“Ni de aquí, ni de allá,” neither from here, nor there, goes the typical phrase that describes a Mexican, or any Latino, that has left his home country and had to assimilate or grow up in the U.S. That’s how author/artist and San Diego State University Literature Professor William “Bill” Nericcio described himself growing up in Laredo during his lecture and art show titled, “MEXtasy: Seductive Hallucinations of Latina/o Mannequins Prowling the American Unconscious,” which is part of South Texas College’s Hispanic Heritage Month.
“It’s tough growing up Mexican in this country. To tell the truth, I don’t know what I am. I’m a functional schizophrenic,” joked Nericcio, a native of Laredo.”That’s what it’s like to be Mexican.”
The SDSU professor explained that he was raised to only speak English, get an education and become a lawyer, all wishes of his mother, who was obligated to sit in the back of the bus while she traveled to work. She also faced several other forms of discrimination while living in Texas as a Mexican.
He explains that his mother was conditioned to reject her culture, and she tried to protect him from that kind of discrimination by trying to erase their past. However, Nericcio did the opposite and embraced his Mexican heritage, which he clearly demonstrates in his work, writing and art.
“It’s about being passionate about being Mexican and not being ashamed of speaking with an accent in this country,” said Nericcio. “It’s about embracing what is beautiful about our culture despite the problems that are going on nowadays across the border.”
Nericcio authored the 2007 book, “Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the Mexican in America.” The book, as well as the art show, explores how stereotypes created by mass media, commercials, advertising, magazines and television portray individuals of various ethnic and gender backgrounds.
“MEXtasy is based on my book, as if my book turned into an art gallery. Rachael Freyman-Brown called me to ask me what I thought about turning my book into an art show. Who does that? But, I loved it,” he explained. “I don’t just look at stereotypes representing Mexicans. There’s a lot of stereotypes out there from brown to black, and even white folks are depicted in a stereotypical way. Stereotypes become like Frankenstein because they take on a life of their own.”
At the art show opening, parents, students and art goers flooded the STC Art Gallery to view Nericcio’s collection of racist artifacts from American mass culture.
“I’m a product of a community college and to come to STC and do one of my first shows here just blows me away. I’m floored by all the love and support I’ve gotten from the Rio Grande Valley. It’s a homecoming for me. I never expected to live to see this,” said Nericcio. “I’m indebted to Rachael Freyman-Brown, Phyllis Evans, the STC faculty and staff for making me feel so welcome. I’ve been a professor for 20 years and this is something unprecedented in my career. I’m impressed by the college, and mostly by the students.”
STC Assistant Art Professor and Art Gallery Curator Rachael Freyman-Brown and Visual Arts and Music Program Chair Phyllis Evans were key in presenting the project to Nericcio about turning his book into an art show, and organizing the event as part of STC’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.
“Bill Nericcio’s visit to STC is a great example of what makes this institution world-class. His presence on campus was fantastic for the opportunity it gave the art program and other academic areas for collaboration and professional development. His formal and informal presentations to students were clearly an inspiration as well,” said Freyman-Brown. “All in all, the experiment of turning elements of his book into an exhibit was a success. The point really came across that we as a community can come together to explore and analyze media stereotypes of culture. We can discuss it within the academic construct of an exhibit, and then we can also step back, and smile about it…that’s key to moving past the old ways of thinking.”
Nericcio’s art exhibit will travel to the Laredo Arts Center in December.