Other Voices: Barbara Carrasco

Barbara Carrasco

Carrasco is an artist and muralist who has created numerous works that have been exhibited throughout the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. She recollects her first experience with Carlos and his lasting effect on her career.

I first met Carlos Almaraz in 1978 when he and John Valadez were painting a mural at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood for the play Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez. I approached them and shared that I, too, was a muralist and then showed them some of my sketches and drawings. They immediately hired me to work with them. Soon afterward, I joined Public Art Center/Centro de Arte Público. I would commute from Culver City to Highland Park to work with the artists in a shared studio space on Figueroa Street. It soon became apparent to me that Carlos was a very unique individual. He offered suggestions about reading materials related to history, politics, social movements, and classical literature. He believed that such material would help us under­stand the community work we were doing.

At the time, I was in my early twenties and had recently graduated from UCLA. He was impressed that I had met and worked with the United Farm Workers while I was an undergrad, and he encouraged me to continue creating art for the union. During the early 1980s, I found myself fully engaged in commu­nity work, collective art making, participating in public forums, and meeting numerous artists, intellectuals, community members, civil rights leaders, and other individuals who were interested in community art projects. When I decided to pursue graduate school at California Institute of the Arts, Carlos wrote a letter of recommendation.

There were moments when I felt that I was not being taken as seriously because I was a young Chicana artist. He was very sensitive and did not make assumptions or judgments about my feelings or emotional disposition. His ongoing support of my work was reassuring and gave me the confidence to persevere as a member in the collective. We went to many public events together and enjoyed great conversations that often revealed his brilliant sense of humor. There were also more serious times that gave me insightful observations about Carlos. Once, during the Iran hostage crisis (late 1979 to early 1981), we were on a bus together when someone mistakenly assumed he was Iranian. The man became hostile and threatened Carlos. It was an intense moment, but Carlos was able to calm the man by slowly speaking to him in Spanish while explaining that he was a fellow Mexicano. He also persuaded the man that ethnic and racial hatred was being stirred up by mass media propaganda. It impressed me that he was able to maintain his composure during the unexpected social conflict.

 

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