Vallance is an artist and writer who met Almaraz in the early 1980s; the two discovered that they shared an interest in Polynesian art, among other topics. This is excerpted from an interview with Marielos Kluck.
I remember the one [thing] that he would say: he wants to be known as an artist, just plain artist, he doesn’t want there to be prefix in front of his name. He doesn’t want to be an “L.A. artist” or a “California artist” or a “Chicano artist,” he just wants to be an artist. I think that kind of sums up how he thought of himself and his work. He was looking [for] a broader audience and didn’t really want to be labeled. He was branching out into other myths, like Hawaiian—he was really into that. He was looking at world cultures. Not just L.A. and not just Chicano. He was interested in all kinds of myths….
[After he died,] Elsa asked me if I would make the headstone for Carlos. He was already buried in Hawaii and they were waiting for the headstone, so I got to work on it pretty quickly. It includes symbols that Carlos would use. I looked at a lot of his paintings and drawings and he had these reoccurring symbols, so I put a lot of those on there. And he loved to like snorkel, so I made that his portrait, wearing a snorkel mask. At the bottom, there’s kind of this snake [with the head cut off]…. Carlos had used the symbol of the snake [in his work], and here I changed the snake into more of an eel. It’s from a Polynesian myth [Sina ma le Tuna, or “Sina and the Eel”] that we had talked about. There’s a girl who falls in love with an eel, and at some point the eel says, “if you really love me you will cut my head off.” So she cuts his head off and plants the head in the ground, and the sprout that comes up becomes the first coconut tree. If you look at a coconut it has these three little holes at the end, which is supposed to represent the eel’s face—so it’s kind of a resurrection story.