Chicano artist Daniel DeSiga was born in the eastern Washington city of Walla Walla in 1948. He attended Walla Walla’s public schools from elementary to high school, graduating in 1967. DeSiga spent most of his summers working in the fields, thinning sugar beets and harvesting asparagus. He served in the Marine Corps for two years. Returning home, he enrolled in the University of Washington in 1969, graduating with a degree in graphic art.
DeSiga’s experiences at the UW were politically and artistically transformative. Influenced by the teachings of Chicano professor Tomás Ybarra-Frausto and participating in the Chicano Movement, DeSiga’s art took a political turn that highlighted Chicano/a culture, paying particular attention to rural agricultural life. DeSiga did not wholly connect with the urban murals and paintings pouring out of the Southwest. In response, DeSiga employed more personally relevant motifs like crop rows and thinning tools in his art, expanding the concept of Chicano/a art beyond the barrio.
DeSiga directly participated in Seattle’s Chicano Movement with his mural at El Centro de la Raza. In 1972, DeSiga joined the Chicano Ad-Hoc Committee as it occupied an abandoned elementary school in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, the future site of El Centro de la Raza. DeSiga painted his mural, “An Explosion of Chicano Creativity,” during the takeover of the school. The mural’s dense Chicano symbolism expressed ethnic pride and socioeconomic concerns that were the crux of the Chicano Movement.
DeSiga returned to El Centro de la Raza in 1997 to complete his mural. He made several additions to the mural, including changing the two large pre-Columbian Mesoamerican faces from male to female. The alterations demonstrate the continually reconfiguring contours of Chicano/a politics and DeSiga’s attention to numerous social issues.
DeSiga’s activism and artwork have taken him to various areas of the US, including Colegio César Chávez in Oregon and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum in California. DeSiga continues to paint, his brush remaining rooted in communicating Latino/a culture in the Pacific Northwest.
Daniel DeSiga shared his life experiences with Michael D. Aguirre in a set of interviews conducted from July 30 through August 7, 2011 at El Centro de la Raza. In addition to the formal interview, DeSiga stood in front of his mural and provided a detailed description of the symbolism and motifs. and mural narration.
Below are three sections Daniel DeSiga’s hall-length mural “An Explosion of Chicano Creativity” at El Centro de la Raza. Photos by Oscar Rosales Castañeda.