Everybody has their road. And it’s up to you to decide what kind of road you want. Sometimes we’re a little blind when you’re younger. You get in a road that you can’t get out of. Como el purgatorio, purgatory.
I been working on this piece like for a week. I’m pretty quick. But the thing is I don’t sketch anything. I just do it. I’ve never been one of those planners. Cuando se me mete algo en la cabeza, lo hago o no. And then it speaks to me. Once I start something. Like here I started on the flames. Y luego se me fue todo. That’s the way my brain works. So I really don’t plan things out too much. I just let it roll.
I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. My mom would take me to the river and she was working with this lady. She was an artist. And they always used to give me crayons. And then when I was little they didn’t know what to do with me in school. They threw me in a special-ed class.
Respect. That was a big deal then. Respect was a thing. I remember I got all brave with my dad one day. I never did that again! [laughter] Oh, I thought I was all bad! Flexing, I thought I was all bad. And my dad comes up to me, and a la maquina bro! [laughter]. There was no social services then. You’re parent could kick your ass and bury you in an arroyo and that was it! [laughter] no!
I remember one time I was in the third grade. I had a teacher, I didn’t really like to much. She was an Anglo lady. She had an aquarium full of fish. She just to talk to her fish, she loved her fish. And then I had my friend el Gaby, el Antonio. They were my buddies. We went to eat at noon and then we snuck out through the back. We went in the class and we killed the fish! [laughter] That was a big deal! I got in so much trouble! But, you know what, my parents never found out about it. She slapped me and put her nails on to me. Y yo era caprichudo. I got my other arm up and I told her “do the other one too.” [laughter]
And then they put me in special-ed after that. They were like “no, this kid’s not all there.” [laughter] So they had us in special-ed. We’d be sewing little elephants for the class. So they could give [out] for gifts. So I hate elephants. Everybody is supposed to love elephants. All my family, they’re like “elephants are for good luck” and all this and that. And I’m like “I hate elephants!” I’ll never paint an elephant! We used to make little pillows. Elephant pillows and shit like that. I can sow my own pants. At least that I got out of it.
When we were growing up in high school we started drinking whiskey and smoking pot, and doing a few lines of coke. And we had the high heel shoes. I thought I was John Travolta. With the fucking women beater shirts. [laughter] We were always fighting. We’d go to dances all over. And usually ’cause of the women, no. So we were on the moon. We were always scouting out the chicks.
We would go around. And then I got a Harley and that didn’t help. [laughter] I was dating a few girls back then. We’d go in every town there was babes everywhere on the Harley. So one time there was a big ‘o party. And all the chicks ended up in the same place bro. So I got beat up by a few biker chicks. But they were smart, they waited for me to pass out! [laughter]. My buddy finally was over there laughing and he told them don’t kill him.
My art is what saved my life.
The thing is that I’ve seen some young guys, young girls. They’re so talented and then they don’t pursue it. I seen people that are such good artists that there is people who would pay to have that talent. That is in them. They didn’t study or anything, it’s in them. I have this friend that is an airbrush artist. That guy is bad-ass. He’s good. His name is Desi Lopez and he’s awesome. But he’s always pretty sharp. He fixes computers now. He’s like a computer guy, but I would’ve pursued that too.
I haven’ done it for a while, but I’ve gone to schools and talked to kids. There’s a lot of talent. The schools don’t have programs to help kids. That’s a big loss there. Even us we had a little, we had art in school. Music. And now there’s not even that. I don’t know if all the schools are like that, or just some. And then we have a governor now that is not helping. We have a president that’s worse. We’re in a bad situation.
Rooted in Place
Now we have people that don’t even want us here in our own place. That’s the sad thing. But we gotta be proud of who we are. That’s what I tell the plebe. Be proud of what you are. Be proud of what you’re ancestors did for us. Everything we have here, they’re the ones that suffered. We ain’t even suffering for it. They came over here and they fought for this land. This place was settled early in the 1800s. Probably the 1820s. But it was settled later, ’cause of the Indian raids and stuff. My family came through Madura, Spain; through the Canary Islands; Santa Fe; and they were in Santa Fe for a while. And then the revolt happened, the 1680 revolt. And then they went back to El Paso del Norte. And then the Indians texted them and said “we need you guys again.” [laughter] “You guys are welcomed here again ’cause Pope is going nuts man!” [laughter] “He’s really going nuts with us here.”
