- 10.20.15: Latino Artists
- 10.09.15: Latinos in Sci-Fi
- 10.01.15: Mexico City
- About Terry Blas
Quite often when I tell people that I am Mexican, I get the response:
“You don't look Mexican!”
I really don't know what they expect me to say.
“Thank you!” Or: “I'm soooo glad I don't look my mother. That'd be a shame, right?” Or how about this one:
“Well what do you think Mexicans are supposed to look like?”
Now, I know what they mean. Most people who say this to me don't know a ton about Mexico, and the only Mexican characters they've seen on TV are probably the Suarez family on Ugly Betty or everyone's favorite, fast paced mouse, Speedy Gonzales.
The fact of the matter is: you can't look at someone and simply say whether or not they are Latino or Hispanic. There are black Latinos and white Latinos, and Latinos who are descendants of people who were native to Central and South America and other parts of the world.
My Great Grandmother, Concepción Acosta came from a long line of Aztec indians. Her skin was dark and her hair was black. Same with my Grandma, Mama Lupe, and my mother, Raquel. But not every Latino or Latina in my family has dark skin or even black hair.
Bisabuela Concha, by Terry Blas.
Mom, by Terry Blas.
Many people think Latin is a race. Truth is, it's not really. Race is a pretty big topic to unpack and get into, especially when talking about Latinos but it seems as if in recent years many people have begun considering Latino a race. I'm wondering why this is.
In an episode of Radiolab simply called, "Race," you can hear an experiment done at a charter school in Manhattan called Facing History, whose students are mostly Hispanic kids. Every year in the ninth grade they do a guessing exercise where the class “sorts people” into different racial categories. The photographs of eight individuals are displayed on the wall and the students are asked: what race are they? They have four choices: Black, White, Asian, and Native American.
Hispanic is not a choice.
In this Radiolab episode, the class got three of the eight right.
The kids tried to use Hispanic but were not allowed to. It's interesting how when they are told that this isn't a race, the same kids, when asked in the cafeteria at lunch “What race are you?,” their response is: Trinidadian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Mexican. They answered with the country of origin of their parents.
For me this raises so many questions. Why do so many people consider Hispanic and Latino a race when there are so many variations among this particular set of people?
Definitely most Latino/Hispanic people feel like they are people of color, but this a conversation that I find to be very striking.
My skin is light. My hair is dark brown. I'm Latino, I'm Mexican, and not everybody looks like just one thing. Not all Mexicans have black hair and darker skin. Because I'm not serving Mariachi realness all the time doesn't mean I'm not Mexican. Sorry I left my sombrero at home.
For a great examination of these tensions, I recommend watching Kat Lazo's BuzzFeed video on the terms Latino and Hispanic.
Art is a huge part of my life. Ever since seeing The Little Mermaid in the theater when I was eight and understanding that somebody had drawn what was on the screen to make it come to life, I have wanted to be an artist. I draw comics, storyboards, and illustrations, and every day I'm inspired by other artists, being fortunate enough to work at Periscope Studio in Portland.
Periscope is a collective of other illustrators and artists who have come together to share a studio space and share their creativity and enthusiasm with each other. It's like a second family. Every minute there, you can find something new and amazing being created, and it's been incredibly informative to my art making practice.
Outside of Periscope, most of my inspiration comes from movies, comic books, novels, TV shows, and other illustrative art. Being Mexican, I often look for other Mexican themes or characters in media. Recently, at D23, Disney and Pixar announced their new film, Coco, an animated adventure featuring Mexico and Day of the Dead. A few months ago, I saw The Book of Life, which was a gorgeously animated film directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez (El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera) and produced by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) that explored similar themes. I'm constantly on the lookout for other stories or other artists that inspire me and speak about my culture, so I wanted to bring some attention to other Latin artists that inspire me and create work that I love.
A piece that I created for Adobe CC this year.
This piece was made while I was in Ryan Bubnis' Cultural Marketplace Class. It sticks with me because I feel that it was here that I made a huge jump in my craft. This piece went on to win the Rock Star Games Award at the SOI Student Competition.
This is an example of one of my crayon lady pieces. This piece was shown at the CO-WORK show at Land Gallery.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Romeoville, Illinois -- My family is from the Chicagoland Area.
Where do you live now?
