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In this interview, Marcos Raya expresses his belief that young artists must “get out of their mental and real ghetto, the Mexican ghetto,” in order to advance in their art. They must, he says, “be part of the whole city of Chicago and still be Mexican.” They should not, in other words, make their work only about their ethnic identity, lest such a focus exclude them from the elite art world. Raya notes that the Mexican experience is different from the Polish or German ones simply because half of U.S. land was once Mexican territory. Because of this, many U.S. citizens were born of Mexican descent and Mexico is right next door to the United States. Raya would rather see a country that is Mexican-ized than Americanized, and would rather see a fusion of Mexican and U.S. civilizations. Raya is also tired of seeing the same tropes over and over in Latino art. Repeated images of pyramids do not say much; nor do vibrant colors truly express Mexico’s reality, which, in his assessment, is “black and white with so much crime and corruption.” While Chicago artists can no longer use the same formulas as in the 1970s, Raya affirms that he will remain political in his work.
This interview with Marcos Raya appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of Diálogo, a journal published by the Center for Latino Research at DePaul University in Chicago. Raya, born in Irapuato (Guanajuato), is a Chicago-based artist active in mural painting and community activism in Pilsen during the 1970s and 1980s, where he has run workshops and art classes at Casa Aztlán, a community center in this area, among other activities. Raya considers the challenge of being a Mexican artist not only in Chicago albeit in the global art economy at a time when “the concept of community has disappeared.” He also notes that Chicago is one of the most global cities, and that producing art in it requires an approach mindful of a larger universal context.