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Norwalk artist finds inspiration through her own immigrant experience

Host Ray Hardman interviews painter Alejandra Gonzalez Zertuche for CT Public’s original series ‘Where ART Thou?” Season 3 at The Norwalk Art Space in Norwalk, Conn. on January 17, 2024. (Julianne Varacchi/Connecticut Public) I present my work as a third culture that is still being shaped and recognized. The identity of being “de aquí y de allá” (from here and there) a blend of Mexican heritage in northern soil, and not “ni de aquí ni de allá” (neither from here nor there).
Julianne Varacchi
/
Connecticut Public
Host Ray Hardman interviews painter Alejandra Gonzalez Zertuche for CT Public’s original series "Where ART Thou?” at her Norwalk Art Space studio on January 17, 2024. Zertuche presents her work as a third culture that is still being shaped and recognized. The identity of being “de aquí y de allá” (from here and there) a blend of Mexican heritage in northern soil, and not “ni de aquí ni de allá” (neither from here nor there).

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Alejandra Gonzalez Zertuche was born in Mexico, and moved with her family to the U.S. when she was 4 years old. Her parents were undocumented.

“Since I was really little, I always had my parents telling me like, 'Oh, you can't talk about your immigration situation,'” Zertuche told CPTV’s “Where Art Thou?” host Ray Hardman. “You can't tell people because you never know.”

But Zertuche wanted to share stories of her family and other undocumented families' experiences in the U.S. Early on she found the perfect medium — oil painting.

Zertuche’s paintings often depict people working at their jobs, trying to make a go of the American dream. Her art is colorful, and big.

“When I was in art school I used to see all of these academic paintings. They were always oil paintings, and they were big portraits that were done for important people,” explained Zertuche. “When I started doing portraits of people who were just workers, it was like, ‘Well, they're important people to me.’ So that's kind of where that started, where I'm doing an oil painting on a really big canvas about this person who owns a taco truck, or who's a service worker.”

Zertuche’s 2023 painting, “Doña Luchona,” portrays a woman, wearing a Mexican Lucha Libre-style wrestling mask, attempting to also apply makeup. Zertuche says the painting is a play on the word “luchona,” which translates as “struggle” or “fight.”

“I had been wanting to do like a luchador mask for a while now, and I was just like, 'Let me just put it on a girl,'” Zertuche said. “I wanted it to be big and in your face. It's just like the act of getting up every day and just doing your makeup can be a struggle as a woman. It seems like you always have to fight for something.”

Zertuche said an important part of the process for her is getting to know her subjects before she paints them.

“Usually I'll ask them about themselves, where they're coming from,” Zertuche said. “A lot of them have immigrated, and so I like to know those kinds of things, but also to make the paintings a little bit more personal. Sometimes it'll be random things, like, what's your favorite color? And if it's like blue, I like to include a lot of blue in the paintings.”

Zertuche’s art is currently on display as part of the new exhibit “Disruptive Narratives” at the Wilton Library.

Learn more:
Watch the full segment on “Where Art Thou?” Sunday, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. on Connecticut Public Television, and streaming online.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.