Chicana artist Crystal Galindo (Crystal Galindo)

For more than 50 years, Chicana/o artists have addressed a variety of social issues through visual arts, forging an enduring and vital artistic tradition. The momentum generated by the Chicano movement laid the groundwork for various Chicana/o artists to continue using art as a platform to highlight their perspectives into the 21st century. Chicana artists explore and reevaluate traditional Mexican American values and modern feminist themes through various mediums including muralism, painting, and photography.

Among these talented artists is Crystal Galindo, a 38-year-old Yaqui-Chicana (Xicana) artist hailing from Tulare County, California. Her popular series of portraits celebrating Chicana women is underscored by their bright colors, dream-like quality, and powerful displays of Chicana empowerment. Galindo’s artwork exudes a strong sense of Chicana/o identity, incorporating Chicano and Mesoamerican iconography to depict a diverse range of resilient, powerful women. Although the theme of sharing the erased history of Chicanos has been popular among Chicana/o artists since the 1970s, Galindo’s work serves as a contrast to traditional depictions of Chicanas by explicitly challenging white supremacy, Eurocentric beauty standards, and a male-dominated art world which often overlooks and dismisses the experiences of women of color.

Born in Visalia, California, Galindo grew up in the nearby town of Exeter with her three siblings. Although both of Galindo’s parents dabbled in the arts, her father had a strong influence on her desire to become an artist. With dreams of becoming a painter, Galindo spent hours filling notebooks with her studies of figures, ranging from close-ups of faces to Cholo style portraits.

“My dad used to tell us that he had dreams of being an artist, but it was one of those things that he set aside to support his family,” Galindo said. “I remember him sitting down and unwinding by drawing people. It was so magical and interesting to me, I just knew that in my heart I was going to be an artist someday and aspired to be as good as him.” 

 “Corazones Cosmicas” by Crystal Galindo (Crystal Galindo)

In 2004, Galindo enrolled at the College of the Sequoias where she began taking classes for drawing fundamentals and beginning painting. After several years she transferred far from home to Sonoma State University, a move which unfortunately shocked her with the lack of cultural competency from her peers and teachers who did not understand her art. 

“People would be like, ‘I don’t understand what’s going on here. Maybe don’t make it so Mexican. Don’t make it so Latino,’”Galindo recalled. “I was getting dismissed before people would even give it a chance. There was a time where I felt like nobody was getting my art and felt shunned for the cultural elements in my work because I was speaking on my experiences.”

It was also around this time that Galindo began taking Chicano studies classes. Although she had taken Meso-American Art History in community college, she had never formally taken a Chicano studies course. 

“I wanted to feel empowered, learn my history, and connect with others and to also feel like I belonged there,” Galindo explained. 

Ultimately, the Chicano Studies department gave Galindo space where she had breathing room and played into her art as well and before long she double-majored in Chicano studies as well. 

While still an undergraduate, Galindo’s portraits began garnering an audience via social media, where her portraits quickly began taking on a life of their own. Galindo was applauded for her body type exploration, as well as portraying Chicanas and other women of color in a positive, realistic light. By the time she graduated Sonoma State, Galindo’s art had traveled the state in various group exhibitions and galleries and around the nation. It was then that she knew that her art was the path she needed to be on, where she could celebrate both herself and other women of color and tell their stories without being restricted by white beauty standards.

“It’s powerful to feel seen, when we’re seen we feel validated, and when we’re validated we feel empowered to just be ourselves,” she said. “When we feel invisible or overlooked those are things that even subconsciously make us want to change ourselves in ways we can’t live up to.” 

Galactic Curl, from Pink Teardrops: Diary of a Sad Girl” collection, by Crystal Galindo (Crystal Galindo)

In addition to body positivity, Galindo has also been very open about discussing her mental health on social media and in her art as well. She has struggled with both depression and anxiety. In 2018, she even put together a show called ‘Pink Teardrops: Diary of a Sad Girl’, an introspective gallery that served as a glimpse into her life while pushing through depression and anxiety. 

“I look back at artwork and old sketchbooks and see the periods of time when I was depressed, and I didn’t have a name for it,” Galindo recalled. “I look back early on in my adulthood where I was clearly having panic attacks and I didn’t know that’s what they were. Creating pieces like these really helped to center me and calm my nerves while exploring my imagination.”

Galindo continues to inspire positivity through her art while balancing the duties of being a stay-at-home mom, a full-time artist, and managing her mental health. She recently began her work on Plantitas, a new series that puts “womxn/femmes/[gender-nonconforming] people of color in sensual, floral surroundings.” Ultimately Galindo hopes to continue empowering women and other marginalized gender folks through her art, believing in the strength of art’s impact on society. 

“Art has such a beautiful impact on our lives every day and it’s not always acknowledged,” Galindo said. “Artists have such a special place in our society to help people see the beauty in themselves. That’s a beautiful thing, and that’s something that even in the smallest ways can change the perception of ourselves and affect our mental health.”

Roberto Camacho is a Chicano freelance multimedia journalist from San Diego, California. His reporting typically focuses on criminal justice reform, immigration, Chicano/Latino issues, hip-hop culture,...