Xicanx Art: Printmaking and Political Movements

YR Media contributor Christian Romo chats with Gilda Posada, associate curator at the Oakland Museum of California, about Xicanx artists in California using political posters as a medium for social change through the decades.

Xicanx Art: Printmaking and Political Movements

How have Xicanx artists in California used political posters as a medium for social change over the decades?  

In this episode of Adult ISH, Gilda Posada, associate curator at the Oakland Museum of California, talks with YR Media contributor Christian Romo to discuss “Calli: The Art of Xicanx Peoples,” an exhibit capturing the history of art activism, identity, and intersectionality through political posters.

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NYGE: Welcome to Adult ISH – produced by YR Media – and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX.  

I’m Nyge Turner.

And today, we’re honoring the legacy of Xicanx artists. Specifically, California printmakers who worked to uplift community consciousness and institute social change in turbulent eras like the 60s.

GILDA: Artists were making prints for the Xicano movement, but the Xicano movement wasn’t singular. You have to remember that at the time, the Civil Rights Movement also included the Red Power Movement and included the Black Power Movement. And every one of these movements was connected. They were connecting to a third world solidarity and politic and consciousness. 

NYGE: That was Gilda Posada, Associate Curator at the Oakland Museum of California and Xicanx printmaker. 

She worked on a new exhibit of political posters that captures the history of art activism, identity, and intersectionality. It’s called “Calli: The Art of Xicanx Peoples,” and it opens June 14th.

Gilda joined Christian Romo at our YR Media studios to give us a preview of the show.

CHRISTIAN: So this exhibit is unique in how it’s spotlighting prints and posters that may have had a former life of being on a street pole or at a storefront. So I wanted to ask, how did these posters find their way to this museum exhibition? 

GILDA: To understand how the posters ended up in the museum, you have to first understand the impact and importance of Xicano printmaking within communities in terms of organization, organizing, and activism, especially within the Bay area. These posters were created for the people, about the people, and with the people with the intention of community consciousness and also politicizing and creating social change. We’re talking about the Mission District, East Oakland, Fruitvale – wherever our peoples were located. And the poster was really used as a form to disseminate political thought, consciousness, but also educate people in terms of what was going on around them, social justice, social issues and just things people were organizing around. You have to remember that at the time, higher education wasn’t necessarily accessible to most Xicano-Latino communities.


GILDA: And, it didn’t mean that we didn’t want to be in those spaces, but rather we had been institutionally excluded from those spaces. So Xicano artists during the Civil Rights Movement, the Bay Area included, began creating primarily posters and murals as a way to bring that knowledge to their community. But [they] also revitalized some of that knowledge that hadn’t necessarily been valued by Western culture and society and institutions like museums. 

CHRISTIAN: So, can you tell us about the person who collected these prints, Margaret Terrazas Santos

GILDA: Margie Terrazas Santos was an innovator, a person who wore many hats. They were a social worker, and they were also a professor at Saint Mary’s College. They collected posters based on their activism and involvement across the Bay Area, and working with Xicano art centers such as Galaria de la Raza in the Mission District and Mission Gráfica, or the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, as it’s called today in San Francisco as well. And she really believed in the power of these posters, and she wanted to preserve them, archive them, in order to uphold the legacies of what she saw Xicano artists and peoples creating, because she saw the value. Right? In and their beauty, in terms of what they were offering. So over the years, she collected posters working at different Xicano art centers, asking artists for posters, pulling them from poles. Right?


GILDA: Taking them from rallies. She just collected posters wherever she could. And, eventually these collections, it became a large collection. And, her family approached the Oakland Museum to continue to archive these posters. Right? To continue to preserve them for research, to make it accessible to community. Because, without them, we wouldn’t have these stories. Right?


GILDA: We would be so to say, erased or continued to be erased within art history and even within Western institutions. 


GILDA: So this exhibition is really about honoring and upholding everything that those artists created very early on in the Civil Rights Movement, but also the continued legacy that people have built upon based on that Xicano movement.