I now live in Portland, Oregon.
What kind of art do you do?
Over the past year I have been getting involved with editorial illustration. I especially enjoy taking on projects that are related to science, technology, or social/political topics. I also love making comics. When I am not working on editorial, I spend a lot of time working with my partner, Sage Howard, on Singer's Cave, a collaborative comic that we created together. It is about a ghost girl named Zaira and her monstrous friends. They live in a cave that is constantly being plundered by adventurers. In the past I have made horror comics based on the retellings of drama with old friends as well as silly zines about yo-yos. I enjoy making traditional work, too. Lately I have been into working with water soluble crayons to make colorful portraits of women that I have met growing up in and around Chicago.
What are you most inspired by?
I would say that I am most inspired by people. I think that people have so much to offer in their attitude, look, and interests that makes me constantly wonder 'what is your story?' Those are the people that I want to draw ... those are the characters that I want to draw from. I also am inspired by sci-fi, board games, hotdogs (food in general), anime, and hip-hop/rap music.
Where are you from?
Where do you live now?
What kind of art do you do?
What are you most inspired by?
My art practice is primarily collaborative; working with various art directors to create specific illustrations to communicate a certain idea or concept for a specific publication. It's a rewarding process and allows me to use my own POV and visual vocabulary. As a freelance illustrator I do find it a challenge to create work for myself — how do I create work without a prompt? When I have the inclination I explore pop culture, social commentary and frivolity, as well as drawing inspiration from my family and cultural makeup as a Mexican American.
The three pieces I have shared come from my series entitled Drama '64 (Slurpee Witches, Sushi Matadors & The Clean Teen Queens; battling ideas, intuition, and gluten). This work expresses my love of 1960s pop culture, Annette Funicello, freestyle music, the Saved by the Bell 90s, and sushi. Prints available here, on BuyOlympia.com.
Where are you from?
Where do you live now?
What kind of art do you do?
Mostly editorial but people know my work because of my personal work of pinup guys.
What are you most inspired by?
Pop Culture, Mexican Culture, Men.…
I love Salma Hayek. When I was younger I saw the film Fools Rush In (1997), which featured a story about a woman from Mexico and a Caucasian man from the United States who have a baby after a one night stand. Cultures clash, wackiness ensues, I loved it. But really, that's where the similarities with my parents' story end. Regardless, I kept watching her films.
In 2004, Hayek was on Inside the Actors Studio. It's one of my favorite episodes. Not just because I love her, but because she's genuine and candid about her experiences being a woman, a Latina and someone with an accent in Hollywood. I'm sorry to say that I don't think things have changed much in the eleven years since she's been on the show.
At the end of the episode, the guest actor answers questions from the students in the audience, One question was especially interesting to me. It's worthy of noting.
At Actors Studio all students with non-American, neutral, or international accents have to take a class to get rid of their accent, and I was wondering if you ever found having an accent to be a hindrance as an actress. If you've ever lost roles or not received them.
Are you kidding me? You are wondering? I have had heads of studio say to me:
'You would be the biggest star in the world, but you were born in the wrong country. That was the best I've ever seen anybody do that scene. If you could only speak English.'
A thousand times. A thousand times. And look where I am. And I'll hear if forever. They have a problem listening to an accent. As if there are no accents around in New York or LA. And then I had it a lot also that every time it was a part for a woman that had any kind of education, or was smart, or had any kind of social responsibility like a good job...
'She's Mexican, nobody's gonna believe it with that accent.'
Or forget it. Sci-fi, if it's about going to space, let me tell you something. According to Hollywood in the future, when man gets to space all the Mexicans are dead! They can not conceive this notion.
All my life I've loved sci-fi and fantasy. I'm a nerd. I draw and write comic books for a living. And all my life, I've struggled to find good representation of LGBT and Latino characters in comics, television and movies especially within science fiction and fantasy. Recently, a great sci-fi/fantasy comic anthology, Beyond, was created specifically featuring LGBT characters and stories. I read the entire run of Young Avengers where the young Captain America persona on the team was filled not only by a girl, but by a Latina superhero, America Chavez AKA Miss America. These are great and we need more of this, but when I recently rewatched Hayek's episode of Inside the Actors Studio, it hit me just how true this still is. Where are all the Hispanics and Latinos in sci-fi?
