In 1958, I was seven years old when I witnessed my grandfather, Mariano Perez, undergoing the Catholic ritual of Last Rites. He was silent as the priest said prayers and my mother and aunts huddled close to their dying father. I had often ditched classes in elementary school in favor of playing on the streets of Boyle Heights or so that I could accompany my uncles on joyrides, sometimes playing dangerous games with cousins, and sometimes to be indoors watching live TV that carried intensely informative live programming that frequently featured famous movie stars or infamous criminals. Missing school on that day to be among my family proved to be a pivotal experience. My grandfather pointed to me and held my hand explaining that it would be important for me to be smarter than everyone else as he explained that I should never be seen in public without a suit and bow tie. He died later that same evening.
He was born in Mexico City and raised his family of twelve children along with my grandmother in El Paso, Texas, where he was the proprietor of a barber shop. He was very set in his ways and would never jaywalk or step outside unless he was dressed in a pressed suit, starched shirt, shined shoes, and a bow tie. He had an influence on my uncles who were usually dressed in stylish suits with each uncle focusing attention on accessories like cufflinks, tie pins, shirt collar architecture, pin stripe suits, specialty buttons, silk lining, secret interior pockets, sleek belt buckles, or silk ties from Italy, Austria, and France. They would be dressed to kill on a daily basis as their time had finally come to be free of intense ethnic hatred that they faced in early 20th Century America and believed in ongoing moments of celebration for having survived bloody battles in uniform while serving as lethal warriors on behalf of the U.S. during WWII.
In 1968, I attended a rock concert at Shrine Exposition Hall where more than a thousand young people danced, smoked hashish, dropped acid, ate candy, and participated in the free love era while Frank Zappa, B.B. King, The Moody Blues, Eric Burdon, Canned Heat, and other bands performed in the darkened space illuminated by the psychedelic light shows that caused everyone to swoon and fall into a vortex of seemingly inconsequential timelessness. I was in the midst of a dynamic cultural flux as my involvement in the East L.A. Walkouts was at a pitched intensity but was also intermixed with my interest in contemporary music, countercultural poetry, avant-garde fashion experiments, and stylized graffiti. I walked among my peers in the concert hall wearing a blue gabardine suit with a thin powder blue silk bow tie, I would sometimes dance in the fast lane of Sunset boulevard in Hollywood wearing coat with tails with formal black satin bow tie, and on a weekly basis I would walk, march, run, and skip in celebratory defiance along Whittier boulevard in East L.A. where I could be seen in striped bell bottom slacks, high collars shirts, and oversized mauve velvet bow ties.
By the 1980’s, I was delivering artist talks at museums, universities, public spaces, television, and before live audiences across the United States. Each event would be an opportunity to present complex issues related to current intellectual and artistic developments of Chicano culture in a contextualized manner that would point to ways of deconstructing the negative stereotypes that are perpetuated by mass media, governmental policies, and inferred by exclusionary practices on many levels of national and international cultural production/representation. Each talk would be suitably knotted and bowed.
In the 21st Century, I’ve had the opportunity to lecture and present my visual works at major U.S. cultural institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford University, Smithsonian Institution, as well as in Mexico with exhibitions at Palacio de Bellas Artes, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Museo de Arte Moderno, along with U.K and E.U. venues such as Tate Liverpool, Centre Pompidou, Universiteit Antwerpen among others. My lifetime of engagement with cultural practices has played a contributing role in expanding the definition of the Chicano experience to a world that is intrinsically linked via endless immediacy of communication that flows past borders and delivers us all into a quickly evolving future. I’ll be certain to always be among the fashionably dressed with an impressive bow tie to greet the dawn of an even newer age.
©2013, Harry Gamboa Jr.
You can contact Harry Gamoba Jr. at: firstname.lastname@example.org