Rubén Guzmán collaborated with The Unity Council and youth and elders of the Fruitvale District in Oakland to produce an artwork exploring the contribution of Latina residents to the history and development of the neighborhood. A native of Mexico City, Rubén Guzmán received his training in cartonería in the early 1990s from members of the Linares family, famous for their colorful, fantastic papier mâché sculptures. His sculptures and installations have been exhibited widely in the Bay Area and as far away as Germany.
The Fruitvale District has a long history of Latino (indigenous and Spanish) influence. Oakland’s Latino civil rights movement began there in the 1960s; and the founding of the Unity Council by a group of Latino civil rights leaders in 1964 was an important moment in that movement’s history. The Council’s mission is to address the neighborhood’s problems of poverty and its residents’ lack of access to services through a comprehensive program of economic, social, and physical development. Its constituents continue to be active in struggles to improve conditions in their community and for Latinos across the United States. Women have played an extremely important role throughout this history, and Guzmán’s project sought to illuminate their contributions.
The artist trained youth to collect stories from seniors about strong women who had inspired them. After the stories were recorded and transcribed, the artist sketched ideas for a sculpture inspired by them, reviewed them with the youth, and then created a traditional Mexican paper sculpture for display.
The finished work was presented in 2006 at Fruitvale Senior Center, Cesar Chavez Branch of the Oakland Public Library, La Clinica de la Raza, and other Fruitvale neighborhood sites in Oakland, California.
Photo: Rubén Guzmán Day of the Dead piece. Photographer: Susanna Frohman, SF Chronicle.