Carlos Hernandez Chavez Is City Worker, Musician, Muralist
August 05, 2013
Carlos Hernandez Chavez: artist, musician, civil servant, immigrant. Chavez, 70, arrived in Hartford from Mexico City in 1967. In the main atrium of Hartford City Hall, a colorful mural created by Chavez tells the story of his family's migrant-worker roots. He recently returned from his second trip to Puerto Rico's El Yunque rainforest, where he is creating a series of vibrant paintings as a way of paying homage to Hartford's Puerto Rican community.
I came directly from Mexico City after my art studies. Now I'm retired after working for the City of Hartford for 25 years.
I started as a bilingual social worker, then I moved through different departments: employment and training, manager, police analyst. I worked for the police department for seven years writing policy and procedure. Then I moved to the health department as assistant director. I ended up retiring as the city's chief hearing officer for housing and parking violations.
While I was going to art school I was also playing in my rock band. We were rock and rollers. We were a pretty popular group in Mexico called Los Esclavos or The Slaves. While I was playing at one of the coffee houses I met this young woman, Georgianne Nelson. We hit it off.
She stayed in Mexico for about three months... and then she left. She was originally living in San Diego but then moved to Connecticut where her mom was [living].
I ended up in Connecticut hoping that Georgie would come with me to California to do the rock thing. Never happened. She was settled and liked it here. So, being young and in love, I stuck around and we married and we raised a family... nine children in all. She unfortunately died in 2006. We were originally foster parents so we had lots of children in the house. We ended up adopting five out of the nine. We had four ourselves. Actually they adopted us. I always like to say that because that's a nicer way of putting it.
I come from a family of migrant farm workers. A lot of people have a stigma attached to that. I don't. I pride myself in that heritage. My parents were children of migrant farm workers.
When I first arrived I might as well have arrived to another planet. Everything was just so different even though I spoke English. The newness of the place... it was just mesmerizing. I was told that I was the first Mexican in Hartford. I'm not sure if that was true but I did not meet any Mexicans for many years after 1967.
I was adopted by the Puerto Rican community here. In some ways I consider it my second family. The English-speaking community also embraced me. I have found that Americans, in general, are very generous people. I gravitated towards Puerto Ricans because [of] the familiarity with the language and customs. We share a common culture even though there are significant differences.
I was kind of a novelty. I always -- subconsciously I would say -- followed how we were raised: respectful of people, always be true to your values, be hardworking, be honest. That's basically how I have carried my life -- working hard and being respectful of people and having fun, of course. That's part of our culture. We like to have fun.
All along I have been practicing my art. I did a series a few years back in Puerto Rico where I actually lived in the rainforest. I wanted to do it in a way of honoring the Puerto Rican community that has been so wonderful to me over all these years.
"Skin of the Earth" and "Dialogues," the rainforest series by Carlos Hernandez Chavez, will be exhibited next February at the downtown branch of the Hartford Public Library.
Visit courant.com/chavez for more pictures, and courant.com/chavezvideo for a video.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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