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I was born in Maricao, Puerto Rico in 1981. My family left the island for Springfield, Mass in 1984 because of the increasing corruption in Puerto Rico. In Springfield I witnessed my family move from a low-income, predominately Hispanic area into a middle-class, predominately white area.
Due to my Anglo like features and rapidly adoptive approach to the environment, I was constantly struggling with my identity. I couldn’t speak fluent Spanish but I could understand it. I could curve my speech to street slang and back to standard English. I would contently listen to Buena Vista Social Club but could not dance mambo to save my life.
As oppositional human behavior would have it, neither White or Hispanic groups, outside of family, would accept me as part of their culture. I’d sometimes get called “gringo” by Hispanics and “spic” by Whites. A cultural outsider on both fronts, I had to find an independent view of myself where I felt valuable and accepted. The arts provided me with all I needed to experience that.
The confidence I had in my abilities strengthened me and I aspired to become an illustrator and set my sights on college. However, as my abilities increased so did my confidence in my perspectives, ... perspectives that were, being mostly formed independently, culturally and socially detached and caused me to lack in constructive social skills and maturity.
At the end of high school I decided I could learn those social skills in the army. In basic training, individuality was frowned upon and conformity was the best chance of completing successfully. I made some very tight bonds and noticed those friendships were dependent on conformity and competence. The presence of this social construct became more obvious during my advanced individual training where a group from my platoon decided to initiate other platoon members into their little gang, the admission fee being a “beat down”. Other platoons had followed this same practice and relationships with other platoons were anything but democratic, especially if they were from another company. I remember frequently being mistaken for a white person and being included in conversations that discriminated against minorities and then having to prove myself as being Latino to minorities when in their company. Tired of confronting constant conditions of worth, I found solace in the angry music in bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails. Done with training, I was rebellious and ready to learn.
I became an active artist showing at art festivals, juried shows and displaying work for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. I went on to attend the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and there began questioning the purpose of art. I was not comfortable there. A large part of it was due to my disconnection with the landscape there. It was pretty and said nothing to me. I also felt the school over emphasized marketability and gave little purpose to art other than to being right (whatever that is) and having a pleasing appearance.
Art gave me the ability to value my potential and myself and I was not satisfied with just giving that up for a career dependant on appealing only to the wealthy. I wanted to contribute what art gave to me to others, not just those who could easily afford to hang it on their walls.