You came of age in the exhilarating atmosphere of 1970s Detroit, a center for revolutionary black workers and the hub of a musical explosion. How did that shape your politics?
Juana Alicia: I’m originally from Texas, with Tejano/Jewish ancestry. Work at Chrysler settled my migrant family in Detroit in the 1950s. Yes, I took part in civil rights/Black Panther/antiwar actions, and I grew up listening to The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye. Dancing in the streets and feeling the world on the cusp of a revolution!
From Detroit — to México! What's that story?
As a teenager, I made posters in solidarity with the UFW's grape strike and boycott, and I was swept up by the Chicanx Movement. In 1972 I met Cesar Chavez at a rally, and he recruited me to work with the UFW in Salinas. I spent several years working in the strawberry and lettuce fields where I learned from — and bonded with — my Mexican coworkers.
During that same period, my sister went to college at UNAM, and I began to visit Mexico. I fell in love: the sinking marble museums, the smell of the panaderias, the Zócalo echoing with the voices of millennia, and the smell of diesel in the streets of La CDMX. Later, my husband, Tirso Araiza, told me when we met that he intended to live in Mérida, the city of his birth. And we did it! Now I’m going to become a Mexican citizen. I want to participate in the vibrant cultural life of Mérida, the Yucatán, and the country, and contribute artistically to this amazing place.
Are murals your preferred form? If so, why?
My work evolved from the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District, with its legendary mural renaissance. I work in many forms, but the mural remains my favorite. I love the theatricality, the social interaction in a public place, the monumentality, the interface with the environment. I feel thrilled while I’m painting a mural!
Murals make images accessible to a wide public: to folks in the streets, at demonstrations, or just going about their lives, struggling, loving, suffering, rejoicing. You’ll be walking down the street, and pow! A building becomes a song, a film on walls, an alternative vision to the commercialism bombarding us from billboards to our telephones. The wall opens a door to new possibilities.