Text: Denise Nelson Prieto
Local muralist Cimi Alvarado uses his art as a platform to preserve his culture’s history and legacy. Through his work he hopes to instill a sense of pride in the people of our community.
“We have to keep reminding our people of the power, history and talent we have here, and how much our communities have contributed to the world,” he said. “It’s important, especially for our youth, to talk about Chicano pride. How are they going to know what to be proud of unless we tell them?”
To help realize that goal Alvarado depicts many of our culture’s pivotal activists and artists, and other key players in the Chicano scene. You can cruise by Lincoln Park and check out “La Pachuca” or “El Corrido de Segundo” at Armijo Park. The latter was a collaboration with Kiko Rodriguez, co-founder of local band Frontera Bugalu, who penned the song of the same name.
For him, being identified as “Chicano” with all of its attendant political connotations is a choice, as described by one of his mentors, famous Chicano artist, Gaspar Enriquez. “Gaspar said one can be born in Mexico and live in America, but one chooses to be Chicano,” Alvarado said.
For him, Chicano sentiments and messages have more permanence through art than through protests and marches. He mentioned right now those messages are in dire need due to the discrimination against Mexicans and other minority groups that’s seemed to have increased with the new administration.
Notable Alvarado pieces include murals at the El Paso Police Department headquarters on Raynor St., and commission by the El Paso Museum of History. His latest commission can be seen within the next 6 months at the Roderick Artspace Lofts. “It’s 3 stories high and will pay homage to a lot of the artists from El Paso,” he revealed. “ Abraham Chavez will be the biggest image, and there will also be some luchadores from El Paso.”
Murals weren’t always Alvarado’s preferred medium. He started off as a graffiti artist in high school in the mid 90s, painting a lot of politically-charged images and messages. It was also during that time he met Enriquez. “He introduced me to airbrush, and that’s when I went into ‘fine art’,” he said. “I met other muralists through Gaspar and decided I wanted to make a living as an artist, which at the time, was impossible in El Paso.”
This led to his move to Dallas, where he collaborated with other artist and formed a Mural Arts Program for children. Together they also established a cultural center in the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff.
Alvarado recruited Enriquez and other renowned Chicano artists to help with the program in order to expose the kids to Chicano art. The group created about 10 murals throughout Alvarado’s tenure.
In March Alvarado and wife Kathleen Decker opened the Kalavera Culture Shop on the first floor of the Artspace Lofts, 601 N. Oregon. The establishment functions in 3 different capacities: art studio, gallery and retail business that stocks graffiti art supplies and other items.
For Alvarado, supporting his fellow local artists is key to cultivating a healthy art scene: “You see a lot of cities that have all this great art work, and I want to see that in El Paso. To support graffiti and the art of it, you have to have supplies available. How else are people going to experiment and learn?” he said. “The other part [of Kalavera] is to support local artists. We have art shows and display a lot of local art work.”