Barbara Carrasco was starving. She had just dropped off her husband, the artist Harry Gamboa Jr., at LAX and driven cross-town to meet me at their old hangout, Phillipe’s. As we sat down with French dip sandwiches and talked about her life and work I realized that underneath the easy laugh and unpretentious manner there was an incredible strength that had allowed her to travel from the projects of Mar Vista, to the halls of UCLA, to battle the sexism and racism from both the Anglo and Chicano communities, to work with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, to get her MFA at Cal Arts and to beat cancer.
Currently she’s enjoying a temporary victory in one of the biggest fights of her career. Her mural, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, is on display at the Natural History Museum until August 18th as part of the exhibition, Sin Censura: A Mural Remembers L.A.
Rarely seen since it was first created and immediately censored in 1981, the mural shows Barbara to be the Chicana Stanley Kubrick, representing the history of the city and its people from the beginning of time to their Hollywood future. The mural is a beautiful and sophisticated reminder that we may be a “Sanctuary City” now, but it hasn’t always been that way.
PANCHO LIPSCHITZ: When you grew up in Mar Vista Gardens was it for ex-military only or was it the projects?
BARBARA CARRASCO: Back then you had to be former military personnel and my dad was a Korean War veteran.
LIPSCHITZ: And both your parents were artistic.
CARRASCO: They were both talented. My mom could draw good and my dad would draw women. He was talented. I got it from them both, I guess. But they didn’t pursue it.
My mom got a scholarship in high school to study art and then her grandmother from Durango Mexico wouldn’t allow her to go. And it’s just weird how she did that to me. I had a scholarship to go to Otis. “Mom, why not?” I really could have benefitted from that. She was really old fashioned. I think because I was the oldest girl she thought “you have to do this.”
LIPSCHITZ: Talk about your fight to get into art school at UCLA.
CARRASCO: Initially I was accepted to UCLA the campus but rejected from the art department. I thought that was real odd, so I went to the planning office. I don’t know what made me go to the planning office but any student has the right to ask for the ethnic breakdown of any department. So that’s what I did. I forget the exact number but there were over 700 students and there were 30 people of color in all those five areas; theater, dance, film, graphic arts, painting, sculpture. I thought, “Oh my god, that’s all there is?”
To read more of Lipschitz’s discussion with Barbara Carrasco, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/word-with-barbara-carrasco/
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