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Chicano Vibrance

Kathy Jetnil

It’s a hard decision – where to go in the beautiful de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Orchestras, exhibits and galleries beckon from all corners, each looking and sounding, as interesting as the next. But there’s one exhibit that quickly catches the eye and pulls you in with splashes of color and huge canvases – the Chicano Art exhibit.

Now through Oct. 22, the de Young Museum is showcasing Cheech Marin’s collection of Chicano art, with a sister exhibit to supplement the visual emphasis in Marin’s collection. You might remember Marin as the infamous stoner in the movie “Up In Smoke” alongside Tommy Chong. Here, however, he’s the name behind a collection that’s as diverse as the artists themselves.

The collection includes pastels, drawings, paintings and other mediums from artists such as Carlos Almaraz, Diane Gamboa, Frank Romero, Patssi Valdez and Carmen Lomas Garza. It also integrates media art with movies and biographies of famous Chicano artists, writers, comedians and actors, as well as interactive toys and even an instructional video about the pitfalls of racism.

Political activism is a driving force of this collection, represented in retro HIV and racism posters and huge canvases such as Romero’s The Arrest of the Paleteros (ice cream men).

The gallery was filled with people of all ages on Sept. 1. Jane Marie Cleaveland, a cashier at the gift shop, described the busy section of the museum.

“There are a number of people who are touched by the colors and the extent of the art work,” Cleaveland said. “It’s not only eye-opening, but heart-opening as well.”

“Heart-opening” is an appropriate phrase for this collection. While the art speaks on racism and social justice, it also stays in close contact with the artists’ culture. Bright colors and forms illustrate the passion and creativity characteristic of the Chicano culture.

“I really love it,” said Jennifer Kallmes, a tourist passing through from Texas. “It’s really representative of the culture. The colors are so vibrant, so expressive.”

The exhibit is on a 15-city national tour.