Vibrant colored art prints filled the walls of Art Rage Gallery this fall, as artist Favianna Rodriguez, dressed in her own designer collection t-shirt, talked about her Hispanic heritage as the number one inspiration in her art. Rodríguez, an Oakland, California-based artist, also visited with the students of Hispanic Journalistic Practices on the SU campus.

“Growing up in the United States I have been very aware of being a Latina, partly because of racism, and possibly because Latinos are still invisible in the mainstream,” said Rodriguez, a printmaker and digital artist who uses high-contrast colors and vivid figures to illustrate messages about migration, global community, and interdependence. Her message, present in her line of clothing as well as her prints, comes from personal experiences and from being schooled by Chicano political poster artists. “I believe that posters can deepen compassion and commitment, ignite outrage, elicit laughter, and provoke action,” she says.

Art was not the first career choice for Rodriguez. “Art wasn’t something my parents agreed on because they wanted me to be a doctor, or an engineer, to make lots of money… and when I told them I wanted to do art, that was a no,” she said. But as time passed and her parents saw the passion she had for expressing herself in artistic ways, they slowly began to accept it
As a Latina teenager, Rodriguez felt she was treated differently. “I was asked in middle school if my family rode burros around the streets just because we were Latinos,” she said. She also felt a constant pressure to excel in school. “I always felt like I had to prove myself and go above and beyond expectations, precisely because I was expected not to,” said Rodriguez.

These challenges led Rodriguez to embrace her culture even more. “I dealt with a lot of racism but at the same time, I learned to take pride in it, and I learned that we are now a huge political force and it’s my passion, in reality, to belong to a community of Latinos,” said Rodriguez.

Her piece titled Forging the Flame of Justice depicts faith communities organizing to defend the rights of immigrant workers. “The torch and flame represent the spirit of the faith community network, particularly the churches around the country that have played a major role in defending immigrants,” said Rodriguez.

A piece that Rodriguez particularly talked about during her Syracuse exhibition at ArtRage was Legalization Now! It was created to honor the nation-wide rallies supporting immigrant rights in 2006. The demands of the movements included legalization, an end to deportations, and recognition of the dignity of millions of undocumented workers presently in the United States.

The term illegal as it refers to people, inspires Rodriguez’s work.
She uses it effectively, for example, in a piece inspired by the tragic story of a little girl, Brisenia Flores, who was shot by a minuteman in Arizona after they had killed her father, visually showing the hardship of being considered illegal. “The word illegal is one of the most brilliant terms because it really criminalizes a human being,” says Rodriguez.

The Minutemen Project founded in 2005 is an activist organization started by a group of private individuals in the U.S. who monitor the U.S.-Mexico border’s flow of illegal immigrants.

Growing up in the 80s and being introduced to the term illegal, Rodriguez began noticing that Latinos were targeted and blamed for everything bad that happened in the U.S. “During this time, my parents were learning English and immigration was legalized, but when Proposition 187 passed in California, excluding illegal immigrants from public education and public medical services, I knew it was the beginning of an anti-immigrant shift,” said Rodriguez.

California Proposition 187 sought, among other things, to require police, health care professionals and
teachers to verify and report the immigration status of all individuals, including children, according to an American Civil Liberties Union article.

Rodriguez speaks passionately about her responsibility to expose communities that have been termed illegal or have been ignored for decades in the U.S. “We, the artists of the people, have a responsibility to expose our truths so that we don’t become maintainers of this corrupt system,” said Rodriguez. “I am in the business of education and liberation and my subjects are Black, Latino, Asian and Native communities that have been ignored and smashed by government and society.”

Laura Liera is a reporter/student of the Hispanic Journalistic Practice workshop of the Spanish Program at Syracuse University.

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