Interview with Yaqui-Xicana artist Crystal Galindo
Name, age, nation, how do you identify?
Crystal Galindo, I’m 31 years old, Yaqui-Xicana. I identify as such, I prefer not to identify as Latina or Hispanic.
How did your journey as an artist begin?
I started drawing at the age of 3, when I would watch my dad draw tattoo style pen and ink images and graphite portraits. My mom still tells the story of me as a toddler coloring in my books and trying to finish the coloring book subject matter on every inch of the page. I was always trying to expand their world.
Why do you feel that artistically documenting your experiences as a (will fill in with the descriptor of your choice) was important to do?
As a Xicana, there are so many layers to what makes me who I am. Yes, as human beings we are complex creatures, but in our society there is no denying the inequalities and oppression that exists. We are bombarded daily with images and micro-aggressions telling us how unimportant we are. I had to really own and understand who I was to be able to accept and celebrate the complexities within myself. I am a brown, indigenous womxn. I am curvy. I can be seen as plus size by society’s standards of beauty.
I have been displaced from my nation on my dad’s side (Yaqui) and still haven’t found out the indigenous complexity of my mom’s side. I have to unlearn many of the patriarchal ideas that have been pushed upon me through society. I think putting the spotlight on womxn who are raza, who are strong, vulnerable, and have many different looks, sizes and shapes can begin to shift the paradigm. Our stories need to be told, no matter what. I am telling the world that we are not invisible.
What messages (if any) are you aiming to share through these works (and to whom or what communities)?
Our existence is political. Radical Self love and acceptance are major underlying themes. I want to invite womxn of color to embrace and love themselves in their entirety. My work also seeks to celebrate us, our complexities and our differences. We are not a stereotype. We are not the hot Latin mami with curves in all the “right” places who will say “ay yay yay” when the tortillas are burning and call you papi in the middle of having sex. We aren’t the spicy trope who will lose our temper at the drop of a hat or the maid who is just waiting for a white savior. We are skinny, we are able bodied, we are disabled, we are fat, we are curvy, we are big, and we are small. We are red, we are brown, we are dark skinned, and we are light skinned. We fuck, we fight, we love, we make love, we have abortions, we marry young, we never marry, we are hetero, we are lesbian, we are pan, we are trans, and we are cis. We are still learning. I am still learning to love and accept myself no matter the successes or failures, the fluctuations in my weight, or the community I am in. I speak to womxn of color with my work, and really hone in on my indigenous sisters, because I will never quite shake the feeling of displacement colonization has brought upon us.
Why did you choose this genre?
My style is an amalgamation of all that I have made before it, if that makes sense. It combines the need for self-assurance and confidence, the unearthing and reclaiming of my roots, body positivity and acceptance, portraits of strong xingonxs and their back stories, and a celebration of indigeneity. Sprinkle all that with my bright color palette and some magical realism and that is me. I can’t say I chose this genre, because to do so would mean I had other genres laid out before me and I just picked one. Rather, I had to decide to let go, and allow all the things I wanted to say with my art just happen. It takes trial and error, of course. But I feel I have so much to say that I never run out of ideas to paint.
When did you decide to follow your calling as an artist?
I always knew what I wanted to be. When I was a little girl, I would tell people I was going to be an artist, a singer and a makeup artist. I somewhat pursued the other two before deciding to practice them privately. I made the choice to fully pursue my art career at 21. I lived at home, went to community college and was registered as an Art Major, yet had never taken formal art classes. I had this strange idea in my head that art skills had to fully come naturally and somehow I would just come to know how to propel my career on my own. I think I just had an underlying fear of being critiqued and rejected with my art.
One day, I wandered into the college art gallery and saw a variety of oil paintings on display. There were student portraits lining the walls, and I felt the need to learn the medium. There was so much life and vibrancy in oil paints, and in addition I yearned for my work to be deemed worthy of being seen. At this point, I was drawing and using watercolor, but I knew I needed to expand and hone in on my skills so I could get better. I also had to shed my shy demeanor and learn how to give and receive constructive criticism.
Were there doubts and obstacles you encountered on your journey?
Definitely. I grew up in a very loving and supportive household, but it was in the middle of the central valley (California) with zero opportunity for me to grow as an artist. On top of that, it was hard for me to finally move out on my own and go to a university. In essence, I felt bad for leaving my parents. I’m sure there are a lot of xicanxs who experience the same sort of guilt leaving home and moving far. My parents never tried to clip my wings but I knew it was bittersweet when I left.
When I started Undergrad, there were a whole new set of challenges. I felt like I had to work extra to prove myself and be taken seriously, because for a long time I was the only brown girl in the whole Art department. In critiques, my work was dismissed, both purposely and unwittingly. I had this group of mostly white male faculty looking at my work and not knowing what to make of it. My art seemed to baffle people, by the sheer nature of the color combinations and underlying theme of cultura celebration.
There were many times I wanted to give up, or just be lazy since I had felt defeated. But I had to constantly remind myself to keep focus. I had to remember my goals and let that push me to do better, despite being told I was putting too much of myself and my culture into my work. I decided that in order to make others believe in my work, I had to believe in it so strongly that it couldn’t be ignored.
Any special links/announcements about upcoming events or other projects you’re involved in?
Next month is a busy time! My partner and me will be co-curating and showing at the Hayward Area Historical Society for the show “Indigenous Flux: Native Artists Honoring Their Roots Through Contemporary Art.”
I will be showing at the MOLAA in Long Beach for International Womxn’s Day on March 7th.
I will be showing at the MACLA in San Jose in April as well. I don’t have a link for that event yet, but will keep my social media contacts up to date on the schedule.
Social media links: