Arte Américas ‘Caminos’ exhibit salutes the Latino experience in the Valley

The ‘Caminos’ exhibit at Arte Américas looks at the cultural, political and demographic impacts that Latinos have made in the San Joaquín Valley.
The ‘Caminos’ exhibit at Arte Américas looks at the cultural, political and demographic impacts that Latinos have made in the San Joaquín Valley. jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

There is an African proverb regarding who gets to write history: “Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

It is similar to a quote that has often been attributed to Winston Churchill: “History is written by the victors.” However, a variation of that quote has been identified with Napoleon Bonaparte, Mark Twain and George Orwell.

That is probably why few stories have emerged about how the Aztecs reacted to the first appearance of the Spaniards, their battles or details about their pre-Hispanic life that were destroyed when the invaders destroyed their codices.

That is precisely why ‘Caminos: Latino History of the Central Valley’ is a must-see exhibit at Arte Américas. Led by Nancy Márquez and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Dr. Alex Saragoza, the exhibit takes a look at Latino history in the San Joaquín Valley.

That history starts with the arrival of the Spaniards in the late 1770s. The exhibit – which takes up the entire center, includes documents, photos, videos and art – runs through June 30.

“The story is one of change, resilience, and resistance, from the struggles of the Great Depression years and the civil rights era to the achievements of Latina entrepreneurs and the brave service of Latino soldiers,” said Márquez and Saragoza.

We highly recommend ‘Caminos,’ not because a section is devoted to a photo gallery of Vida en el Valle content, but because these stories are important for current and future generations to remember.

As Saragoza noted, the few books written about Latino history in California are limited to the stories of Latinos in the Bay area or Los Ángeles. The Latino experience, while similar, is very different in Fresno, Tulare, Selma or Firebaugh.

That’s because of the farmworker experience, César E. Chávez, the student-led protests to protect La Raza Studies at Fresno State, the bracero influence, the rise of political influence in rural communities like Orange Cove, and demographic changes that have transformed the majority of the Valley’s counties into Latino dominant areas.

Our history is not limited to the political rise of a Dinuba barber’s son who went on to become the first, state-elected official in more than a century (Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante), or Mexican immigrants who sold homemade cheese from pails before becoming giants in the Mexican food business (the Márquez brothers) or the vision of a Fresno State professor who built a Mexican dance program that sprouted instructors who went on to start similar programs at area schools (the late professor Ernesto Martínez and Los Danzantes de Aztlán).

Nor is it limited to women who refused to play second fiddle to men who plotted political strategy and formed their own organization (League of Mexican American Women) or to the horse riders who organized to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers in dilapidated housing in western Fresno County (the Joaquín Murrieta Horse Pilgrimage) or community protesters who pushed local media to provide better coverage of the Latino community (Vida en el Valle and KFSN’s ‘Latino Lifestyle’).

The Latino experience has been a major part of the Valley. We believe Latinos have made the Valley better, just as other waves of immigrants have helped make diversity a positive.