It was visibly noticeable to me when I watched the movie Interstellar. It's supposed to take place in a nearish-future where Earth's gone to pot because we didn't treat it well. The movie also begins in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, as of July 1, 2013, there are around 54 million Hispanic people living in the U.S. representing around 17% of the U.S. total population. This makes people of Hispanic-origin the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority. The Hispanic population for 2060 is estimated to reach 128.8 million, which would come out to 31% of the U.S. population by that date.
If that's the case, and Interstellar takes place in a nearish-future... where are all the Latinos?
The Martian, which I hesitate to call science fiction (although it does take place in a future world where people actually saw fit to fund NASA), has much better representation, especially by including minorities and women in essential roles without it feeling forced. Michael Peña plays an important member of the crew which was nice to see.
But this is a question that doesn't have a great answer. I can only think that there isn't more Hispanic and Latino representation in science fiction or fantasy because people aren't writing it. This needs to change. I think it's slowly starting to, but we definitely need more of it. Some television shows and characters that are beginning to change that landscape are around and I'd like to mention them.
If you don't watch The Flash, you're missing out on what is likely the most enjoyable superhero show out there. An integral part of the team that helps The Flash is a young man named Cisco Ramon.
Cisco is a mechanical engineering genius and pop culture spouting machine. It's refreshing to see a young Latino so proficient in science and how he relates to it through movies and comics and television. Cisco Ramon is played by Carlos Valdes. I'm excited to see where his character goes considering what he discovered at the end of season one. I won't spoil it for you.
I'll be honest, I wasn't as crazy about Netflix's Daredevil show as everyone else was. That is, until the introduction of Claire Temple and Elena Cardenas. Rosario Dawson plays Claire, a young nurse who tends to Matt Murdock's wounds after finding him passed out in a dumpster. Immediately, we hear her speak Spanish to a neighbor and are given a character who is smart and capable and interesting. Elena Cardenas is an elderly woman from Guatemala who doesn't speak much English at all, and she seeks out Murdock, Nelson, and Page for legal assistance regarding her home. When she is injured, Page and Nelson take her to the hospital where they are greeted by nurse Claire.
We are given a scene that shows how powerful it is knowing another language and how being able to communicate saves lives. I don't remember another American show that was able to sideswipe me with such a powerful, unexpected scene in Spanish like this one.
I like The Walking Dead, and when I heard that the spin-off was going to take place in Los Angeles I rolled my eyes. Here we go, another show that takes place in L.A., where everyone is white and beautiful and young. Luckily, this was not the case. The first trailer for Fear the Walking Dead showed that half of the cast was Latino or Hispanic. It seemed to represent the city pretty well, and it intertwined the Latino characters with the Caucasian characters realistically. I'm not certain if Travis (Cliff Curtis) is playing a Latino but his ex-wife, Liza, a nurse is played wonderfully by Orange Is the New Black's Elizabeth Rodriguez. Their son, Chris, is also a good character who is important to the story. When rioting begins, they hole up in a store that is run by a family from El Salvador, the Salazars. The father of this family is played by Rubén Blades and the two families have to escape and survive together. It's intense.
In its second season, this show really hit its stride. I'm addicted now, especially with its season three premiere featuring a new superhero (or Inhuman), who is not only Latino, but gay. With Skye, now going by Daisy, leading a task force to seek out other Inhumans and help them, the agents find Joey Gutierrez (Juan Pablo Raba), who has suddenly manifested the power to melt metal. I hope he sticks around for a while.
This is probably the one I'm most excited about being a total Oz nut, not to mention a fan of Tarsem Singh's visually spectacular film, The Fall (2006). But a series with a new take on the Oz story is something I will always watch no matter how good or bad. Tarsem is set to direct ten episodes of Emerald City, a limited series set for NBC. Just check out this synopsis:
Desperate for clues that will lead to the identity of her biological mother, a young woman breaks into a sinister underground facility somewhere in the Midwest. Unable to complete her mission and surrounded by security, she steals a police dog and drives away into the night, headlong into the path of a raging tornado. In the blink of an eye, she is transported to another world, one far removed from our own — a mystical land of competing kingdoms, lethal warriors, dark magic, and a bloody battle for supremacy. This is the fabled Land of Oz in a way you’ve never seen before, where wicked witches don’t stay dead for long and 20-year-old Dorothy Gale becomes a headstrong warrior who holds the fate of kingdoms in her hands.
