The Washington Post • Style • Saturday, July 5,1975 • B1
The Other California
By Pam Lambert
As soon as you read the stimulus world that follows, you will have 10 seconds to respond with the first image that comes to mind.
What did you think of? Surfer girls with sunstreaked hair and Ultrabrite smiles? Men in Guccis and Women in Puccis clinking cocktail glasses around a kidney-shaped pool? Golden Gate Bridge glowing rust-gold in the sunset? If you did, your response was like that of most others--and that’s why the directors of the Festival of the American Folklife on the Mall organized the “California Heartland” exhibits part of the “Regional Americans” program this year.
The exhibit’s theme is the “Other California,” the diverse ethnic groups who over the decades have become integral parts of the culture of the region but have achieved little outside recognition because of the “beautiful and the damned” image of the state spread by the media.
The closest the festival comes to having anything that is “typical” California is a long San Francisco cable car. The other exhibits range from testing of tuna boat models in the Reflecting Pool to demonstrations of women straw beehives construction. Some of the ethnics present, such as Chinese and Chicanos, also will be familiar to Easterners; such as the Molokans, a Russian Protestant religious sect, are a surprise to even some of the Californians present.
Visible from almost any part of the California exhibit is the 28- by 10-foor mural being by Mexican-Americans from the East Los Angeles area. The boldness of the design and brightness of the colors attract a number of the visitors, almost all of whom want to know what it’s about.
In front of the mural yesterday, a deeply tanned man with a leather visor keeping his curly black hair in place was explaining the concept for the nth time. His paint-spattered hands and trousers identified him as one of the muralists and his name badge as Eddie Martinez, the mural’s designer.
“The walls on the right of the picture,” Martinez told a visitor, “represent the barrio, the figure of justice, with the hypodermic needle the violence and drugs in the environment. On the left side, where you see the shadow of a sniper and the pictures of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers, is the violence of the larger society.
“The man in the middle,” said the girl, who had been periodically spitting out watermelon seeds while listening to Martinez’ explanation, “Just look at the rat.”
When he’s not working on the murals, Martinez is a freelance designer who works chiefly for Walt Disney. He helped to design the Hall of Presidents for Orlando Disneyworld and is currently working on a 50-foot mural of the great American inventors for Disneyland. He generally earns enough money from Disney to keep him going for a while, then takes a few weeks off work on projects in the Chicano community. Said Martinez about the difference in his artistic endeavors, “I do that (Disney) to make a living but I can’ relate more to this; it’s our history.
Martinez came down to the festival because of his involvement with Jose and John Gonzalez, owners of the Goez Gallery. A forum for Chicano artists, Goez is housed in a former meat market in East Los Angeles. The Gonzalez brothers are helping Martinez work on the mural, as is another assistant, Jacob Gutierrez.
Both Martinez and John Gonzalez are filled with the kind of enthusiasm for their ethnic traditions that usually characterizes those who have themselves only recently rediscovered them. As it turns out, this is true of both men, who described the negative attitude towards Mexican culture prevalent when they were growing up. Martinez remembers, “When I was a kid, I was a little ashamed of being Mexican; you tended to identify more with the Spaniards because the Europeans were more excepted.”
According to Gonzalez, who was born in Mexico and moved to the United States at the age of 4, “We were never taught anything about ourselves. Six years ago I didn’t know there were pyramids in Mexico. I wanted to go to Egypt to see the ones there. I didn’t want to go to Mexico. I didn’t think there was anything good there, just a bunch of lazy people taking siestas under the cactus,”
Gonzalez’ awakening came, oddly enough, on a trip to Spain. At the time of his visit, Mexican music was extremely popular and the Spaniards were very interested when they heard he was Mexican. “Back home they just brushed it off as wetbacks music,” said Gonzalez “but here they really excited about it. I stared to think about the other things our culture had to offer.” When he returned to the States. Gonzalez began to think of ways to make others feel the pride he did.
Murals were one. In the last three years more than 150 murals have appeared in the East Los Angeles area and one – depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe – has even become a shrine (with a blessing from the Pope).
But even increased ethnic pride cannot solve all problems immediately. ”For some reason in our area.” Said Martinez, “Puerto Ricans are taking the jobs that should go to Chicanos.” He points to the television show “Chico and the Man,” in which a New York Puerto Rican is being passed off as a Chicano barrio native, as one example, and to even more baffling case of Sam Hernandez as another.
Hernandez is a Mexican-American diver who recently won the high diving competition in Acapulco. According to Martinez, Hernandez returned to California – only to find that the Marineland in Palos Verdes was passing off a Puerto Rican impostor as “the Mexican jumping bean.”
Only in California.