The son of undocumented Mexican farmworkers, Diego Marcial Rios is a Chicano artist with more than 30 years of practicing his craft. Born in Fresno, California, Rios began illustrating when he was just 10 years old. He went on to earn his MA in Fine Art from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and now teaches art classes at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. His latest political work, the “Trumpesito Set,” is a series of acrylic on canvas paintings done out of his studio in Fremont, all taking aim at the president. On Sept. 14, Rios spoke with El Tecolote about his latest work, his heritage, and politics.
Where did this deep passion of expressing yourself via art come from?
When I was three or four years old, my family lived in Guadalajara, Mexico. My father took me to go see the murals of José Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara. And he took me to go see a particular mural called “El hombre de Fuego.” He lifted me up to see that mural, and believe it or not, at that moment I knew what I had to do with my life. It hit me like a diamond bullet. Bam. I wanted to become a visual artist, and I wanted to pursue justice in the type of work that I did—for my people and for all people.
Your latest art takes direct aim at the President, what sparked that?
I’ve always produced political artwork, for about 30 years. I’ve never in my life ever hit a specific president, because I always thought that was a waste of your time. But this particular guy, Donald Trump, he’s a racist and he’s a fascist. I’ve never seen such a racist, fascist individual in power in anything, let alone a president of the United States. And not only that, he attacks our people—Latinos. He attacks us specifically, Look at what he does to the immigrants located at the border, look at how he treats the children of immigrants, look at how he talks about our people…this guy is carte blanche above and beyond what I’ve ever seen. The only thing I have in terms of comparing him is probably Mussolini or Hitler. Even those two guys were a little more intelligent than this guy that we’ve got right now.
We’ve seen a lot of art taking aim at this president, but your culture is reflected heavily in your art when it comes to the president. How did you decide to go that route?
I incorporate the symbols and history of my heritage. I’m extremely proud of my heritage. These symbols and colors and images exist. Why not use them? They’re powerful, they communicate. If I wanna use a diablo to emphasize that this individual is evil, why not use it.
You don’t just focus on migration, but also the mishandling of the pandemic. Can you tell us about that work of art?
I’m sort of a political junkie and very active in terms of learning and listening. What inspired the piece was that this COVID-19 thing existed way way long ago. And at the time, Trump didn’t take it seriously, he didn’t act at all. The result of his inability and inaction, is a pandemic that has nearly shut down the country and which has killed 200,000 Americans, and that’s blood on his hands. Due to his incompetence and not taking the matter seriously when he should have. Horrible.
You teach an art classes at the Mission Cultural Center, and are doing it via zoom. How has that been?
I’ll be honest with you. It’s not that much fun.
What do you miss the most about in person teaching?
It’s a lot of fun man, because my classes get really loud. I certainly give the historical aspect of how to do the art making, but it’s just fun meeting new people , talking to them, getting an essence of them and being very specific with my answers. And getting to know people, that’s part of the fun of teaching, the problem with zoom is that it’s really flat.
What does producing this kind of art do for you spiritually?
On a spiritual level, I’m fighting for Truth and justice. If I see immorality and corruption in society you have to point it out. Right now, you definitely have to point this son of a bitch out. He’s very racist and very disruptive and Latinos, African-Americans and Asians are number one on his hit list. And he has to suffer the result of his consequences. I don’t know what that’s going to be. But he has to feel the results of what he’s done and the destruction he’s done to this country and its people. And I know that eventually he’s going to get his. Other historical figures in the past that have acted like him, they’ve gotten theirs. And I’m waiting for Trump to get his. But you can’t do that without pointing out the injustices first. And I’m one of those guys that’s gonna point it out and I’m not going to stop.
How do you feel about the upcoming election?
Well, vote. I’m certainly going to vote for Harris and Biden. I’m not in love with Biden. But Look at what the alternative is, like everyone else, I just want to dump Trump at all cost. Biden, he’s OK, But he’s just another rich, white guy Democrat. I don’t think he particularly gives a shit about minorities, he’ll give us the lip service, but let’s see what happens.