Home City Beat The Gaspar Enriquez Community Center

The Gaspar Enriquez Community Center

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By Martha Vera

El Paso’s own renowned artist, Gaspar Enriquez, has created art all his life. We were honored to have visited with him to learn about his life, his passion, and talk about the recent opening at his gallery which is now a legacy for UTEP Art students.

Mr. Enriquez’ work graces the walls of the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. The four pieces exhibited there are portraits of Dr. Diana Natalicio, Luis Jimenez, Rodolfo Anaya, and John Valadez. His work is exhibited all over the country.

His inspiration came from his visits to his grandparents’ home in Cd. Juarez. He began to draw because, there was not much else to do. During his teenage years he abandoned drawing and moved to California. He worked many jobs, washing dishes in restaurants, as a laborer, and then a machinist. He began earning a good income as a machinist while attending East Los Angeles Junior College. He got married to a young lady whose grandmother lived in San Elizario. She was also driven to finish college. They moved to Denton, Texas where she received her degree, and he worked in Fort Worth as a machinist. At his wife’s urging, he started painting again with a Christmas gift he received from her, a case of oil paints. This motivated him to paint during his spare time. They moved back to San Elizario, where he returned to college at UTEP to complete his degree in Art Education. He also holds a Master’s degree from New Mexico State University in Metals Art.

He started teaching as a student teacher with a teacher at Bel Air High School. She was Instrumental in getting him a job at Bowie High School in 1971. He felt right at home as this was the neighborhood that he had grown up in. He started teaching 7th and 8th grades and later moved to teaching high school. Mr. Enriquez shared, “I used to talk like them and dress like them, too. I made a piece that the El Paso Museum of Art owns. It’s called a Generation of Attitudes. It is made up of a Pachuco, a Pachuca, a Tirilon and a Tirilona, and a Cholo and a Chola. They are life-size cutouts. Back in the day, I was labeled a Tirilon because of the way I dressed, the way I spoke (Calo), and my mannerism.”

He defined the people that influence him, “The Pachuco style started in El Paso. It was an identity style. They wore wide pants with high platform shoes. They were known for their nice suits with a wide brimmed hat with a feather in it. They went to California and that is when the Zuit Suit riots started. They became well known but in a bad way. Zuit Suit riots were a racial war between service men and Pachucos.”

He continued his story by telling us, “During World War II a lot of Mexican Americans went to war. When they came back, they came back with their uniforms, khaki pants, and white t-shirt. They couldn’t find work because they were Hispanic. That lasted for a long time. They borrowed a little bit of the pachuco style. Their khaki pants were perfectly starched and ironed.

My mother said to me, if you want to starch and iron your pants, you must do it yourself. There I am ironing my pants. We were pretty proud of our dress. We put creases on our T-shirts and wore a Pendleton shirt, the shirts with squares that you button at the top. We wore tablita shoes that looked like a francesito, or French bread. We also wore a little hat. This was the dress of the Tirilon. My theory is that they got the name from tirantes, or suspenders. We also wore them.”

He added, “Then the Cholos came around. They borrowed a little from the pachuco and the tirilon styles. They used Calo words like ‘shante’ for home and ‘lana’ for money. There was a professor from Stanford that wrote a little dictionary for Calo, Spanish barrio and border slang, and its translation into English or Spanish. Each of these style types borrowed the style, language, and the attitude from each generation before them. You need to have attitude to survive in a barrio, but it also got them into trouble. I started painting my students because they symbolized what I used to be. They went through the same obstacles that I went through, being poor and living in ‘el Barrio’. I wanted to paint through their eyes, the struggles they went through day in and day out. I wanted the viewer to see who these young individuals really are. I borrowed their souls, so to speak, through their eyes and preserved their identity.”

His work started gaining notoriety and was recognized throughout the country. One of those that recognized his art was Cheech Marin. He started collecting Mr. Enriquez’ work. Mr. Marin has his own museum in Riverside., California. Gaspar explained that Cheech’s father was a policeman. He was raised outside of East LA. When he went to Canada to avoid the draft, Cheech became a pottery apprentice. This is where he met Chong and that was the beginning of Cheech and Chong.

“We all strive to have an identity. We are Mexican Americans, Mexicans, or Chicanos striving to find our own personal identity that defines our self-esteem. My subjects were my students. There is one painting that was commissioned by the San Antonio Convention Center. They were an installation for a specific part of the convention center but because they didn’t appreciate them. They were putting concession stands in front of them. They didn’t take care of them so when I had my retrospective here, they borrowed them from the convention center. This is why they are permanently at the El Paso Museum of Art where they are better appreciated. They measure 24 feet high by 25 feet wide,” Gaspar said.

He taught at Bowie High School for thirty-three years, having instructed over 6000 students. His gallery has paintings he did of many of them and their children. One of them even took his place as the art teacher at Bowie. He also shows the work of some of his students who showed both promise and passion for art and now are themselves accomplished and well-known artists.

His gallery was an old winery with vineyards that produced wine for churches from San Elizario to Santa Fe. It later became a residence; which belonged to Gaspar Giron. He began restoring the old adobe building in 1997, making sure it kept its original architecture. The restoration of the Gaspar Giron Mills building was a labor of love, adobe by adobe. After having moved to San Elizario he found out that his mother had been born there. The gallery was completed in 2007. He restored the other side of the building in 2010 and completed in 2016. The restoration of these buildings was “blood sweat, and tears” as he describes it. He added, “I did it because of the history of this community which dates to the 1500s. People were tearing down their adobe homes to build modern ones. These buildings would have been part of those demolished homes, demolishing history, if I had not restored them. I appreciate history too much.”

Mr. Enriquez says he was born Mexican American but chooses to be a Chicano. During the Chicano movement in Los Angeles, it was a statement of individuality. He explained that many Mexican Americans consider it derogatory to be Chicano.

 

About the recent opening, Mr. Enriquez shared that the buildings he help restore will be in a Trust through the Paso del Norte Community Foundation. The foundation is going to work with the Rubin Center at the University of Texas at El Paso. They will have programs for students in the arts, dance, music, and ecology. The Gallery and Center will be called The Gaspar Enriquez Community Center.

Currently, there is an exhibit by the De La Torre Brothers. They are from Valle de Guadalupe Community and San Diego. The valley called Valle Guadalupe Community is where the wine country is in Baja California.

You are invited to visit The Gaspar Enriquez Community Center Gallery and Museum is at 1456 Main Street and 1498 Main. Be amazed by its beauty, art, and architecture. It is open Saturday and Sunday from 11am – 4 pm.

 

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