We haven’t been that bad a people. Where else in the United States is there so many Pueblos? Andrew Jackson, he killed everything that got in the way. Those guys were killers. You know, those guys didn’t give a shit.
The way a lot of people are getting land now, a lot of it is with money. A lot of people, they go and sell a place you need, for a few million dollars they can buy the whole town. They can do they’re own little resorts, and it’s happening. The little towns up here are like “Vallecitos Ville” [laughter] But here in El Rito we still got a few locals up here. Locals and locos. We’re still hanging on.
We used to have dance halls. And we used to have SPMDTU, but all that is gone. The casinos. The casinos really screwed up a lot of things. You know, grocery stores. Everybody goes down. They go to Santa Fe. They go to Espanola. And they spend most of their check or part of it. That’s the way of life now, it’s different. When my mom and my dad were growing up they had their little dances on Saturdays. They go visit the familia on Sundays and they keep in touch. They had matanzas and people visited each other. They communicated together. Somebody built a house. The women would be the enjarradoras. They were the plasterers. My mom, my grandma, all of them that’s what they did. The men would build jacal. You know what jacal is? Its pole building. They’d have a pole here and a pole here and they’d put a big o liga here. Y luego aquí le metian el jacal. Y luego they had a window and the rest of it was plastered. They plastered it with mud. That was a jacal building. Cedar poles were the corners and in the middle so they won’t rot. And then in the middle they used pinon. So everything was built from what they had. There was no Lowe’s back then bro.
Everything has changed. Everybody is in their own world. It’s not like it was.
When my mom was growing up, there was only one car. It was pretty crazy, there was no cars hardly. TV; they would go in a house to go look at TV.
I would like for the people to stick to what they have. The tradition and their land. But this little telephone and all this technology has these kids thinking something else. A fantasy world. That’s what’s going on. It’s like a fantasy. And now look all these trees that survive. Back in the day there’s a bunch of trees with all kinds of fruit and people don’t even pick the fruit like they used to. Our parent had picking up everything. We use to dry everything. All the fruit for the winter. The corn and everything. Everything was saved. They were thinking ahead to survive.
It’s hard to even find some kids to work. When I was a kid I used always used to go clean the acequia. I haven’t seen the kids clean the acequia for a long time. So, things have changed. And then there’s people who are not having that many kids these days. Three kids is a big family now. And then it’s kind of scary to have kids, I think. ‘Cause of what’s going on.
She [daughter] grew up around me. She’ll probably end up; hopefully, I wish. I’ll be dead. But who knows what she’s going to do. She grew up with tradition. Now she’s in school. She wants to learn Spanish. She’s realizing what she lost. Now they blame it on me; that I didn’t teach her. But if you want something bad enough you’ll learn it. She goes “all I learned was bad words.” [laughter] But I trip out ’cause the Spanish she’s learning is Mexican and from other countries.
You don’t see kids like when we were young. Out in the river. Playing in the rivers, looking for arrowheads and fumando puros. You know the palo honchos. Those are our puros bro. [laughter]
The only thing I can tell you is we want to keep our; it’s a beautiful culture that we have. This is one of a kind. And it’s important to keep it alive and flourishing ’cause we’re going to be gone some day. I’m going to be gone some day. And I want people to say “wow man, that dude was a good artist. But also he went through some, he did some movidas.” Like survival stuff.
The thing is we know what it is to suffer, a lot of us. It’s like all that, Trump, and all that crap over there. They don’t even know what it is to be hungry, bro. They have little people with their little caviar over here. I’ve been in New York where they give me caviar and all that shit, bro. I rather have an enchilada. I tell them “I’m a beaner, what the hell?!”
That’s what I would like for a lot of these young kids; just get out of here and see what there is out there. So they can see that we have it made. ‘Cause sometimes we see all these mountains here and we see ’em so much that we don’t see ’em no more. That’s what happens.
When I started traveling and doing all that I was like “man, look at those beautiful mountains. Look at all this, and look at all that.” It opens up your eyes. And you see people out in the street that are starving or people that nobody pays attention to. People that are disabled. Around here if somebody falls on the street, somebody is going to pick them up. Our culture is; we’re very nice people. We go to another place man, a la maquina, they’ll hang you.
Anything you do in this world is work. If you want it to come out the way you want it to come out, it’s going to be work. Pero the challenge is good, bro. It makes you better.