The most surprising this about this for me? Dorothy has been cast. She will be played by True Detective's Adria Arjona, who was born in Puerto Rico, raised in Mexico City, and is of Puerto Rican and Guatemalan descent.
So there's a few. I'd love to see more Latinos represented in science fiction and fantasy, because while they may be made up worlds, they are worlds I live my life in. Places I like to visit and dream. And it's no fun dreaming about places where there isn't anyone else like you.
This is a typical response I get when I tell people that I’m dying to return to Mexico. I know what they’re trying to get at, and honestly, I find it a little racist and prejudiced, even if it is subconscious. When I ask someone what they know about Mexico City, I’d say half of the time they respond with the typical bad stuff they’ve heard on the news about drugs or kidnappings. But you know, that’s all I hear when I turn on the news here in Portland, and everyone and their dog is moving to this city.
I’m not going to go to any city on a trip, find out where the bad stuff is and where the bad people are and hang out in front of their houses in the middle of the night. I’m going to see the art and the beauty and experience the food! This isn’t meant to ignore the problems that Mexico City does have but in general I hate this negative and uninformed response.
I hate it because I love Mexico City. That’s not the city I know. Or knew. Let me explain.
Before I can even remember, my family had been going down to Mexico City so we could visit with relatives. My mom is from a small town about an hour and a half outside of Mexico City, so when we would head down for a trip it was more convenient to fly into Mexico City and go from there. Sometimes we would stay and see some sights, but most often the desire to see grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins was stronger and we’d head straight on out to Amecameca.
I was raised Mormon and most of our trips down to Mexico were often seen through that lens. The things I remember most were the riverboats in Xochimilco, the pyramids at Teotihuacan (of which I got a Mormon-based lesson on how they applied to the religion), and the Mormon Temple (in the northeastern part of the city).
I know what you’re thinking. “that's what you remember most about your trips?” Considering I only ever got to see the riverboats, the pyramids are outside of Mexico City and the Temple isn’t exactly a tourist destination, you must be wondering why I love Mexico City so much.
First off, it’s huge. It’s an immense place where everyone is speaking a language I love and embracing me as one of their own. Being bicultural was never an issue. I was rarely treated like I wasn’t Mexican or Latino while there. Everyone seemed to embrace me. It was comforting and is a place I’ve felt more at home than most other places. Second, the general views of Mexico City are beautiful. There’s incredible architecture and beautiful art and museums. (I did get to go to a few of those). And my last reason like, I mentioned before, is the food.
But I haven’t been to Mexico City in over fifteen years.
You’d think it would be easy. I could set some money aside and stay with family, right? Not quite. Setting aside money isn’t something that happens when you’re an artist with student loans, and I haven’t spoken to my family in Mexico for quite a long time. I’m under the impression they would be ashamed of me, or not want to associate with me for being gay. None of them have said as much, but it’s just a feeling I get. That being said, I want to experience the city as an adult, through my own lens, and take in all it has to offer. It means a great deal to me because I want to experience my culture as an adult, the way I identify, and not have anything attached to it other than my own impressions.
I’ve been thinking about it for a while and by thinking about it, I mean, I’ve made a list of all the things I would have to do in Mexico City when I return. My dream trip if you will. If this isn’t enough to get you to want to visit, I don’t know what is. So here we go.
Xochimilco is one of the 16 boroughs (or delegaciones) that make up Mexico City. It’s best known for an ancient set of canals that are what is left of a lake and canal system that ran over the Valley of Mexico. Now, the canals are dotted with trajineras, or gondola-type boats that are bright and colorful and perfect for setting up a picnic on the water. Traditionally, trajineras were decorated with flowered archways but are now mostly painted with names of women across the arch meant to be the name of the boat itself or that of a loved one.
A lot of people say this is a tourist trap, but frankly, I don’t care. Why would I go to Mexico and not visit Frida’s blue house? Especially considering that recently, her literal closet was opened up to display many of her dresses and jewels. Frida has become such an icon that experiencing the museum and art there is an absolute must for me.
