- Bringing Aztlán to Mexican Chicago: My Life, My Work, My Art
José Gamaliel González is a visual artist and community organizer living in Chicago. At the time of publication he was experiencing serious health issues. The author, Marc Zimmerman, had known José González for many years when several professional friends approached him about the need for a biography of the artist, particularly in light of his state of health. Zimmerman spent six years interviewing González for the book.
The book is listed as an autobiography and, in many senses of the word, it is. Not only did González record the interviews, but he also proofread the transcripts, adding additional details. He approved each image and photo that is included. Zimmerman deserves much of the credit, however, for his efforts in organizing the transcripts and editing them into a coherent narrative. Zimmerman describes the difficulty of maintaining the flow, particularly when González wanted to add more details, more images.
Born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1933, González and his mother immigrated to northwest Indiana and he eventually settled in Chicago. He studied art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at the University of Notre Dame. After establishing himself in Chicago, he became deeply involved in local politics and the struggle of Latino artists to find space and support for their work. In the 1970s, he founded a major arts group in the city—El Movimiento Artístico Chicano (MARCH) and a second important group in the 1980s—Mi Raza Arts Consortium (MIRA).
“The stories of how MARCH rises in the 1970s and how MIRA develops in the 1980s, only to lose out to a new organization, the Mexican Fine Arts Center, now renamed the National Mexican Museum, are central to this volume” (xxv). This is the sad struggle of José González.
Since González’s health issues are also central to how he responds to the political and social events around him, and as an example of Zimmerman’s smooth editing of the narrative, here is González’s description:
During my period of MIRA and for years afterward, my struggle was going to be like being thrown into hell. I was dealing with a series of attacks or breakdowns. I was in and out of hospitals, body- and [End Page 240] mental-health facilities and halfway homes. There were times when I had intense visions, when I walked the streets also unconscious without a coat on in thirty or even minus-thirty degrees. Sometimes I’d get all hyped up and then put on downers that led to depression, trembling hands, and even some states of sleep that border on unconsciousness.(121)
As can be imagined, González found it difficult to hold a job and often relied on freelance work to support himself. Still he continued to produce art during these times. Zimmerman has been able to include much of this art in the text. Photographs, although exclusively in black and white, are generously spread through the book. These include personal photos of González and his family as well as Chicago landmarks important to the story. Especially interesting, however, are the photos of González’s work. Zimmerman has also managed to obtain photos of Chicago murals by González that are no longer in existence, hereby preserving their images and documenting their importance in González’s story.
Despite his unsuccessful efforts to create the Chicano art scene that he had envisioned in Chicago, despite the fact that competitors and detractors managed to establish the National Mexican Museum, without him, González sees the publication of his autobiography Bringing Aztlán to Mexican Chicago as validation of his many years of effort. In the final chapter of the book, González includes these remarks...