Art communicates identity. Whether it is a brush tainted with watercolor or fingers tapping on the keys of a screen to form spoken word, they serve as mere conduits to reveal our thoughts and voices. Although we all hold different experiences and identities, similar to the art we uphold, oral history reflects aspects of the human experience that go beyond the social groups we place ourselves in.
Growing up in Las Vegas, my experience with art began with First Fridays in the downtown Arts District. Here, I discovered the incredible art community of Las Vegas and was exposed to works honoring Frida Kahlo and featuring the aesthetics of La Katrina. My mom introduced me to the art in the traditional art museums and the art of indigenous cultures featured in museums of natural history. These experiences, combined with two semesters of “art appreciation” courses, surely do not make me any critic or connoisseur of art; however, they helped me discover the power of the arts to express our identities and experiences.
Oral history reveals the mosaic that is the Latinx community of Las Vegas. While conducting oral histories, we have heard about the experiences of poet Ashley Vargas, who goes by the nom de plume Ms. AyeVee, proving her “Latin-ness” in the Eastside; artist Justin Favela and the ever-changing medium of piñata paper; Checko Salgado capturing the realities of life on 28th Street in photographs; the classical music of the Foundation to Assist Young Musicians (FAYM) string ensemble, co-founded by Art Ochoa; and the stunning beauty of lowriders created by local artist and musician Gabriel Garcia.
The nuances of art are a reflection of the nuances we find in the identities of those we have interviewed for the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada Oral History Project. The work of our community defies the traditional definitions of art and shows that Las Vegas has never been, as some have claimed, a “city without culture.” We have preserved the stories of artists such as Lynnette Sawyer, who developed an exhibit to showcase the work of local Latinx artists, and Patricia Vazquez, who used painting as a way of talking back to anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments.
The art of the Latinx community historically has been underrepresented and upheld in institutions of art. The few works displayed were classified as “folk art” or as a token of representation from “artists of color,” rather than for the beauty, artistry, and message presented. Local artists, like Krystal Ramirez, create works in defiance of popular art. Her style of handwritten messages on various mediums expresses her Latinidad and beliefs. It’s no coincidence one of her works explicitly states: “I want to see brown bodies.”
As a Latina, I thank the artists of this community who have shared their part of the Latinx experience and shown the pride we have for the roots, language, and cultures we come from. I invite you to explore the art of my community whether it’s through the murals of East Las Vegas or the oral histories of the Latinx Voices project. Discover our stories and the art of our Latinx identity.