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The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures: Research and Museums Conference Documentation
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Romo, Tere

Challenging Traditional Curatorial Practices

Historicizing Narratives

Borders and Diasporas

Aesthetics Beauty

The Body: The Real and the Symbolic

All Abstracts



The Chicanization of Mexican Calendar Art

As prevalent domestic items, many Chicanos grew up with Mexican calendars in their homes. These calendars became a part of the artistic and cultural reclamation process of The Chicano Movement, especially in the 1970s. Along with pre-conquest glyphs and symbols, loteria cards, religious icons and popular art, the Mexican calendar became another source for Chicano artists to explore their cultural identity. These calendar images widely produced in Mexico after the 1920s, glorified its glorious prehispanic heritage as part of larger social effort to create a national identity. However, they covertly “Europeanize” the nation’s indigenous identity in their promotion of a European classical aesthetic. In contrast, Chicanos used these very same images to “indigenize” a Mexican American self-image. In fact, Mexican calendars became part of the iconography of indigenismo, which sought to reestablish linkages between Chicanos and their pre-conquest Mexican ancestors and to reintroduce indigenous knowledge through its ancient philosophy, literature and ceremonies.

During the Chicano movement, calendar images were transferred onto t-shirts, posters, murals and even album covers. However, upon closer reading there are mixed social and sexual messages inherent in them. Beginning with an introduction to Mexico during the 1920-50s (the height of the production and distribution of these calendars), I will explore the calendar’s intended purpose versus their actual impact on Mexico identity and finally, their relevance to and transmutation by Chicano artists. Though there were many Mexican artists producing these calendars, I will focus on the most recognizable one, Jesus Helguera. Helguera, like the other calendar artists of his time, reinvented a Mexican prehispanic history and aligned it with western European “classical” notions of beauty based on Greek and Roman aesthetic ideals and French romanticism. After the 1950s with the advent of television, aesthetic influences from the United States became pervasive. In fact, Mexican telenovelas and commercials continue to promote rich and successful EuroMexicans as the main characters. In the promotion of this aesthetic ideal as the only one worthy of depiction, Mexican television continues the Mexican calendars’ legacy of subtle racism.

The reinterpretation and subversion by Chicano artists of the imagery found on the Helguera calendars is one of the most important contributions of the Chicano art movement. Using art works created since the early 1970s to the present, I will explore how Mexican calendar imagery proved to be a nutrient source for Chicano artists to learn about Mexico’s indigenous past, cultural traditions and regional diversity. However, contrary to the Mexican goal of celebrating a European aesthetic, Chicanos gravitated towards these calendars as a means to reclaim and affirm their indigenous identity. Thus, many artists intentionally sought the popular art form to create contemporary sociopolitical statements. In their conscious use of these very recognizable images, Chicano artists subvert and deconstruct the underlying premises of the original calendars:  the unification of a mestizo nation based on European aesthetics. The result is a disruption of preconceived notions of identity and gender politics. There are many examples of this, but I will focus on three very famous Helguera calendar images and their proliferation in popular culture (including Chicano murals, album covers) and their sociopolitical transmutation in the artwork of photographer Roberto Buitron, and visual artists Luis Jimenez and Alma Lopez.

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