'Viva La Raza,' the massive Aztec goddess that keeps vigil on Arte Américas, is the latest gift to the community by Ernie Palomino.
The "Godfather of Chicano Art," as he is known, was on hand last Saturday for the unveiling of the towering bronze statue that infuses the farmworker with Coatlicue, an ancient Aztec earth goddess.
"This will stay here forever," said Palomino about the two-sided statue that appears to sit on a farmworker truck. "I dedicate this to all the Chicano artists."
Palomino took out a reverse mortgage on his house to finance the $125,000 project.
Palomino, who took up drawing at an early age and published his autobiography in 1955, spent 10 years researching the Aztec goddess. That included several trips to México City.
"This is my last chance to do something that hasn't been done, and do it in the best medium that I can think of: Bronze," said Palomino, who taught Chicano art at Fresno State University.
Palomino said the idea for combining the farmworker truck with the Aztec goddess came from Spanish poet Ramón Jiménez, who had a donkey he would take into town and let the children ride it. Jiménez never rode the donkey.
"I grew up in the 'hub cap culture,'" said Palomino, referring to a growing middle class that marked its progress with each acquisition of a better car. "That has stayed on my mind."
Palomino said artists remain a very important part of the community, often moving into a run-down area before "lawyers and others move in and gentrify the neighborhoods.
"Artists are the ones who clean things up and build," he said.
Palomino had given some thought to having the statue located elsewhere, like at Fresno State or in Sacramento. He decided against that because of the paperwork that would be involved.
He decided on Arte Américas. "Our roots are here in the Central Valley. This is where it all started," said Palomino.