadalupe and Miguel Hidalgo fuel our heritage." There are also pieces depicting Tineo's stand against SB 1070, and the racial profiling it is likely to promote. "The darker a person's skin is, or the more 'Latino' they look, the more likely someone will assume that person is an illegal immigrant," Tineo said. "And it makes me wonder, 'What are the perimeters of this law? What is the criterion?' Hopefully, we can still fight against these types of issues."

The title, The End of Days?, was inspired by Mayan and Aztec prophecies that 2012 marks the end of the world's calendar. To Tineo, "the end" refers to a shift in global society to a new beginning with no racial, political or economic barriers. He believes all cultures interconnect, whether it's through art, similar traditions or the ground people step on. "We are a mix of flavorful pieces," Tineo said. "Diversity is the spice that makes up our community."

The theme of the show is also symbolic of Tineo's life. About seven years ago, he was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a disease that causes loss of vision. The news was devastating because he depended upon his eyes to fulfill his lifelong passion. The impairment could have ended Tineo's ability to paint. Instead, he has moved forward and adapted to a new stage in his life. "I am so happy to be painting despite my eyes," Tineo said. "I'm going to be doing this until the day I die."

Contreras said, "David is connected with the people. His work is always so colorful, provoking and truthful. I'm proud to be able to show his work at my gallery."

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