News / USA

Mexican-American Artist Brings Immigrant Experience Out of Shadows

Multimedia

Audio
Shelley Schlender

Tony Ortega works on a project at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.
Tony Ortega works on a project at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Latino experience is a common theme for Mexican-American artist Tony Ortega. His work often examines the overlooked contributions of people - especially immigrants - who do manual labor.

An exhibit of of Ortega's work in Boulder, Colorado, is prompting conversations about the U.S. Mexico border, and those who cross it.

Life in the shadows

When Ortega talks about his art with museum visitors, he sometimes asks them to choose their favorite. Especially when those visitors are young.

The boys in one group all have parents who are immigrants from Mexico. In Ortega's exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, they see plenty of familiar images. Ortega - who works in charcoal, silkscreen and colored etchings - has drawn a maid tidying a hotel bed, a carpenter hammering a roof. Ortega asks the boys what kind of work their parents do.

Tony Ortega's work often examines the overlooked contributions of people, especially immigrants, who do manual labor.
Tony Ortega's work often examines the overlooked contributions of people, especially immigrants, who do manual labor.

"The same thing of the painting," says one. "My dad makes bread and my mom cleans houses."

"Yeah," adds his companion. "My grandmother who raised me cleaned houses also."

Ortega's grandmother encouraged him to go to college, the first in his family to do so. Her efforts to support the family helped him view laborers - especially immigrant workers - with a sympathetic eye.

"What I'm trying to do with the work is to try to make an invisible part of the population, people who take care of our kids, who clean our streets and our houses, who pick our crops, more visible," says Ortega. "I think they make major contributions, but they're in the shadows."

Shedding light

Art can help bring them out of the shadows, says Rich Lopez, a Denver attorney touring the exhibit.

"I've been a fan of Tony Ortega for many years. He's captured the essence of the Chicano Mexican American experience in his art for years and years, and his colors and images are quite memorable. The mechanic looks like my cousin."

Tony Ortega takes part in visiting artist programs and recently enlisted children to help him create a wall-sized mural about their neighborhood.
Tony Ortega takes part in visiting artist programs and recently enlisted children to help him create a wall-sized mural about their neighborhood.

Images like that mechanic have earned Ortega a showing in galleries and museums throughout the United States. He's also become a sought-after teacher, at Denver's Regis University and through visiting artist programs. For a recent project, Ortega enlisted children to help him create a wall-sized mural about their neighborhood.

"One little boy, at the end of the week, he says, 'Have we learned all the techniques that you can learn about painting?' I says, 'Well, there's not enough time in a week.' And he says 'Well, I want to learn all of those."

The ghostly outline of Speedy is superimposed over Tony Ortega's image of a laborer as a martyr.
The ghostly outline of Speedy is superimposed over Tony Ortega's image of a laborer as a martyr.

Exploring the immigrant experience

At the museum exhibit, Ortega asks the boys which picture to talk about next. They choose one full of electric-bright, scribbled images. Superimposed on those is the outline of a famous cartoon mouse. Not Mickey. It's Speedy Gonzales, a Mexican-American mouse, who always saves other mice from Sylvester the Cat.

"To me, Speedy's always helping the Mexicans. He's always saving his buddies against the gringo gato because Sylvester wants to eat him," Ortega tells the laughing boys.

Then he points out that - behind his ghostly outline of Speedy - is a man who carries water buckets, suspended from a wooden yoke across his shoulders. The man's legs look long and narrow while his arms, draped over the yoke, stretch wide.

Mexican-American artist Tony Ortega's work often explores the Latino immigrant experience.
Mexican-American artist Tony Ortega's work often explores the Latino immigrant experience.

"What is this guy doing? Is he like a Christ figure?" Ortega asks the boys.

The boys study Ortega's image of a laborer as a martyr, and discuss how hard work and sacrifice do not necessarily guarantee a warm welcome in America. There is more religious imagery in another piece on display.

It's an image of the Statue of Liberty. But not the green-robed Liberty with her proud, green face. Ortega's Liberty wears the blue robes of Mexico's beloved Virgin of Guadalupe, and her brown face looks kind.

The boys praise Ortega's exhibit. For some, this is a first ever visit to an art museum.

"People, Mexican people in the paintings that he does," says one. "They're all awesome."

His friend agrees. "He showed me how life could be for Mexicans, and that sometimes it could be sad, but sometimes it could have a great life."

Ortega was honored with the Colorado Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for his work inspiring people to see the beauty and challenges of hidden lives.

His exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is called, "Mi Frontera es Su Frontera," which means, "My Border is Your Border."

You May Like

Photogallery Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid