By Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz
At History Colorado, an elegantly designed black dress with blue flowers and vibrant birds created by artist and designer Norberto Mojardin shines under the light at the Hecho en Colorado exhibit. The dress and surrounding art are “some of the best examples of artistic and intellectual expression of forty Native/Mexicano/Chicano artists [that consider Colorado home and] that are part of the Abarca Family Collection,” says Adrianna Abarca, founder of the Latino Cultural Arts Center and exhibit curator.
The Hecho exhibit opened last week and continues through
January 10, 2021 and is a component of History Colorado’s Year of La Chicana. The Hecho en Colorado exhibit includes a vast array of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, textiles, and literature that will eventually be housed at the Latino Cultural Art Center’s future Mexican Heritage Museum in the Sun Valley neighborhood in West Denver.
The extraordinary art collection was created over a 50-year span by the Abarca family patriarch, Luis Abarca and his wife Martha. Adrianna has continued her father’s passion for the arts and has added to the family collection over the past 20 years.
“Historically History Colorado has not adequately represented the contributions of the Native, the Mexicano, the Chicano to the history of Colorado,” says Adrianna in a video by Julio Sandoval for Rocky Mountain PBS. “And I believe that they have made great strides in the last few years to right that wrong.”
Adrianna arranged the collection to show the influences of time and location creating a walkthrough of Chicano/Mexicano/Native history and culture. The artistic narrative begins with the Aztec, Mayan, and Indigenous roots with paintings and artifacts relating to our ancestors.
“A lot of these artists are now in their late 60 and 70s and it’s important to honor their dedication to their crafts and community,” says Adrianna.
The first painting is a magnificent piece, Rey de la selva by Victor Escobedo that represents the past and our roots. It then connects to the colonization of our people and the introduction of the Catholic faith followed by the rural locations many Chicanos, Mexicans, and Native people lived over the years and the influences it brought.
The flow of the collection continues with the Pachucos/as, murals, graffiti, books, portraits, and more with the final piece being Casa Bonita piece by Cal Duran.
However, it is one experience to attend Hecho en Colorado, but it is a whole different experience when on a tour of the exhibit with the Curator.
Seeing the beauty and significance of these art pieces connect to each of us for different reasons; but hearing the stories that go with each piece adds to the experience. From Adrianna explaining that she had to convince graffiti artist, JOLT to sell his jumpsuit because she recognized the passion and history in it and wanted the community to see it; to sharing her admiration and appreciation for the murals created by artist David Ocelotl García and showcasing La Fiesta in Hecho en Colorado.
“I think it’s very fundamental that something like this gets to happen in an institution like History Colorado,” says photographer, documentarian and artist Juan Fuentes, featured in the Hecho exhibit. “I think part of my art is a reflection of myself. I try to get very intimate and personal with the imagery that I capture and that reflects both my experience as an Immigrant and also being raised in a Chicano neighborhood.”
“Growing up, it felt even derogatory, but in a way that history and the art and the stuff that has influenced me has always taught me how much pride comes with that, how we can flip the table and flip the narrative and let them know that these terms are something to be very proud of and me being attached to that – you know I can’t escape that I have Brown skin, everything I do comes with a political statement, so I am very proud to say that I am Latino,” says Fuentes in a Rocky Mountain PSB video.
This extraordinary exhibit celebrates and showcases the Chicano, Mexicano, and Native art and the Abarca family that strives to bring culture into the community.
Due to their love for the arts and culture of México, Adrianna’s father, Luis, and mother, Martha, started collecting art made by Mexicans, and later evolved to art of all backgrounds.
The Abarca’s were early entrepreneurs and created their Mexican food business, Ready Foods, five decades ago. They also opened their family restaurant, La Fonda, that is no longer part of the family name since the early 80s.
Through the restaurant and Ready Foods, Luis helped popularize several dishes in Denver such as chips and salsa, crispy chile rellenos, and green chile that was already popular in Southern Colorado and Northern New México, but he made it a staple in Colorado. “He was just a pioneer in the Mexican food business by creating a Mexican food commissary,” according to Adrianna.
As for the love of the arts, “My father would go and spend a lot of time with the artist on the weekends like when he wasn’t working. We would go hang out in the artist’s studio. My dad would invite them out for menudo or tacos, and then go back to the studio and encourage them, give them ideas,” Adrianna explains as she expresses the passion and dedication her father had and why she too has a deep passion for the arts.
