Sam Coronado

Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

There was no guarantee the late Austin artist Sam Coronado would make it out of Vietnam alive. But after he did, he spent the next few decades of his life dedicated to the arts. His last project is “Hard Fought: Sam Coronado’s WWII Series.”

The series features narrative prints depicting the stories of Latino-Americans during World War II. The exhibit draws inspiration from the “VOCES Oral History Project,” a collection of more than 650 interviews and ephemera that give voice to the American Latino experience in World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War.

“Hard Fought” will be on exhibit at the Benson Latin American Collection through May 15.

“Sam Coronado brought his own eye to something we’ve been looking at for several years,” said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, journalism associate professor and director of “VOCES.” “We would never have seen what he saw, what he selected, what color he used. He really lent it his vision, and we’ll always be very grateful for that.”

Exhibition curator Tatiana Reinoza said she believes that through this exhibit, Coronado, who died in 2013, conveys the pride he had for his people.

“A lot of Latinos are really proud that they served, but they haven’t really been given credit for that honorable work,” Reinoza said. “That’s why this show is called ‘Hard Fought’ because it’s a hard-fought battle to gain that recognition, to gain that validation and to know that their sacrifices are valued in the end.”

Reinoza said Coronado created the prints through the serigraphy process, also known as screen printing. Some prints in the collection are mixed media, which incorporates collage elements in the piece. The narrative prints are coupled with oral elements such as interview excerpts taken from the “VOCES Oral History Project.”

Reinoza said Coronado enjoyed serigraphy so much that he opened his own studio in Austin in 1991.

Coronado, a Vietnam veteran who identified as Chicano, knew firsthand the struggle to feel validated for his services to this country. This prompted him to collaborate with Rivas-Rodriguez in 2006.

Julianne Gilland, associate director of scholarly resources and special collections curator at the Benson Latin American Collection, said it has been interesting for viewers to relate to the exhibit.

“This is true whether as American families, who remember their service and sacrifice in wartime with pride, [or] as Latinos, who have had to reconcile those proud histories with some of the social justice and racism that their families have experienced,” Gilland said.

The exhibition resonated with Reinoza, who said she thinks it is vital for young Latinos to understand the importance of their historical presence in this country amid the current immigration debates and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“Young Latinos need to understand that we have a long history in this country, and we have been a part of that special fabric,” Reinoza said. “I think that’s really important for young Latinos to learn and acknowledge.”

Sylvia Orozco is the co-founder and curator of the Mexic-Arte museum. According to Orozco, the emotions that accompany the Day of the Dead celebration are complex because they both celebrating and grieving.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

In a one-story building huddled in the shadow of the Frost Bank Tower downtown is the Mexic-Arte Museum. The building is unassuming at first, but it contains years’ worth of history, and tales of the Latino people expressed through art.

The museum’s “Community Altars” exhibit, an annual installment that celebrates the Day of the Dead, is open at Mexic-Arte until Nov. 23. 

Rebecca Gomez, the museum’s curator, works to ensure that the altars complement each other in the museum’s space. 

“The altars are pieces of people’s lives as they come together to celebrate history,” Gomez said. 

Whether accented by vibrant flowers and bright colors, or simply decorated with lace, the museum’s altars are as diverse as their subjects. Some are personal or specific memories carefully chosen by family members, and others are exhibits dedicated to mothers or to leaders in the Latino community. 

No matter the subject, each altar is designed to be a celebration. This celebration is something Sylvia Orozco, executive director and co-founder of the museum and a UT alumna, witnessed over three decades ago when she travelled to Mexico and experienced the Day of the Dead for the first time.  

“My friend Pio took me to Mixquic; it’s an Aztec community,” Orozco said. “It’s very beautiful because what I loved about it was that it was an interdisciplinary and multi-generational celebration. The smells, the food — you see children, you see older people, all the family celebrating. I kind of really fell in love with it. It’s very mystical, very beautiful [and] very spiritual.” 

It was the spirit of this event that inspired Orozco to bring the feeling back to Mexic-Arte. 

The museum was co-founded by Orozco and fellow UT alumnus Sam Coronado in 1984. The two met at UT and quickly became friends. 

“I actually remember the moment we met,” Orozco said. “He was walking down the hall with a bunch of paintings, and I was walking down the hall with a box of paint, and there’s very few Latinos in the art department. so it’s kind of, like, when we see each other, we make friends.”

Coronado, who died last November, will be honored in the exhibit with an altar celebrating his life and work. 

Orozco, who assisted in the design of Coronado’s altar, began to tear up as she described the items that comprised the altar. 

“When we were putting together the altar, we wanted to make it something that was really reflective of him, and so, we thought of painting,” Orozco said. “He was always painting, [and] he was also a printmaker. Those were the instruments that he loved, and so, that is what we put in his altar.”

Gomez said that whether it’s through paintings, personal artifacts or even pieces of text intended to tell a story, the altars should remind viewers that while death is often mourned, it also signals a time to remember and celebrate the achievements and lives of those who have died.