Farmworker Movement Documentation Project - Presented by the UC San Diego Library

Farmworker Movement Online Gallery

Images from the Farmworker Movement

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INTRODUCTIONEvery newspaper worth its salt has its own political cartoonist, and the farmworker movement’s, El Malcriado, was no exception. Artist Andy Zermeno, cartoonist extraordinaire, was hand picked by Cesar Chavez to create Don Sotaco, the wily, resourceful, self-deprecating, slightly helpless, and sometimes bumbling farmworker character to represent the views of the striking farmworkers.

From 1965 to 1971, Don Sotaco reigned supreme. He became the symbol of the eventual triumph of the strike and boycott over the pompous and arrogant attitudes of the growers about the hopes and aspirations of the striking farmworkers to build a better life for themselves. Even during times of setbacks and dark days, Don Sotaco stood firm, and managed to find small union victories to buck up the spirits of the workers; he never gave up.

It is time for Don Sotaco to take his rightful place in the history of the farmworker movement. The Documentation Project is proud to present the largest collection of Andy Zermeno’s work ever assembled in one gallery.

Artist Statement by Andy Z. Zermeno

I was born in Salinas, California, a small agricultural town. I grew up in a section called, “Alisal.” Most of the residents were poor working class people who came from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas during the Depression. We were one of the few Mexican-American families that lived there. My father was born in Mexico and came to the United States when he was 16 years old. My mother was born in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles.

I am the oldest of five brothers and a sister. In 1954, I graduated from high school with a scholarship to the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. While attending college, I went home on weekends to work in the local television station (KSBW-TV) as a set designer and a production artist. During the summer vacations I worked for the state as a fruit inspector.

My brother, Alex, was attending Hartnell Community College and was also involved with the CSO (Community Service Organization). While I was working in Salinas, he invited me to the CSO meetings where they explained their activities such as: voter registration, participating in civic and political affairs and the problems with the discrimination against minorities. They also asked me to design a logo for the organization. This encounter was my introduction to the struggle for civil rights.

In 1958, I transferred from California College of Arts and Crafts to the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles. My brother called and told me that Cesar Chavez, his friend and a CSO member, had gone to Delano to organize farmworkers and establish a union, and that they needed a logo. Sometime later, Cesar sent me a letter that had a rough drawing of an eagle on yellow legal paper. He requested that I redo it so that he could use it on the union newsletter. Later, he started the union newspaper, “El Malcriado.” He wanted a special cartoon of a character that he named, “Don Sotaco.” This character was developed to educate the farmworkers about their rights and motivate them to join the union. Son Sotaco appeared on the cover of the first issue. Illustrations and comic strips followed. I collaborated with the writer, Luis Valdez, the director of “El Campesino” to create the comic strip, “La Dolce Vita.” All of the artwork was donated and done at night while I was working in Los Angeles.

In 1970, I volunteered to take my family (Anita, my wife, and my children Claire, Greg and Andrea) to live in La Paz (Keene, CA) to work directly for the union for one year. During this period I created strike and concert posters as well as artwork for “El Malcriado,” a series of 12 new stamps and a calendar. These items were used as fundraisers to support union activities. The union volunteers were under constant pressure to organize national strikes and boycotts. These challenges mentally stressed us to the limit. It was a very hard time for Anita and me.

After a year we left La Paz and returned to our home in Agoura, a suburb of Los Angeles. I went to work as a freelance commercial illustrator for an art studio in West LA. The studio representatives circulated a portfolio of my artwork to prospective clients. I was happy that they liked my work. But I worried about the competition from other illustrators who were bidding for the same accounts. I became very busy and was always working overtime in order to meet unreasonable printing deadlines. After years of overwork, I was burned out and frustrated. I decided to find another kind of job.

My wife, Anita, is a nurse and was an operating room supervisor at Kaiser Permanente Hospital. While I was in the process of looking for a normal 9 to 5 job, she took over the responsibilities of supporting the family. We became separated at this time, and I went to Salinas and found a job as a creative director for CET (Center for Employment Training) Cultural Enrichment Program. This turned out to be the most depressing job I ever had. I was teaching art classes to students who were released from the Youth Correctional Authority. Most of them wanted to draw gang-related symbols for tattoos. Many of these kids were on drugs and their attention spans were very limited. Most of them were not interested in fine arts, technical drawing or commercial art. The program had such a lack of art supplies and community support that I resigned, and decided to go back to Los Angeles, find a job, and get back together with my wife and family.

In 1978, I started working for Hughes Aerospace Company as an assembly planner/illustrator. My job was to write assembly instructions with technical drawings, illustrating electronic modules and components for on-line assembly workers. After two years I was promoted to a senior planner, then to supervisor of the planning department. Finally, I was made a project engineer to assist computer programmers in the development of the Trident Automated Assembly Planning System. Later, I was assigned to assist engineers in the development of the Trident Robotic Assembly System. I enjoyed working with the robotic engineering team. After 12 years at Hughes the robotic assembly systems had been tested and operational. The Trident factory was now fully automated. At this point all that was required to maintain the systems were the computer programmers. The creative part of the Trident Planning Program was basically over for me.

Hughes was manufacturing photovoltaic solar cells that provided the electrical power on the communication satellites. They were also designing experimental solar vehicles. I was very interested in solar energy applications. I decided that I wanted to devote myself full time to it. In 1990, I submitted my resignation and started my own business called Solar Concepts. I worked with an electrical engineer, designing architectural models. We used them to promote solar applications to interested developers and architects. However, the cost reports from the solar cell manufacturers proved to be too expensive for the proposed structures. We were discouraged. After two years the business finally failed for lack of investors.

In the following years I worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. Times had by then changed since I started as a commercial artist. Now computer graphics and digital imaging technology have dominated the commercial art business. Jobs for old freelance illustrators had become scarce.

I retired from the commercial art business in 1998 to dedicate more time to painting, sculpture and other personal projects


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