CHRISTIAN: Ordinarily, when you go into a museum, you know, you’d expect art pieces to look like sculptures or, or artifacts from different cultures. And it seems like there’s a Eurocentric standard of what belongs in a museum. Why do you think it’s important to preserve Margie’s collection outside of the archival purpose? 

GILDA: You’re right. Museums and Western art history does prioritize painting – one, as the highest medium – and then sculpture and different traditional Western art mediums. And I think, that is part of why this collection is so intriguing, but also why it’s so valuable in that there is a vast number of them. There is a vast number of issues. There are a vast number of artists and also community members and organizations and fundraising events. There is so much history embedded within one sheet of paper. Right? 


GILDA: And the poster – unlike a painting or even a, you know, a mural, so to say – it’s not site-specific, meaning it doesn’t just live in one place. You don’t have to go to that wall. You don’t have to go to that museum to see that one painting. The poster exists in multiples. So, I can make a hundred posters of the same design. I can make a thousand posters of the same design. And that was part of why Xicano artists decided to use printmaking, because they understood that these posters needed to go into different spaces. Right? It needed to go to the community clinic. It needed to be up on the pole next to the supermarket. It needed to be in the window at the dry cleaners. It needed to be in the elementary school classroom, in the college classroom, in the protests. You hand them out in the thousands. Xicano artists understood this. Right? They understood that they had to use this method of printmaking for organizing. And that is the beauty of this collection, that it tells a large story of Xicano people. Right? It’s not a singular artist that gets the praise. Rather, it’s a community effort that gets the praise. 

CHRISTIAN: Yeah. I feel like that’s something that I always commended whenever I read the background to this exhibit, how it was never focused on – yeah, how you said – one artist. And so I really, I really enjoy how the Xicanx perspective isn’t just the one – a one perspective. It’s, it’s a multitude of facets and, and issues. Great answer. I love that. And so, that ties into my next question. What can people from other cultures learn from these works, especially in the Bay Area? 

GILDA: It is a collection primarily of Xicanx artists. Artists were making prints for the Xicano movement, but the Xicano movement wasn’t singular. You have to remember that at the time, the Civil Rights Movement also included the Red Power Movement and included the Black Power Movement. And every one of these movements was connected. They were connecting to a third-world solidarity and politic and consciousness. Especially in the Bay Area, you see, that manifested through San Francisco State creating Ethnic Studies. And, later on that turns into Berkeley and the hunger strikes that happened there. So, it is a movement that is not singular. And these posters tell that story. They are telling you about ethnic studies. They are showing you that it’s not just Chicano studies, but rather it – our liberation depends on the liberation of everyone else. We’re all interconnected. So you do have posters talking about [the] Alcatraz takeover. You have Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Day. You have [International Women’s Day]. There are all these movements that we continue to uplift and uphold for one another, told through these collective stories. And that is something that I would say is unique about the Bay Area, that it continues to have that legacy of fighting for social justice. Right? And coming together for that common cause.

CHRISTIAN: Wow. Yeah. That’s deep. How does it feel curating this exhibition and preparing for the public to view this history? How does this collection speak to you? 

GILDA: To talk about how I came about curating the show. I’ll tell you a little bit about my background. I am a Xicano printmaker as well as a curator. I started printmaking when I was an undergrad at UC Davis in Chicano Studies, when I took a silkscreen class. And after that, I started working at a Xicano art center that opened as part of that, where we taught silkscreen printmaking for community members, mostly high school kids, anyone 14 and over. And that’s what I did for like five years of my life. 

CHRISTIAN: So Gilda as a printmaker. What is printmaking? 