I’m a comic book writer/artist and recently discovered this convention in Mexico City. It’s called La Mole Comic Con and it looks incredible! I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a goal of mine to exhibit at this show, talk to fellow comic fans and pros in Spanish and show my art there. They are expecting over 25,000 attendees next year and there are several YouTube videos showing the previous year’s event. Some news articles on La Mole Comic Con include this piece from La Jornada and this feature from SDPNoticias.
Look, I’m an adult now. Most of my trips to Mexico occurred when I was a child, and not only was I not old enough to go out to a bar, I was also told they were dens of iniquity, covered in sin. Well now, I’d like to visit Amberes Street, where it’s said other gay people live, and check out some of the shopping considering there are over 200 businesses within 16 blocks. This is where the gay pride parade usually takes place and apparently, another parade around Christmas. Also, clubs.
I’m gonna eat a lot when I’m there. Like, until I explode. I’m gonna have mole and tostadas and fajitas and sopes and conchas and all kinds of authentic food, like the stuff I grew up eating. My mom is a wonderful cook, and I’ve eaten my fair share of authentic Mexican food throughout my life. So while I might not be searching out too many things that are new to me, I’ll be eating lots of familiar food that I usually can’t get where I live. But one place I do want to go is Papa Guapa.
The joke isn’t lost on me that a boy from Idaho would go all the way to Mexico to eat at a restaurant featuring potatoes, but this restaurant looks too wonderful to pass up. The retro décor and the themed celebrity-inspired menu are some of the highlights. I’ll definitely be trying the Papa Hayek (baked potato topped with chicken fajitas, spinach, manchego cheddar, and creamy chile ancho sauce) and the Papamela Anderson (baked potato topped with shrimp a la diabla and cheese).
A library? Uh YEAH, a library! Just look at it. This building was designed by architect Alberto Kalach and he’s filled it with hanging shelves that make it look as if the book you want will literally fly right off the shelf and flap its page-y wings right into your hands. Right in the center of the library is an incredible sculpture by Gabriel Orozco titled Mobile Matrix (2006). It’s made from a whale skeleton.
These eco-walls were installed in several parts of Mexico City by a non-profit called VerdMX in an effort to beautify the city and improve its air quality. Designed by architect Fernando Ortiz Monasterio, these vertical gardens are unique and add a vibrant and artistic edge to the city.
This isn’t technically in Mexico City, but just right outside, 30 miles northeast. I’ve been here several times, but it isn’t enough. The chance to visit a city that is thought to have been established around 100 BC and walk down its Avenue of the Dead and hike up its pyramids is not to be missed. Visiting this site is among my favorite memories related to my visits. Being there and walking up every step of the Pyramid of the Sun with my Grandpa Blas is a memory I’ll treasure forever. It is the most visited archeological site in Mexico and it’s easy to see why. It’s got murals and statues and endless things to see.
So there it is. My dream trip. I’m sure I’d discover many other things while there and sometimes those are the best days on a trip. Just venturing out and having an open mind and being open to new possibilities. So please, look up wonderful things about Mexico City. Look up wonderful things to do in Mexico City, because it’s one of my favorite places in the world and being there is an experience you’ll never forget.
Terry Blas is the illustrator and writer behind the web comic You Say Latino and the ongoing web series Briar Hollow. His work has appeared on comic book covers for Bravest Warriors, Regular Show, The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time with Boom! Studios, and The Legend of Bold Riley with Northwest Press. He was also the first guest artist on what is one of the most popular, widely read and longest running webcomics of all time, PVP by Scott Kurtz. Blas has also contributed art to Compete magazine to promote Ben Cohen’s StandUp Foundation, combating bullying and homophobia. As the host of The Gnerd Podcast, he runs a weekly pop culture examination show. He is a member of Portland Oregon’s own Periscope Studio, a powerhouse collective of award winning illustrators, cartoonists, and writers who contribute heavily to the comics and art community. His latest project is with Oni Press, the publishers of Scott Pilgrim. It is an original graphic novel, a murder mystery set at a fat camp that he wrote with fellow writer Molly Muldoon.
Blas grew up in Boise, Idaho. He has lived all over the United States and Mexico and is fluent in Spanish. He loves unicorns, cheese, sushi, pizza, cartoons, chocolate, and TV. When not drawing comics, he enjoys drawing people, celebrities, unicorns, animals, witches, and drag queens.