My Friend Luis Valderas

from Texas with Much Love + Gratitude

Luis Valderas is an artist and educator in San Antonio, Texas. I met him thanks to the New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Program. I was selected as a mentor artist in 2018 to work with and support immigrant artists in the Bay Area as part of their national programming. In 2019, I met artist Rupy C. Tut through the program, and together we designed a way to virtually convene mentor and mentee artists across the United States who were part of their program. We launched the first of three Video Roundtables in February 2020—a month before COVID changed how we all convene. Our first guest artist was Luis, and he shared stories about Values and Art.

Since February, Luis and I have stay connected. We’ve deepened our bond through more conversations, more revelations of self and identities and communities and legacies, more opportunities for co-creative energies and synergies. We’ve done this over emails, phone calls, Video Roundtables, and even an intergenerational artist conversation designed for accessibility.

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I had almost completely stopped drawing by April 2020.

My job and creative practice and life affords me the privilege of listening to people—immigrants, youth, Black folx, organizers, artists, poor folx, disabled folx, single parents, contract workers, teachers, journalists. During COVID and in the days (and now months) after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin sparking a renewed urgency for abolishing police and justice for Black Lives, I found myself listening more than ever. And I was hearing rage and grief and pain and sorrow and fear. I, too, was hearing love and healing and mutual aid and free/open sharing and the asking of deep, critical questions about who we are as people. It all overwhelmed.

Picking up my pencil felt like a deeply heavy burden. Not only would I have to pick it up, I would have to draw something. To do that, I would have to think or feel and that just brought back all that I was hearing. It became a cacophonous white noise that made it impossible to see anything to create.

How could I silence the noise just a little to let something else emerge?

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The intergenerational artist conversation Luis took part in unfolded over the whole month of June, and artists participated via email and text message. It included folx from rural Louisiana and North Carolina, displaced youth artists in Germany, English Language Learners, and disabled artists. Any and all forms of submissions were accepted, and some submitted drawings, videos, and mind maps along with their written words.

The last prompt was: What I want you to know is…

And Luis replied:

Top ten things I want you to know... Some I have learned as I’ve progressed in my career as an artist. Some I have learned just by living and making mistakes. Sometimes the universe reminds me that I’ve forgotten to apply them. 

  1. Being an artist is a lifetime thing—plan for it like that.

  2. Don’t forget that compassion and empathy make us human.

  3. It's the little things that can sometimes change everything.

  4. You get what you give—sharing is a two way street.

  5. Pay attention so that you don’t pay for the mistake later.

  6. Practice diligence and persistence—Always!

  7. Always say thank you and please.

  8. Prefer those who value who you are.

  9. If you forget your ancestors don’t expect anyone to remember you.

  10. At the end of the day our bubble is fragile--explore carefully. 

I remember sitting with overly milky coffee at about 4:30am carefully reading his reply. I felt honored that I was the first to read it as I was the main holder of the conversation and made sure everyone’s responses were put into our shared Google Doc.

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As I sat with those words, my hand picked up my pencil. It was time to draw.

I showed what I drew with Luis and asked him if I could share his advice and my drawings with others. My hand may have been the labor to turn his words into a visual piece, but it is his labor and the labor of his ancestors that made the words possible.

He loved it all.

So…these are a gift from both Luis and me.

May they inspire you, the way they inspired me.