GILDA: Printmaking is a way in which you create multiples of posters or multiples of one design. There are multiple methods towards printmaking. I am a silkscreen printer, and that means that usually I come up with an idea or a drawing followed with a little bit of text. Because you are limited in text in prints. Usually, you don’t want to write a whole paragraph because that’s too much information, but print is meant to be viewed from far away. Think of like a protest, for example. You want to be able to read that sign from really far away, right? You want, you want it to attract the viewer and you can’t do too much. So part of the Xicano printmaking aspect was also for it to be didactic, meaning the text and the image should tell you the same message. And this was created because oftentimes people were illiterate and didn’t necessarily have access to just elementary school education. A lot of prints were created, for example, for the UFW movement, the farmworkers movement, many of which didn’t have an education or were pulled out very early on. So, that is the printmaking format I continue to follow. Image and a little bit of text. Usually, you create that design, and then you cut it out of this material called Rubylith. This is before computers were invented, mind you. So, this is how artists created graphic designs as well, with their hands. And by cutting with like, an X-ACTO knife. 

CHRISTIAN: And would you say this process looks the same to this day? 

GILDA: I still do my prints in that way. Now you can get Photoshop, and you can create halftones and you can do digital printmaking, which I also do here and there. But primarily, I still make my prints through hand. And then you burn it onto a screen and based on that screen, you can print five, you can print a hundred, and you can print 10-thousand. It really depends on how many you’re trying to do. 

CHRISTIAN: Dang, limitless. 

GILDA: It is. 


NYGE: The Xicanx printmaking community keeps changing, and Gilda is actually part of the evolution in representation. Let’s get back to the conversation.

GILDA: So I’ve been around Xicano printmaking for a little more than 15 years of my life, and through that I’ve met many contemporary Xicano artists, many printmakers. And I have seen a certain canon develop around Xicano art and who gets represented. And it’s mostly been cis-hetero males because printmaking, Xicano printmaking, I’ll say, is predominantly cis-hetero men in the studios. So, I was a little bit of the oddball in printmaking, as is. And when I saw Margie’s collection I understood that there was something special. A lot of the artists that are usually shown in printmaking shows they’re included in that collection. But she also has underrepresented voices or peoples represented, especially through her work in the Chicana Latina Foundation and in organizing a lot of Xicanas in higher education across the Bay Area. So a lot of that comes forward. She also pulls in a lot of Xicana artists that you usually don’t see represented through Xicano printmaking. So that was already special. Right? In noting that, but her naming of the collection was also very intriguing to me because she named her collection “Calli Americas.” Not Cali like California, but calli – C-A-L-L-I, which is a Nahuatl word that means house or household. And usually in that, in the context of Nahuatl, it would represent your family and from then on, your family’s legacy sort of thing. So in naming her collection “Calli Americas,” she was saying, this is the legacy of Xicano people. And a lot of it had to do with indigeneity and going back to our ancestral roots. So a lot of her curation of this collection did have to do with coming back home and telling our story from our own personal perspective. And Margie was also a queer Xicana lesbian. So it wasn’t just that she was a community member that was active in these spaces where Xicano men were creating prints, but she was also organizing Xicanos in higher education, and she was also out on the streets being an activist during the AIDS epidemic, for example. So, a lot of those posters are also included within this collection. So, she is telling or preserving the legacy of these under told stories. And many times, stories where artists and peoples in our communities didn’t get to survive, to tell their stories and had been erased. So, part of me curating the show has been about uplifting those marginal stories that are not necessarily told or highlighted in mainstream Xicano art shows. 

CHRISTIAN: I wanted to ask you, what can young people learn from this collection – specifically about grassroots political power and Xicanx identity? Because I know a lot of the emphasis of Indigenous culture is to highlight ancestry. 

GILDA: I will say that there are a lot of ways people identify us. And it’s a little bit confusing because there’s so many terms, and oftentimes you don’t really know why you’re using a term because you just hear it growing up, or you see it as a category, a box you check in applications. Right? Most of the time, it’s Hispanic. Other times, it’s Latino. Yeah. If it gets more specific, it lists the country. 

CHRISTIAN: And then these terms get updated. 

GILDA: Exactly. Over and over again. And for this show, highlighting Xicanx has been important for me because the term Xicanx or Chicano/Chicana. It was the first time the Xicano people got to name themselves, and they decided this is what we want to be called. We’re not Mexican-hyphen-American, we’re not Hispanic, we’re not Spanish. We are Xicanx. And the Xicanx has roots in Nahuatl, which goes back to our ancestral roots. 


