The Magic Realist, Part Four

Realist's Journey Leads to Reconciliation

Bird detail from 'Perico's Bay' by Alfredo Arreguin.

Over the years, Arreguin's paintings evolved to incorporate more Pacific Northwest environmental themes. He regularly features salmon, floating in streams, coming at viewers at all angles, sometimes brazen and other times barely seen.

His famous salmon triptych, Hero's Journey, was done for his late friend Raymond Carver, who died of cancer in 1988, and his wife, poet Tess Gallagher. That painting appeared on the cover of Carver's last book of poems, A New Path to the Waterfall.

Although much of his work of late has centered around the Northwest, his devotion to the local Latino community has been legendary. His poster marking the 20th anniversary of El Centro de la Raza featured a magical horse named after Emil Zapata's horse, which escaped into the mountains after the Mexican revolutionary was killed in a 1910 ambush.

Detail of

Detail of "Mi Amigo Ray," a portrait of writer Raymond Carver, 2001. Photo by Rob Vinnedge. Click the image to see a larger view of the complete work.

"Emiliano Zapata is the foremost symbol in Mexico of the people and the land," Arreguin explains. "Whether we own it or work it, the land is the essence of life. Like Zapata, El Centro de la Raza grew out of the struggle for land for our people. Zapata exemplifies compassion and the struggle for justice and dignity, so it is a fitting image for El Centro de la Raza, whose commitment to justice is in keeping with this spirit."

Arreguin, who has offered the family of Cesar Chavez artwork he did of the late civil rights leader to help raise funds for the United Farm Workers movement, received one of his highest honors in 1997. He was presented then with the "Ohtli," an award created by the government of Mexico to recognize the altruistic activity of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who have worked consistently for the benefit of their communities throughout the U.S.

Exalted as that honor was, it was nothing new for Arreguin, who still works out of the basement of his home and uses cut Coke cans to hold his paint. He created the official commemorative poster for the 1989 Washington State Centennial. The state Legislature gave him its Humanitarian Award for his contributions to Hispanic culture. And so much more.

Bird detail from 'Perico's Bay,' by Alfredo Arreguin.

Yet what may account for even more joy is that he has a relationship with his cantankerous father, now 96 and still living in Mexico City. Go to his dad's opulent home today, and you will find the walls covered with Arreguin originals. The big thaw started in 1994, the year the Smithsonian purchased a painting of Arreguin's. "If I had only known of your talent, I would have pushed you," Arreguin recalls his father telling him, laughing at the memory. "I always thought you were fooling around." —Jon Marmor, '94, is associate editor of Columns.

Home / Current Issue / Archives / Talk Back / Advertising / Columns FAQ / Alumni Website / Search