After the passing of Luis, his son, Marco, heads Ready Foods, although while Adrianna and sibling, Eric, are not directly involved in the business, they are available to help when needed.
Following her father’s love for the arts, Adrianna focused advocating and collecting art from local and international artists.
“I’m starting to work less and less in the family business to dedicate my energy and resources to creating the Latino Cultural Arts Center. We have three locations. Two in Sun Valley [neighborhood] and one in La Alma Park [neighborhood],” explains Adrianna.
Her strategy is unique in planting various art sources throughout our communities.
“We’re creating what we call a Cultural Campus. The main campus will be on Colfax and Federal under the Colfax viaduct, and the campus we are developing first is on 12th [Avenue] and I-25. We call those Las Bodegas, so that’s technically in La Alma Park.”
Las Bodegas is in the design and permitting stage with hopes to have it fully open as a community art center by January 2022. Currently, Latino Cultural Arts Center offers a retail component of their store, Hijos del Sol, located at 2715 W. 8th Ave. in Denver.
“We sell primarily handicrafts, artesanías, by Latinos from the United States and all over Latin América. We have a lot of really beautiful jewelry by a local artist named Ana Marina Sánchez, and she is in the exhibit, Hecho en Colorado. I commissioned her to do a really beautiful piece for the exhibit,” Adrianna explains. Sánchez is from México and has been in Denver for a few years. The hope for the future is to have Sánchez teach the craft of jewelry making at the Latino Cultural Arts Center.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the store’s progress has halted, and the momentum shifted due to Hijos Del Sol closing for a short period of time. It has impacted the artists, especially those who send their art from south of the border. However, the store is open once again, by appointment only by calling 720-353-2233.
In addition to the store, Adrianna also owns Adrianna Ethnic & Fine Arts that sell various postcards, note cards, posters, T-shirts, and calendars to help artists reach a broader audience. Also, the Latino Cultural Arts Center promotes local and international artists by using their social media platforms to promote the artist’s art and own social media.
During these politically violent times, it is vital that we visit places like the Latino Cultural Arts Center and the Hecho en Colorado exhibition to educate or remind ourselves of the Chicano/Mexicano/Native culture and find our identity if we are struggling.
“We are very pleased that we get to have a long run here [Colorado History]. We anticipate record numbers of attendees that self-identify as Chicano, Mexicano or Latino,” states Adrianna.
Hecho en Colorado Exhibition Artists include: Lalo Delgado, Cal Durán, John Encinias, Victor Escobedo, Juan Espinosa, Carlota EspinoZa, Javier Flores, John Flores, Carlos Frésquez, Juan Fuentes, Ernie Gallegos, David Ocelotl García, Joaquin Gonzáles, Miguel González, Quintin González, JOLT, Ramon Kelley, Karma Leigh, Lu Liñan, Josiah Lee Lopez, Arlette Lucero, Stevon Lucero, Dan Luna, Sofia Márquez, Emanuel Martínez, Adrian H. Molina, Norbeto Mojardin, Tony Ortega, Lorenzo Ramírez, Manuel Ramos, Abi Rosales, Daniel Salazar, Ana Marina Sánchez, Carlos Sandoval, Carlos Santistevan, Armando Silva, Zoots by Suavecito, Leo Tanguma, Lorenzo Trujillo, and Jerry Vigil.
History Colorado members and non-members can attend the exhibit without a tour; however, because of COVID-19 guidelines, please visit historycolorado.org for more information regarding tickets, ticket time slots, and hours. Those who wish to attend a tour can attend Cafecitos, which are carefully curated intimate tours for groups of ten or less every Friday morning, 9am-10am, where they meet in the lobby for coffee y Biscochitos and distance socializing and experience a guided tour by Adrianna Abarca.
Also, families and friends can register with a private one-hour tour with a group of 8 and get $2 off admission. Groups can schedule by calling Adrianna Abarca at 720-353-2233.
History Colorado is located at 1200 Broadway, Denver (303-447-8679). For information about the Cafecitos, please visit historycolorado.org/cafecitos.
For more information on the Latino Cultural Arts Center, their locations, missions, and more, visit lcac-denver.org.
Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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