GILDA:  It’s so this exhibition is really highlighting the revitalization of Indigenous knowledge, which I believe is still very much relevant, especially in a world where there’s so much chaos and destruction, in a world that continues to be racist and continues to police people of color. We continue to see ongoing violence on brown and Black bodies over and over again. And all of these are stories, not stories, but issues that show up in the posters. The posters let you know that this has been an ongoing struggle that we have been fighting as a people. And I think that is important to recognize, especially as peoples-coming-to-be, because the world can feel so overwhelming sometimes, and you feel like, “What’s the point? What is the point if the world is so bad? What is the point if global warming is going on? What like, what is the point of me being here?” 

CHRISTIAN: Yeah, what can I do? 

GILDA: Yeah, it feels so hopeless oftentimes. And part of going back to the Indigenous is being like, “No pause. You are worthy, right? Body, mind, spirit, you are worth it.” You have just been conditioned to believe that you are not. You are. You have been conditioned to believe that you are less than human. That you deserve less treatment. Right? Because race was brought into the Americas. Because you, your hair, your nose, your eyes, they look a certain way that is not white. Right? And that is what Xicano artists were trying to do through these prints. They were trying to say, “No, this is colonialism. This is the Indian-ization that has been happening to our people.” We organize around these issues because they know that that’s what is killing our spirits. Right? And we need – one, for us to wake up, and for us to organize together. And that is what it’s in the prints. But I will also offer that the show is not just prints. There’s a lot of contemporary artists and installations included in the show, so in that way, it becomes an intergenerational exhibition of ongoing conversations regarding these issues that are presented in the posters. 

In terms of Indigeneity, it is about our ancestors, but it’s also about recognizing that we are not romanticizing the past. We’re not trying to go back to a certain way of being. We’re not policing. We’re not creating a recipe. Like, if you don’t fit X, Y, and Z, or if you’re not the right shade of brown, you’re not Indigenous. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about coming back to yourself, and it’s about coming back to the earth. It’s part of our Indigenous creation stories is that we were born from the womb of the Mother Earth, or that the Mother Earth gave birth to us. Which is why matriarchs or our mother’s lineage is so important within our cultures. Oftentimes these practices continue to exist within our families and our households, but we don’t call them Indigenous. It can get complicated because we’re raised a certain way. Right? We come from traditional households and questioning even those symbols. 

CHRISTIAN: Yeah, it incites fear. 

GILDA: It does. And you feel like you’re doing something wrong because guilt has been so embedded within us. And also shame. And part of Indigeneity in both the posters and the contemporary art is about letting that go. Is about – one, recognizing, “Wait, why do I believe this?”


GILDA: “Where did that come from? Why do I practice this?” And then also recognizing that, “Wait, I still make tamales, right? I still grind with molcajete. I still have these roots to my Indigenous ancestry, but I just haven’t called it that.” And so a lot of the art – one, the posters are more graphic and try to bring that back just visually. But a lot of the art in, in the installations bring in the materiality a little bit more. So it does bring some of the earth. It does bring some of that spirituality. We have, for example, an artist who does a Botanica del Barrio is what she calls it. Where she asks people to write down their remedies or ancestral recipes for cures that have been passed down in their families. Because that is one way indigeneity has survived within our households. Like, if you think back to anytime you’re sick, your mom’s probably like, “Drink this tea.”

CHRISTIAN: Yeah, of mint leaves. Yeah, exactly. 

GILDA: Right. And those are Indigenous knowledge that, again, connect us to Earth that begin to heal our bodies. Right? And in that process, make our spirits feel a little bit better. 

CHRISTIAN: Yeah. No, yeah. That’s a great point. I wanted to ask, since, like, your answer kind of went in this direction of, like, having certain values that are deemed Indigenous, but like, in your head, you’re not really making that connection. Are there moments in which you’re in these more, I don’t want to say elitist because maybe this is the wrong word, but like, in a more institutional setting or one where you find yourself in a weird spot because you kind of made the connection between something that you might have had a cognitive dissonance over before. And, you’re like, making sort of tough discoveries in the moment?

