Caught up in political debates surrounding immigration policy, journalists, politicians, and even fine artists often give short shrift to the cultural aspects of immigration: the beautiful blending of cultures, languages, and societies that enrich a country for the better.
Felipe “Feggo” Galindo’s series Manhatitlan offers a reminder that immigration is, at heart, about finding home in a new place – a process that inevitably involves some cultural fusion.
Created as a humorous blending of Mexican and American culture, the series was conceived of by Galindo after he started feeling a sense of nostalgia for his native Mexico City.
Born an hour outside of Mexico City, Galindo attended university to study art and become a cartoonist. However, most of the artists and their art in Mexico – and the United States – focused on various political topics and ideas. Galindo says his work is often not explicitly political, but he sometimes goes in a political direction if there’s something he really wants to say. On more than one occasion, he has come up with a concept that only later took on political connotations for viewer. Nevertheless, he says it has been a challenge to be recognized as something a bit different from a political cartoonist:
In Mexico and Latin America, being a cartoonist in those countries means being a political cartoonist in my field of work. In that sense I didn’t just want to do that, I wanted to have other ways of expressing my ideas. In Latin America, though, it’s unavoidable. If you say ‘I’m a cartoonist,’ they immediately think you are a political cartoonist. In New York, if you say you’re a cartoonist they think about the New Yorker magazine or something like that. The reference is different.
Though Galindo had originally planned to stay in New York for a short time, various job offers had kept him in New York. After a while, he started imagining and drawing cultural elements from both Mexico and New York, such as a piece entitled New Immigrant with the image of a Toltec warrior on the subway headed to work, complete with portfolio and tie, and flanked by an inquisitive onlooker. “I was bringing in cultural symbols of the past to New York at the end of the twentieth century,” Galindo says.
A history buff, Galindo did some research on the history of both Manhattan and Tenochtitlan. Manhattan – which is the Lenape word for ‘Hilly Island’ or ‘Island with Hills’ – is indeed an island in New York City. Tenochtitlan – the original capital for the Aztec Empire – started out as an island in the middle of a lake. The geographic similarities between both centers of cultural influence eventually led Galindo to merge other aspects of American and Mexican culture. “And I liked the combination of both names, Manhattan and Tenochtitlan,” he says.
Taking his inspiration from all aspects of life in New York, from museums, landmarks, and even the aforementioned subway system, Galindo started the series – one that has about twenty-five pieces already and continues to grow – and managed to create a fun, festive take on New York’s rapidly growing melting pot of Latino culture.
The composition of each piece is never drab but rather alive with color and tradition. One image depicts the Statue of Liberty decorated with Día de Los Muertos skulls, votive candles, prayer flags, and the ever-popular dancing skeletons – rightly entitled Day of the Dead. Always showing an artistically playful side while drawing from movies and popular culture, Galindo also has a piece entitled Myth Meets Myth, in which he depicts the statue of an Aztec goddess facing Marilyn Monroe. Both women, one a mythic goddess and the other an actress who has become mythic in her own way, reenact the famous Subway crate scene from The Seven Year Itch.
Perhaps the most engaging piece, and one of Galindo’s personal favorites, is the piece that bears the series’ name, Manhatitlan. This first piece was the one to inspire all the others and for good reason. It depicts a few Aztec individuals coming to New York. They are smiling, bearing food, and wearing clothes from Aztec culture. The New York landscape has a brilliant shining sun and seems to beckon these newcomers. The whole piece, meant to reflect the founding of Tenochtitlan itself, has a hopeful feel to it. And this piece, created almost fifteen years ago, seems to almost predict the coming of a number of Mexican immigrants from the state of Puebla. Galindo says:
I saw something very ironic because Tenochtitlan was in Mexico City and the people coming to this area were Puebla but they identified with Mexicans. And they always have fun seeing these images… I always get a good response from the community or people of Latino descent. In that sense, I’m really honored to participate in the immigration discourse with my artwork.
And really, right now with the immigration debate feeling so grim amid the heartbreak of deportation and anti-immigrant raids – we could sometimes use a bit of fun, a bit of hope, a bit of celebration.
Galindo continues to work on the Manhatitlan series and is hoping to bring it up to at least forty pieces. He is also focusing on a series that explores Washington Heights in Manhattan in relation to its history with George Washington and the revolutionary war but with a cultural twist: it’s George Washington exploring the Washington Heights of today, a melting pot of Caribbean cultures, with a strong Dominican presence. He is also working on a project exploring the work of Frieda Kahlo in New York, where she held her first solo show before she exhibited her work in Mexico for the first time.
“I always thought we brought some spice from Latin America, and New York is also very special,” Galindo says. “It’s almost like a United Nations city. You see people from all over the world.”
To see more of Felipe Galindo’s art, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery or go to the artist’s website.
Danielle Luaulu is a recent Bachelor of Arts graduate from San Francisco State University in Creative Writing. In addition to being a fiction writer and an avid reader, she also reviews comics at MajorSpoilers.com.