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Migrant labor influences work of professor
Angel Luna more or less returned to his roots in “The End of Juventud,” a mixed media art piece he created with paint, a canvas, pages from 1970s comic books and broken pieces of toys.
As a child, he had accompanied his parents to the farm fields in Washington state, where they harvested crops while he played nearby.
But one day he would give up his toys, the toy soldiers he would bury in the dirt, and take his turn working in the fields. And even though he no longer works among rows of produce, the experiences of migrant farmworkers remain a predominant art theme for Luna, today a ceramist, sculptor and fine arts professor at Arizona Western College.
For an exhibition titled “Social Justice” shown in Baltimore, Luna contributed two pieces, “Green Devil Mask” and “Lettuce Cutter,” both of which deal with immigration and the contributions of migrant workers.
And “The Green Devil Mask” is the most recent addition to “Border Monsters,” Luna's ongoing series of sculptures that portray immigrants as individuals with unique stories and experiences. These and other works of his have been displayed around the United States, earning him accolades and awards along the way.
The recollections and experiences of his father, Olegario, to this day a foreman for an independent grower in Washington, have served to inspire Luna in his efforts to capture farmworkers' migratory lifestyle.
“In Yuma, they're bused in and they're bused out,” he said. They work until they are too old to work any longer, and then they are succeeded by the next generation of farmworkers.
“It's almost like they're recyclable.”
The new generation of farmworkers then carries on the tradition of following the crops wherever and whenever they are grown, Luna said.
“It's what my father taught me. You go where the job is, and then you do your best according to what your abilities dictate.”
Luna's father had immigrated from Mexico, while his mother grew up in south Texas. They met while working in agriculture in the Coachella Valley, married and followed the work to Washington state, where Luna was later born.
From age 14 to 21, Luna worked with his parents in the fields during the summers and between his classes in school.
“Growing up in the fields has definitely influenced my work,” he said during a recent interview in his office at AWC's main Yuma campus.
While studying history at Whitworth College in Spokane (today Whitworth University) on football scholarship, Luna demonstrated his artistic ability in ceramics, prompting at least one professor to urge him to consider continuing his education in art. Luna eventually transferred to Eastern Washington University to do exactly that.
While ceramics and sculpture represent the bulk of his artistic background, Luna more recently has experimented with various types of materials to create mixed-media art pieces, among them “The End of Juventud (Youth).”
To depict the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, for example, Luna obtained secondhand clothing and Styrofoam. Sprayed with paint, the Styrofoam dissolved in a chemical reaction that simulated a body reduced to bones.
“It's interesting to take materials that are discarded and finding new uses for them,” he said.
Luna said he's no less committed to teaching art than creating it.
“It's a balance of the two. We as teachers demonstrate, and so I can create while I teach them how to create.”
Luna, the father of two daughters ages 4 and 1, came to Yuma to accept the teaching position at AWC.
“I had sought this type of school, an Hispanic-serving institution. Like my dad said, I went to where the work was.”