ART ALWAYS SEEMED like something I was running away from. I thought it was either too personal, unsustainable—or a dream or fantasy that was too privileged for a person like me to study. However, it was art that always centered me, from the time that I was in elementary school and growing up in an unstable working-class household in California’s Central Valley. Although I did not study art formally, I received an early introduction to Rasquachismo, the “underdog aesthetic,” from a pivotal elementary school teacher and artist by the name of Jorge Guillen, who always pushed me to delve deeper in my drawings and experiment more with new media for self-expression.
My passion for art remained dormant after I graduated from college, as I felt I needed to make a living in order to support these dreams and aspirations. My work led me back to the classroom, where I felt I could support the underdog, but I still felt that I was neglecting a part of myself—that is, until I recovered a book on pre-Columbian Mesoamerican codices that started me on a path of integrating and privileging a Mesoamerican-centric perspective over a Eurocentric one.
It was not until we were all forced to be “at home” with ourselves during the COVID-19 pandemic that I really began to reflect on my life—the missed opportunities, the potential of so many divergent pathways I “could have” gone or “should have” taken—and was moved to accept art as a healing journey. I didn’t know that confronting myself through visual language would be so painful; I had to carve away what I did not want to bring into the world anymore: the emotional baggage, the negative self-talk, the deficit-thinking mentality I had inherited from an oppressive and colonized history and society, as well as my own traumatic upbringing and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Although I had been trying to focus on Social Emotional Learning and incorporate a Culturally Relevant Praxis through my work in the classroom, I had a lot of healing to do my own as an individual before I could ever attempt to implement them in the spaces I found myself.
This is why the attitude and artistic perspective of Rasquachismo were so vital for me to make peace with: they rooted me in the mindset of privileging los de abajo and making the most out of the least. I realized I was not meant to have a rich material life because I do not accept the exploitation of Racial Capitalism. I realized I was not meant to always feel “at home” on stolen land. The final revelatory question I now have to pose to myself is this: Am I excavating or am I settling? Because settling is for settlers, and excavation requires an examination, an unsettling; but in the end it’s a recovery process to unearth the temples that were buried underneath, just as a pre-Columbian and liberated Mesoamerica exists underneath the pavement and cement we now stand upon.
I began all of these pieces in this collection in December of 2020 as a personal and emotional reflection of the year. The reflection turned into revelations—sketching, inking, then digitizing each as they came about.
Sean “WAR” Guerra