Elsa Flores Almaraz
Elsa Flores Almaraz is a painter, photographer, musician, and muralist, and is currently producing a documentary film about her late husband. Almaraz and Flores first met in 1974. They married in 1981 and had a daughter, Maya Almaraz, in 1983. These recollections are excerpted from an interview with Marielos Kluck, and have been edited and condensed for clarity.
[In the 1970s] he became born-again Chicano, first Mexicano, then Mexican-American, assimilated, and then born-again Chicano and then at the end of his life, the last ten years, he pretty much became what his orginal intention as a young artist was to become, a great american artist, not a chicano artist. He never put down his culture, he was very proud to be a Latino, a Mexicano, a Chicano. But he didn’t want that to hold him back, he wanted to break through the mainstream.… he was called a sell-out and all that stuff, but he broke so many barriers in doing that and then many of the artists followed suit, they followed his footsteps because he had broken the ceiling.
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Once he felt that he had a stable home life and he didn’t have to go out searching for love, he was able to really focus on his work and cultivate lasting art world contacts. Now he had a greater urgency, too, especially after we were married and we had Maya. He had a renewed sense of what it was it was to be a man. Because he had been searching for that for many decades. During his time within the Chicano movement he wrote often in his journals that he was looking to see what is was to be a man…. In the Chicano movement it was testosterone-driven. He didn’t know where he fit because part of him was very much in touch with his feminine side, which I loved about him, I loved that he was not that hardcore macho dude that I was so familiar with, that I fought against most of my life....
[This was] probably the best time of his life and he didn’t need to go to therapy anymore. He had been to therapy for twenty years trying to figure himself out. He had committed himself to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York a couple of times, because he was having a real identity crisis, a lot of that was sexually driven because of his history of child molestation. He had a pedophile uncle who molested him and a priest that molested him. He was an altar boy so he was very confused about sex and he thought he must be gay. He thought it was a sin and he would be going to hell, so he was very conflicted about his sexuality. As this whole new idea of manhood for him, it all sort of evolved around finding what his true nature was.
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We would go to Mexico as a family or we would go to Hopi Nation, and we would see these tribal dances and these rituals and a lot of the anthropomorphic figures represented the afterlife, the other world. Especially Deer Dancer, which was one his final paintings. The dancer with a deer mask depicts these humans that morph into animal figures that represented something to that culture, something to that particular tribe, perhaps, or to that particular region of the dancer. In that particular painting, there is also a little house in the corner and a skull in the corner. He was already dealing with his mortality, he knew he wasn’t going to make it and so a lot of the work took on that theme of mortality of time passing, of ships moving into other realms.