I was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents who came to this country during the heavy migration from the island of Borikén in the early 1940s. I grew up in the slums and projects of New York struggling to understand the cultural, political, and economic impact of the mainland on my people, the Boricua.
At that time, you were forbidden to speak Spanish in school. I remained in silence as I learned English and tried to comprehend the culture around me – so different from what I knew at home. My books, imagination, and art became my friends, teachers, and only means to escape my surroundings.
As a child, I was always told that I had Indian, Spanish, and African ancestors, but my school books never mentioned my people or culture. Ancestral spirits beckoned me at an early age to learn more. I was fascinated by native cultures and read everything I could about the original peoples of this continent. As I looked for the history and culture of the Boricua, I learned of their generosity, nobility, love of family and land, and the betrayal and attempted genocide that they were met with upon the arrival of the Spanish and then the Americans.
In 1969, I attended Ohio State University. At that time? my culture shock was so intense that I retreated into an early marriage with a fellow Boricua. We moved to Youngstown, Ohio, a steel town with a sizable Puerto Rican population, where I felt safe in the embrace of a culture I understood. In 1976, we moved to the Washington, DC area and in 1981, I became a divorced single mom with two children. Up until that time, I had worked in administrative and clerical positions. In 1982, I decided to pursue my dream of an art career, quitting my full-time job and going back to school to study fine art at George Washington University.
Later, I would work as a production artist for a Spanish language weekly newspaper and develop my skills as a graphic designer. I began exhibiting my work in the DC area and New York, and attended classes and workshops at the Art Students’ League, the Corcoran School of Art, and other institutions. I have been fortunate to have studied with artists who have encouraged me to continue.
My parents always told us that we were part indigena, and my spirit always looked for anything about the native peoples of the Caribbean, the Taíno and Caribs. My search for my roots led me to the indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as various tribal organizations. In 1996, I had a chance encounter at an exhibition I participated in for Hispanic Heritage Month that led me to meet Native Americans from the Washington, DC, area. I had believed that the natives from the North would not accept me as indigenous since I was of mixed blood.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, they led me to other Taínos searching for their ancestors and to knowledge of that way of life. I got involved with Taíno groups in the mainland and on the island and participated in native ceremonies. As a result, I gained more insight as an artist and became more spiritual in nature. In 1998, I formed a Taíno cultural group, Biaraku (first people of a sacred place). We organized educational events about the Taínos and participated in ceremonies that were not only Taíno but were of other native tribes as well. I am a member of the Bohio Atabei where we work on environmental and political issues affecting Natives all across the Americas. For example we protested the Dakota Access Pipeline by attending rallies, donating funds, and supporting individuals who went to lend a hand to the Lakota people in South Dakota.
My participation in sacred native ceremonies served to anchor the work in the spiritual, reflects a journey of rediscovery. Pre-columbian symbols and myths, and their modern interpretation, have been the signature themes of my work.
They form the narrative that pulls the viewer into the transformative power of my past as both person and artist. Created with conventional and computer techniques, the works seem to exist as real objects but, in reality, are inventions existing totally in a cyber-reality. This cyber-reality can be likened to the alternate reality that indigenous shamans have witnessed from time immemorial. The viewer delves into the mystery of a culture where life is vibrant, full of emotion, and not so simple or primitive.
I am still searching and learning about my indigenous ancestors and cherish the knowledge that I have gained.
George Washington University, B.F.A. – Painting concentration
Washington, D.C., 1986
Art Students League – Watercolor study
New York, New York, 1985
Juan Ripoll – Portraiture
New York, New York, 1986
Antonio Perez Melero – Installations
New York, New York 1985
Salmagundi Club – Watercolor study
New York, New York, 1985
Corcoran School of Art – Painting and composition
Washington, D.C. 1991
Washington Studio School – Drawing
Torpedo Art Factory Art Students League – Advanced Figure Drawing
National Hispanic Scholar – 1983-84
George Washington University Trustees Scholarship – 1984-85
League of United Latin American Citizens Scholarship – 1984