San Antonian Eduardo Cavazos Garza is many things: Vietnam veteran, Chicano rights activist, art teacher, musician and creator of the Jazz Poets of San Antonio, among other roles the youthful 75-year-old has played in his lifetime.
Garza will next present himself as a visual artist and curator of the exhibition Segundo de Febrero: Chicana/Chicano Reunion opening Thursday evening at Centro Cultural Aztlan.
Garza’s Jazz Poets will perform, as will his band Los Chromies, during the free reception from 6-9 p.m.
The 46th annual Segundo de Febrero exhibition commemorates the 175th anniversary of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war between Mexico and the United States and settled the Rio Grande as the border between the two nations.
In casting the show as a reunion, Garza is making a statement that unifies what some see as two sides to the Mexican American identity.
“For us, there’s no border,” he said. “It’s just a river, a line of demarcation. It’s not even real. … We’re all one people.”
The 2012 painting Con-Joined by recently deceased Chicano artist José Esquivel illustrates the concept of the exhibition, showing a doubled mustachioed face, one side filled in with the colors of the Mexican flag and the other side filled in with red, white and blue, colors flowing and intermingling where the faces meet.
“We have both of those civilizations coursing through our mind, body, spirit and emotions,” Garza explained as he regarded the meanings of Esquivel’s painting.
The show represents reunion in another sense: Garza gathered 50 works by artists he’s known since the early 1970s as he emerged from Vietnam a changed man, becoming an activist and studying art at Texas State University.
The artworks cover a range of 50 years and represent a multitude of styles and mediums. An etching from 1972 by Carmen Lomas Garza, with whom Garza (no relation) studied at Texas College of Arts and Industries in Kingsville, might be the oldest work in the show, while a group of Garza’s own daily drawings dated Christmas Day in 2022 is the most recent.
Rubio is represented by a painting of a Lone Star beer can and a skull drawing, both motifs stylized in his signature psychedelic abstraction. Each artwork touches on elements and symbols of Chicano identity, from the hummingbird and concertina in a delicate painting by Lilliana Wilson to the migrant workers and barbed wire in a boldly rendered painting by Joe Lopez.
Though Chicano identity is a strong component of the art on view, Garza said, before considering their ethnic heritage, he sees each person as “an artist first.”
“Let’s see what your art is, as a person, not necessarily as an ethnicity,” he said. “Because usually, the symbolism that evolves in a person’s artwork is reflective of an inner knowledge and inner history.”
Though the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo created the separation between Mexican and American, Garza said the issue is “not that complicated. It’s quite simple, actually. I’m from here, and I’m from there.”
He recalled his experiences growing up as a young student in Cotulla, and the progress made by the Crystal City student walkouts in 1969 and subsequent Chicano activism.
Of Mexican American dual identity, Garza said, “They used to say, ‘No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá’ because we couldn’t claim either one of them, but now we can claim them. I am Mexican. I am American. So it’s simple.”
Segundo de Febrero: Chicana/Chicano Reunion will be on view through Feb. 24. Gallery admission is free.