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Dr. Hector Avalos Interpretation

FOCUS: Critical Conversations with Art

Published onSep 23, 2020
Dr. Hector Avalos Interpretation

The lithograph of Crossing the Rio Bravo/Cruzando el Río Bravo (1987) by Luis Jiménez (1940-2006), a notable artist born in El Paso, Texas, later living in New Mexico, juxtaposes the tense ambivalences that immigrants experience. The Rio Bravo, known also as the Rio Grande, is a well-known barrier between the United States and Mexico.

The dangers are many, including drowning or being pursued and captured by the United States Border Patrol. The man treads amidst vegetation shaped like pointed spears that may signify dangers.

A viewer witnesses a man ferrying a woman on his upper back. The man looks slightly upward to his right, seemingly to ensure that the woman is secure. The woman looks ahead at the river she is about to cross into a new life. She safeguards a small child, who represents the future of her family, in her rebozo (shawl). 

The crucifix on the man’s chest tells us that he is a Christian. Jiménez was raised a Protestant in a majority Catholic culture in New Mexico. In Crossing the Rio Bravo, Jiménez may be drawing from the iconography of Saint Christopher (second century?), the Catholic patron saint of travelers. St. Christopher, ferried a child, later revealed to be Christ, across a river.

A biblical allusion may be the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 15 or the river Jordan by the Israelites in the first chapter of the book of Joshua. Of course, baptism in Christianity represents the transition from death to a new life. The lithograph echoes the traditions of santeros, laypersons who manufacture sacred art, especially in New Mexico.

Jiménez, who portrays ordinary people as heroic figures, is quoted as saying: “My working-class roots have a lot to do with it; I want to create a popular art that ordinary people can relate to as well as people who have degrees in art.”

- Dr. Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies; Founding and former Director of the US Latino/a Studies Program, Iowa State University

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