California Special – Our Legacy

© 2013 Ester Hernandez

On Sundays, when we weren’t working in the hot, dusty fields of el valle de San Joaquin, my familia would dress up and load into our old turtle shaped De Soto car. Packed like sardines, we would drive nearly forty miles to the Mexican supermarkets in Fresno. Thick with traffic, the city felt far away from our sleepy farming community near the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. To keep us entertained, our oldest sister read us books and our father told scary jokes about misbehaving children. At the supermarket we would buy huge sacks of rice, beans, and flour to last a few months.  As the youngest of four sisters (and later two brothers), I was always put on top of the sacks of flour as our family discussed the quality of the weave, color, and design of the sacks. We would make a pretty dress, curtains, dish cloth from the material and this was my first experience of being a “model” and listening to people talk passionately (and usually all at the same time) about the importance of making things that are both beautiful and useful.

Many years later, I stopped by a Mexican supermarket in Fresno on the way to visit my mother in the countryside. As I was walking through the aisles I saw the flour sacks and I almost began to cry as my childhood memories flooded back. My father had passed some years back and I had just lost one of my sisters, so decided at that moment that it was time to visually depict these wonderful memories of my familia.

I have always loved the beautiful colors and shape of a sliced watermelon, so I depicted myself as a child in a dress with watermelons. On the other surrounding sacks, I painted designs from the different cultures that were part of my life experience: California Native Americans, Japanese, Mexican, and Western culture.  Instead of a modern doll, I painted a Pre-Columbian Mexican female figurine to acknowledge our ancient indigenous roots and rich artistic legacy. My earliest memories of these trips are around 3 or 4 years old and I was already becoming obsessed with making art, so this early exposure to conversations about beauty/function, color, shape, and texture were important to my development and continue to sustain me.

This painting is a way of honoring my familia because while we had very little materially, we were rich with familia, comunidad, and cultura.  As my mother, who was a skilled gardener, would always say: “we may not be rich, mi’ja, but we have many beautiful flowers.” So, although it may have been a humble flour sack dress, it was useful, beautiful and filled with love and magic—a rich legacy that I am proud to be a part of today.

About the Artist

Ester Hernández is full of stories that she shares in her pastels and prints. She is a San Francisco-based artist originally from Tulare County, California. Ester’s artwork has been recognized and exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, from the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. to Latin America, Asia and Europe. She was born into a community that valued resourcefulness and remembers making art as a toddler. Besides working in the grape fields of the San Joaquin Valley, her father was an accomplished photographer and her mother an accomplished seamstress that fashioned dresses from masa harina costales, or flour sacks. Ester is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, a mujer muralista, and a strong advocate for all women. She recently illustrated the children’s book Have You Seen Marie? with author Sandra Cisneros.

Learn more about this artist >

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One thought on “California Special – Our Legacy

  • Adriana Ayala

    I loved your story. I could feel and hear those stories as your family talked passionately about the weave and color of the material and many other things. Thanks for sharing. This story is especially important now, where we are all sheltering in place, which makes us think about the important things in life…familia, love, comraderie, food, and sharing stories.
    Gracias, Adriana Ayala