Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art Home


Document first page thumbnail
  • ICAA Record ID
    Land and spirituality and the Descansos / by Amalia Mesa-Bains
    Saber es Poder/Interventions Urban Revisions : Current Projects for the Public Realm. -- Los Angeles, CA : ADOBE LA, 1994.
    p. [12-20]
    Book/pamphlet article – Essays
    Mesa-Bains, Amalia. "Land and spirituality and the Descansos." In Saber es Poder/Interventions Urban Revisions : Current Projects for the Public Realm, [12-20]. Exh. cat., Los Angeles, CA: ADOBE LA, 1994.
Editorial Categories [?]

Installation artist and scholar Amalia Mesa-Bains argues for the importance of understanding Chicano history and identity in a geographical and spatial framework. She discusses the significance of land—both material and imagined—in Mexican-Americans’ experience of internal colonization in the United States: under the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the experience of migrant workers in the United States agricultural industry, and in urban displacement. Mesa-Bains describes Aztlán as a geopolitical symbol that for Chicanos implies both the spiritual idea of a homeland and the land as symbol of resistance to the experience of territorial expropriation. She insists that land and physical sites can serve as repositories of collective memories that abide in spite of their absence from dominant histories. The artist then gives brief descriptions of sites in Los Angeles that are the physical reminders of the erased history of Latinos in the city.


Amalia Mesa-Bains is an artist and cultural critic, who wrote extensively on Chicano/Latino art. In this catalogue essay for a 1944 group exhibition in collaboration with ADOBE LA at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Mesa-Bains resituates the concept of “border” as originally envisioned by Chicano artists as a very real geographical condition and not as the co-opted term for “critical intellectual enterprises” by mainstream Eurocentric artists and institutions. In this essay, Mesa-Baines provides a very concise and thorough description of the concept of “Aztlan” within a Chicano sociopolitical identity, tied to the loss of land by Mexico to the United States in 1848 stressing its cultural reclamation by the Chicano Movement. She also uses descansos (sites of remembrance for those who have died in accidents) as a metaphor for the comprehensive historical recounting of the Mexican presence in Los Angeles from its founding in the late-1870s to the present (1990s).

Tere Romo
Chicano Studies Research Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA
Courtesy of the private archives of Dr. Amalia Mesa-Bains, San Juan Buatista, CA