Austin veteran, artist’s final project tells stories of Latino Americans in WWII

Emily Fu

There was no guarantee the late Austin artist Sam Coronado would make it out of Vietnam alive. But after he did, he spent the next few decades of his life dedicated to the arts. His last project is “Hard Fought: Sam Coronado’s WWII Series.”

The series features narrative prints depicting the stories of Latino-Americans during World War II. The exhibit draws inspiration from the “VOCES Oral History Project,” a collection of more than 650 interviews and ephemera that give voice to the American Latino experience in World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War.

“Hard Fought” will be on exhibit at the Benson Latin American Collection through May 15.

“Sam Coronado brought his own eye to something we’ve been looking at for several years,” said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, journalism associate professor and director of “VOCES.” “We would never have seen what he saw, what he selected, what color he used. He really lent it his vision, and we’ll always be very grateful for that.”

Exhibition curator Tatiana Reinoza said she believes that through this exhibit, Coronado, who died in 2013, conveys the pride he had for his people.

“A lot of Latinos are really proud that they served, but they haven’t really been given credit for that honorable work,” Reinoza said. “That’s why this show is called ‘Hard Fought’ because it’s a hard-fought battle to gain that recognition, to gain that validation and to know that their sacrifices are valued in the end.”

Reinoza said Coronado created the prints through the serigraphy process, also known as screen printing. Some prints in the collection are mixed media, which incorporates collage elements in the piece. The narrative prints are coupled with oral elements such as interview excerpts taken from the “VOCES Oral History Project.”

Reinoza said Coronado enjoyed serigraphy so much that he opened his own studio in Austin in 1991.

Coronado, a Vietnam veteran who identified as Chicano, knew firsthand the struggle to feel validated for his services to this country. This prompted him to collaborate with Rivas-Rodriguez in 2006.

Julianne Gilland, associate director of scholarly resources and special collections curator at the Benson Latin American Collection, said it has been interesting for viewers to relate to the exhibit.

“This is true whether as American families, who remember their service and sacrifice in wartime with pride, [or] as Latinos, who have had to reconcile those proud histories with some of the social justice and racism that their families have experienced,” Gilland said.

The exhibition resonated with Reinoza, who said she thinks it is vital for young Latinos to understand the importance of their historical presence in this country amid the current immigration debates and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“Young Latinos need to understand that we have a long history in this country, and we have been a part of that special fabric,” Reinoza said. “I think that’s really important for young Latinos to learn and acknowledge.”