It’s been a while since I have written a blog post, like a real blog post and not just a quick entry with pictures of my art or a flyer or anything else for that matter. I feel the need to write because of something I read. I was sent a link to an article about the choice of being an artist. Specifically, choosing to be an artist when coming from an immigrant family. I read this and it definitely hit close to home. The choices we make and the influences behind them. I was just looking back the other day after I found the portfolio I used to apply to art school with. I thought about what would have happened if I had gone to art school. Where would I be right now? Would I be a “working artist?” It is one of the few things I have always wanted to be since I was a kid, an “artist.”
The article, “All Immigrants are Artists” by Joe Fassler was published in The Atlantic in August 2013. The article is about an interview with author Edwidge Danticat, whom selected a passage to discuss for a series named By Heart. As Danticat analyzed:
“The narrator encounters resistance when she tells her father she’s considering a creative path. Often, in an immigrant family, it’s a very big departure for a child to say: I want to be an artist, not a doctor, not a lawyer, or an engineer. The father, here, tells his daughter what so many immigrant parents tell their children: Art is not the safest route in life. We didn’t sacrifice all this for you to take up a precarious profession.”
This is what caught my attention. As a son of immigrant parents, I know too well this feeling. My senior year of high school I had made up my mind that I wanted to go to art school after I graduated. I even knew which one, Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. It was pretty much the only one I knew of, but they had come to my school and gave a presentation, which caught my eye. After seeing this presentation, I felt like that was the school for me.
I remember having a talk with the person known as my father. He asked me what my plans were after high school. I said I wanted to go to art school. His response? “Art is not a career. It’s a hobby. You can’t make a living with art.” The look on his face was like; “you’re kidding me right?” It was definitely a blow to my psyche. Now I look back and wonder why I let his opinion effect me the way it did. Presently, I haven’t talked to him or seen him in a couple of years. Even back then, he was never really around, but when he was around we were to listen to him. I think his words made me ponder my future and it wasn’t necessarily the thought of letting him down, as I never cared for him much, but the thought of letting my mother and my grandparents down was what made me change my path. My grandfather busted his ass to come to the United States and live the “American Dream.” This ties back to the article. The concept of my family coming here for a better life and then me wanting to choose a career that really isn’t looked at as a successful one. That’s what stuck with me from this article.
So instead of going to art school, I went to community college. I never even took my SATs. Not really knowing what I wanted to do, I ended up spending a few years taking general education and other random classes. I did manage to take 4-5 art classes while at community college. It took me some time before I finally made a decision as to what I wanted to study.
Flash forward to 2008 when I graduated (with a degree in something nowhere near art) from San Diego State University. It was one of those moments that could have easily passed me by because of the excitement of that day, but what my mother said struck a chord inside and something felt different afterward. When I walked off stage, after the ceremony, she hugged me and said in Spanish, “I’m proud of you. Do what you want to do. Do what makes you happy.” Never had I heard my mother say those words to me. A part of me was like, “really mom? Now you feel the need to say that?” It had always been, “Study hard. Get a good job.” You see, my mother was a “housewife.” Because of circumstances out of her control as a child and due to living in a tiny ass town in rural Mexico, my mother never made it past a middle school education. She had to take care of her brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles. She worked at a very young age in order to help support the family. My father on the other hand is a doctor. He came to the United States while in high school. Graduated from La Jolla High, got into Harvard, but came back home to study at SDSU before moving back to Mexico and finishing medical school. From a young age it was ingrained that medicine was what we were to do. I come from a family of doctors, teachers, and lawyers, for the most part. At the same time, at a young age I knew that I did not want anything to do with medicine. Be it rebellion or just plain distaste for a profession/title of someone I could never respect. I knew I never wanted to do have anything to do with the medical field. It’s interesting that now I am the only one of my siblings that is not doing something related to medicine.
What my mother said to me at my graduation reverberated in me. After that I started to focus on my art again. In 2009 and 2010, I won a couple of art contests. 2009 I won the GrnAppleTree contest and they used my ‘Canal’ photograph on a t-shirt. In 2010, I won a Levi’s contest and had a photograph displayed at a gallery in their store in San Francisco. I won airfare, hotel, a gift certificate, and spending cash. Within a year of that, I decided to apply to art school. I put together a portfolio and applied to Otis College of Art and Design and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I got into both. I went to neither.
What got in my way? There were a few things, but mostly the debt from a BA that I received from SDSU was something I did not want to add more to. I’m not in a bad position now. I get to help people in my current job, which I really like to do. On my free time I get to make art. Over the past year or so I have been trying to focus more on my art. It can be hard at times, but I try to push myself. When I look back, I do wonder how things would have been different if the support was there from the get go and I had been “allowed” to pursue art. It is in the past though and there is nothing else I can do about it. What I can do now is focus on myself and my art. I love art because I have been given a gift to be able to show my thoughts/ideas in a physical form. I can let people in and show them how I see things. I make art for me and because it is who I am, but I also make it for everyone else. If I can elicit an emotion, a feeling, a thought, a smile from someone through a piece of art, that makes me happy.