Educating Through Art: Local Tucson Artists
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Politics and Activism

Educating Through Art: Local Tucson Artists

The story of how a local Tucson couple turned art into education.

Educating Through Art: Local Tucson Artists
Rose Hattab

Born and raised in South Tucson, Grace Beltran grew up in a traditional, Mexican household. While her father did not expect her to finish school past the age of 15, having been raised by her grandmother, she was encouraged to be educated and keep moving forward. Grace earned a scholarship to the University of Arizona, but did not last there for long before she was forced to transfer to Pima Community College. She tells a story of an English instructor she had her freshman year in college who refused to have Grace and another Mexican boy in his class because, as the man claimed, he did not “teach their kind.” Grace did not let the matter go quietly, and after working with her tutor, chose to fight the matter of discrimination with the college's administration. The professor said if she were to remain in his class, then he would give her a grade of a “D” in the class, which revokes the terms of her scholarship. He gave her a “D” and she was forced to attend Pima Community College when she lost her scholarship. Afterward, she enlisted in the United States Air Force and was sent out to California. Grace did not let one incident stop her in life, but rather it became fuel for her motivation to earn a degree and educate others. In fact, she got word that the professor had been discriminatory towards two other students a different year, got fired, and had his certification suspended. This prevented him from teaching in the State of Arizona. It was Grace’s stand against his racism that opened the eyes of others to grant justice for the students.

Born to migrant farm workers, Ed Beltran grew up in Surprise, Arizona. At a young age, his love and experience with art began, and interestingly can be tied in with the famous civil rights’ activist, Cesar E. Chavez. As part of the National Farm Worker’s Association, Ed began doing the artwork on the signs for the Association’s protests and widely included aspects of the Southwest such as napales (cactus paddles) in his art. Together, Ed and Chavez helped in expanding Latino culture through art amongst southern and central Arizona. Ed believes that, “Chicano art focuses on struggles that Latinos have gone through” and really showcases these stories in a visual manner, that can be individually interpreted.

In Tucson, Ed has also been really active as an artist. His artwork is on the graduation tassels for Latino Studies at the University of Arizona and some of his pieces represent Latino culture are hung up in the Bear Down Gym. Similar to Grace, Ed also stresses the importance of being educated and teaching others, especially on Latino culture, in order to limit discrimination. He tells a funny story of how one day while cleaning his yard, he wore a long-sleeved shirt and large sun hat to protect his skin from the sun. An older white couple passed by and the woman said to him, with a very loud voice and slow intonation, “You are doing a good job! How much do you charge?” Ed, taken aback, decided to approach the question calmly and replied, “Well, I do my own yard for free, but I will charge you more.” The couple was thrown off and shocked, Ed explains, and just walked off quickly without saying anything else. He remembers that he laughed-off the situation to Grace because he didn’t think becoming angry would accomplish anything. He believes that, “Ignorance is engrained within one’s teaching and it is up to us to teach them otherwise.”

Grace and Ed got married in 1995 and after living in San Diego for six years, moved back to South Tucson to be closer to home. Here in South Tucson, they both work steady jobs. Ed is a juvenile detention officer for Pima County and Grace is an elementary school teacher. In addition to those jobs, they hold their artistic crafts. Ed is a drawer and painter, and people come to him for tattoo art. Grace has a sewing business and makes lots of different items such as beautiful aprons, quilts, scarves, totes and messenger bags, in addition to personal customer requests. She also incorporates the Mexican and Chicano culture throughout her pieces, such as the Latino architecture of missionaries, Frida Kahlo and the Virgin of Guadalupe. An important point Ed and Grace stressed people of minorities need to remember is that education can destroy ignorance. It is up to them as the newer generation to educate themselves and teach others about their culture.

Ed and Grace really care for their community of South Tucson. They have a tight-knit relationship with members of the community and strive to give back, involving themselves in many numerous activities within the city. Grace teaches art extensively in her classes with her second-and-third-grade students, focusing on Latino artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Ed and Grace are also involved with the Garden Kitchen and are captains of the South Tucson Neighborhood Watch, teaching others about subjects, like healthy eating. Ed and Grace Beltran are humble and motivated people who enjoy what they do, while helping out in their community. Ed is a board member of the Primavera Foundation that invests in community projects in South Tucson to take care of its residents. For example, building homes for grandmothers who take care of their grandchildren, teaching résumé writing and providing clothes and shelter for those in need. The neighbors in their area have all received degrees, or are currently in school, and everyone supports and pushes one another. Grace even mentioned they raised money to send one of their fellow neighbors to nursing school when she did not have enough money to attend. Grace sells her art pieces for reasonable prices because she wants her community members to be able to afford her items. Once a month, Grace also sews and patches any clothing the low-income residents of South Tucson need to have done.

The Beltrans are very enthusiastic to work with the House of Neighborly Services in Tucson this summer to teach their art and sewing crafts to other students and enrich the artistic culture in South Tucson. Ed and Grace said it was their “dream to come back to South Tucson and educate others.” I see that they have made great progress in the movement to better the City of South Tucson and promote the education of others, having grown up with the encouragement to always be educated to return to give back to their community. On that note, I leave you with a touching and inspirational quote that Grace’s grandmother, a wise woman, once said: “Lead where you want to in life, but don’t forget where you came from.”

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