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Cheech Marin has been collecting and supporting Chicano art for more than 40 years.

His work has culminated this month in the opening of The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in Riverside.

The museum, the first of its kind, is a magnificent achievement. The two-story, 61,000-square-foot space is located in the city’s former public library. It’s a celebration of Chicano art that unites our community and highlights our rich stories, color palettes and creative techniques.

“My mantra has been you can’t love or hate Chicano art unless you’ve seen it,” Cheech said in a video that plays in one of the museum’s rooms.

This museum is a labor of love. Finally, Chicano art is receiving the recognition of a permanent space that is sure to attract art lovers not just from Southern California but across the United States and even the world.

This museum joins other regional museums such as The Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago and the El Museo del Barrio in New York, all of which have made significant contributions to champion Latino art in the United States.

There also are plans underway for the National Museum of the American Latino. Congress enacted legislation in 2020 for the Smithsonian to establish a Latino museum in Washington, D.C.

This month they also debuted their first exhibit called “¡Presente! The exhibit in the National Museum of American history covers four themes: Colonial Legacies, War and U.S. Expansion, Immigration Stories, and Shaping the Nation.

In the exhibit one can see a small boat used by Cuban refugees in 1992 in order to flee to Florida by sea. In another, an intricate ceramic artwork titled Tree of Life, by Mexican-born Verónica Castillo, recreates historical moments and themes present throughout the gallery.

“Gaiatlicue” by Einar & Jamex de la Torre

“Latino history is American history. Our nation needs a museum that will tell Latino stories,” Jorge Zamanillo, founding director of the National Museum of the American Latino, said in a video interview.

“When young people visit the museum, they’ll feel included. They’ll feel their stories are not being omitted from the narrative,” he added. “They’ll feel their part of the larger American history narrative.”

The National Museum of the American Latino will showcase how Latinos have shaped U.S. art, history, culture, and science. However, it could be years before it actually opens.

These museums are long overdue. The Cheech is a public-private partnership between the Riverside Art Museum, the City of Riverside, and Marin.

Over the years, Cheech has shown parts of his 500 plus piece collection in more than 50 museums and institutions. The first iteration of the permanent collection on display in Riverside features 44 artists and just under 100 works of art.

Some of the highlights at The Cheech include:

“The Arrest of the Paleteros,” by Frank Romero; “Kill the Pachuco Bastard!” by Vincent Valdez; “La Santa Desconocida” by Judithe Hernandez, and “Laguna Ave.” by Jacinto Guevara.

“The Arrest of the Paleteros” by Frank Romero Credit: Teresa Puente / CALÓ NEWS

The works in the collection tell the stories of our communities of police brutality of racism of pain and loss. They also showcase the stories of our families, the landscape of Latino Los Angeles and cultural pride.

Upon entering the space, one is greeted by a two-story interactive mural called “Gaiatlicue” inspired by Coatlicue, the Nahuatl earth goddess, mother of the gods and mortals. When you stand in front of it has a 3D effect with hummingbirds, palm trees, cherubs, car parts, the earth and the goddess emerging.

This fantastic piece of art was created by two brothers, artists and collaborators, Einar and Jamex de la Torre, originally from Guadalajara who grew up in Southern California. Their elaborate sculptures and interactive panels are featured along with 70 pieces of their work on the second floor of the museum. They pay homage to the Sun Stone, now in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. They fuse everything from Corona bottles, soy beans and butterflies into their spectacular work. Their work explores colonialism to capitalism in new and dynamic ways. This exhibit is in collaboration with National Museum of the American Latino.

The Cheech museum reminds one of the power of art to enlighten, to uplift, to feel, to heal, to make us wonder, force us to think and perhaps to act. In all the work, Chicanos are represented, respected and uplifted for generations to come.