GILDA: It’s hard. It’s hard to work within institutions because that is the struggle constantly. That you have to meet a certain quota and you have to speak about things a specific way.


GILDA: In order to get things through a process. It’s also highly policed in the way you can and can’t speak about things and who’s in the room.


GILDA: And a part of me when I was younger, I would say, was a little bit more timid to speak up and would just be a little more complacent to what it was I needed to do. But, over time and through life and a lot of machismo and a lot of homophobia, I have also understood that by staying silent, I’m just contributing to letting these things happen. 


GILDA: Right? So it’s not easy to speak up and I’m not always right. I’ll also say that. I make a lot of mistakes, but part of that is part of decolonization. People love that word, especially within institutions, right? They wanna decolonize everything. 


GILDA: You’ve heard about decolonizing museums over and over again. Meanwhile, when it comes to actually working with people of color and communities of color, it is very difficult. Right? They don’t know how to do that work. And part of decolonizing is you have to at least try. You have to try to do things differently. Part of consciousness is learning, but it’s also unlearning. Right? And checking yourself and realizing like, “Okay, maybe I’m projecting,” or “Maybe I’m replicating these structures that I don’t know where they came from.” Right? Because they’ve been projected onto you and it’s the way you’ve learned how to do things. It doesn’t mean you can’t do things differently. Right? It just means that sometimes you have to pause and you have to be like, let me sit with myself and ask myself, like, how did I get here? Or how can I make this better? 


GILDA: And that is part of what I learned in Xicano art. The praxis, right? Social praxis of making. You do, you enact, and then you reflect. Then you adjust it a little bit, and then you go back and you try it again and so on and so forward. As long as you keep moving and keep trying. That is the process of decolonizing. Right? Decolonization is a method. It’s not an end, so to say.

CHRISTIAN: No. Yeah I agree like decolonizing is those moments where you’re like, wow. Like you were you just like, in awe of yourself, of how like, you kind of were just carrying yourself in one way and not really questioning it. And then all of a sudden, you’re questioning everything. Was there anything that I might have missed or that you wanted to cover before you conclude this? 

GILDA: I would just add that this exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California is bringing together artists that haven’t necessarily been shown together before. It’s bringing artists from Southern California and Northern California together to tell the story about their calli or their Xicano legacy. The exhibition also includes site specific installations by Xicano, feminist, and queer Xicano artists that have never before been created or seen. 

CHRISTIAN: No. Lovely. Thank you for this. 

NYGE: That was Gilda Posada, a Xicanx printmaker and Associate Curator at Oakland Museum of California talking to YR Media’s Christian Romo.

To learn more about the exhibit, go to our episode page at Y-R dot Media slash Adult ISH. You’ll find more info about the exhibit “Calli: The Art of Xicanx Peoples,” opening June 14th.


NYGE: Adult ISH is produced by YR Media – a national network of young artists and journalists – creating content for this generation.

Our show is produced by Fredia Lucas, Dominique French, Shaylyn Martos and by me, ya boy Nyge Turner.

Our engineer is James Riley, and our audio engineering fellow is Christian Romo. With special help this week from Christian Escobar!

CHRISTIAN: YR’s director of podcasting is Sam Choo.

YR’s senior director of podcasting and partnerships is Rebecca Martin.

NYGE: Our interns are Menelik Ransom and Jalen Black.

Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR: Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza, and David Lawrence.

Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler. 

Art and visuals are produced by the youth co-led design team at YR Media. 

CHRISTIAN: Creative Direction by Pedro Vega Jr. 

Designs by Jess Smolinski, Marjerrie Masicat, and Brigido Bautista. 

Project management by Eli Arbreton. 

Special thanks to Kathy Chaney and Kyra Kyles.NYGE: Adult ISH is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, a network of independent creator-owned, listener-supported podcasts. Discover audio with vision at Radiotopia.fm.

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