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NMSU student’s artwork highlights Chicano injustice

Art is defined as the expression of human creative skill and imagination, typically through drawing or painting. But for one NMSU student, it’s a way to honor and celebrate the roots they stem from. Putting her pencil on the paper of her sketchbook, art major Citlali Delgado lets her heritage and environmental inspirations guide her work.  

Born in Connecticut and raised in El Paso, Texas, the 20-year-old artist comes from a family of Mexican immigrants who came across the border in search of a better life. Growing up in the borderland, Delgado and her family have always stayed true to their heritage and cultural traditions, she said.

NMSU art student Citlali Delgado sits in front of several of her illustrations. Her work focuses on highlighting the Mexican-American culture and social inequalities, including immigration. (Photo courtesy of Citlali Delgado)

“I was born into a family that is very proud of who we are and where we come from, as in being Mexican, being brown and being people of color,” Delgado said.  

Looking back, she recalled being able to draw from a young age. Her artistic abilities were coupled with her involvement in athletics and an early college program at Burges High School.  

Her father, who is also an artist, got his art degree from the University of Texas at El Paso, before being a recipient of a scholarship that allowed him to continue his studies at Yale University. According to Delgado, her father is a major inspiration and supporter of her artistic ventures.

While much talent and precision were within the family genes, Delgado said she never felt any type of pressure from her father to pursue art. Her decision to join the NMSU Art Department was organic. 

“He never told me to pick up a pencil and paper and draw,” Delgado said. “It [was] just something that if I was going to do, then I was going to do, and he wasn’t going to force me or my siblings to do anything like that. Of course, everyone has their different callings.”  

As an avid Pittsburgh Steelers football fan, a new spark of inspiration came for Delgado after attending a game. She started making illustrations and edits of her favorite players and team moments. A hobby that she engaged in for fun garnered her a significant following on social media, with nearly 18,000 followers on TikTok and a few comments from professional football players.  

NMSU art student Citlali Delgado works on one of her illustrations. Her work is inspired by the Mexican-American culture and social inequalities. (Photos courtesy of Citlali Delgado)

Months later, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her everyday activities, in tandem with the entire world. Despite widespread struggles across the nation, she said the extra time at home allowed her to dive further into her abilities and push her artistic envelope.  

“I was always able to draw, but I wouldn’t doodle or sketch on my own time,” Delgado said. “It was only if there was a school project I had to do. It wasn’t until COVID and the lockdown that I got the actual time to willingly unleash my creative self.”

It wasn’t until COVID and the lockdown that I got the actual time to willingly unleash my creative self.”  

Moving into her senior year of high school, Delgado enrolled in art classes that allowed her to create a variety of illustrations. With the ability to freehand, it allowed her to push the envelope even further. She entered her work into several competitions, including the Texas Art Education Association’s Visual Arts Scholastic Event 

Following a large step in her young artistic career, Delgado aimed to craft illustrations that were more directly representative of her Mexican-American identity and culture, as well as the subject matter of social inequalities like immigration.  

According to Delgado, having a person be the focal point of her artwork is what best reflects the stories of her family and people. Her love for people and what they represent further solidifies her approach to portraiture art, and it brings the stories of culture and activism to life, she said.  

“I believe that people tell stories,” Delgado said. “You can just look at someone and there is a certain story that you can get out of that, and I really believe that.”  

One of Citlali Delgado’s illustrations features Virgin de Guadalupe overlooking the wall at the U.S.-Mexican border. The work is aimed at challenging the famous American Progress portraiture by John Gast. (Photo courtesy of Citlali Delgado)

One of her most recent works is centered around the idea of colonialism and westward expansion in the early history of the United States. The work is aimed at challenging the famous American Progress portraiture and its depiction of forcing Native Americans to leave their sacred land. Delgado’s artwork shows the Virgin de Guadalupe overlooking the barrier on the U.S.-Mexican border, signifying a symbol of hope for migrants who wish to seek a better life. 

According to Delgado, this piece was the most flustering and mentally challenging artwork she crafted. From start to finish, the heritage-inspired piece took two months to create and gained over 230 likes on her Instagram account.  

“You are never American enough for the Americans, and you are never Mexican enough for the Mexicans,” Delgado said. “It’s not a competition to think of making Chicano or Mexican art. In the Chicano movement, we are all here to uplift us and challenge the system, the governmental system, that works against us.” 

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