Asian and Latino Artists Weigh In On a Changing America

Four artists of color featured at Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian share their work--and their vision of what it means to be American.

By Jamilah King Aug 13, 2013

If you want to put faces to the story of America’s changing demographics, you might want to look in an art museum. Long bastions of traditional (read "white") American identity, a growing number of institutions–from the Whitney Museum and MoMA PS1 in New York City, to the Milwaukee Art Museum to the Oakland Museum of California–are opening their doors to artists of color whose work is both poignant and unabashedly political. 

That was the case on August 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., where the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American and Latino Centers hosted a joint Asian-Latino pop-up exhibition featuring the work of some of today’s most sought-after visual storytellers. (For a full look at last week’s pop-up exhibition, check out the entire collection on Tumblr.) caught up a few of the featured artists to talk about what their work means in the context of a changing American landscape. Here’s what they had to say.


Fidencio Martinez, based in Iowa City, Iowa. "Being an American to be is not defined by a piece of paper. We share a love for this country, for the people who raised us. It’s an honor for my work to be shown at the Smithsonian because it feels like I’ve finally been accepted."

Steve Alfaro, based in Washington, D.C. "It’s hard [for me] to define what’s ‘American’ and it should be hard for anyone else to define that, too.  When you see a debate through an artist’s lens, you can actually sit with it and draw your own conclusions." 


Favianna Rodriguez, based in Oakland, Calif. "We are bombarded with a narrative that’s consistently dehumanizing us and showing us in an ugly and negative way. I always think about art as fighting back against those narratives and saying that we love ourselves."


Monica Ramos, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., by way of the Philippines  "I don’t think it was my intention to challenge what it means to be an American but that’s what my work brings out within the context of [the Smithsonian] show. Making it was my own personal interest. Food is the easiest way to get into a culture and represent it. It’s my way of always remembering where I’m from."