Francisco Rocha Salazar
San Luis de la Paz, currently residing in Providence, RI
Working primarily with familial traditions and crafts influenced by the region where I grew up (San Luis Potosí and the municipality of San Luis de la Paz), I explore my identity with considerations of migration, sexuality, bilingualism, and nationalism. Currently, I am focusing on the idea of gratitude, one of the most symbolic forms of membership within my family among the female members. I lean towards this affiliation because it is where I see resilience and affection. Therefore, I make gifts for Jasper, my family, USCIS, and the Mexican Government -- they are the people and entities with whom I have a close relationship.
How does the region influence your art?
Locality for me has been a constant experience of not being able to inhabit, and fully understand, a place. I grew up mainly in San Luis Potosi and regularly visited my mom’s extended family in San Luis de la Paz. At each family gathering, my mom, my grandmother, and my aunts cooked a great meal, baked pastries, or cake to share them with everyone (approx. 25-30 people). I always accompany them to learn more about what they were doing, but I didn't partake in the activities. I was not competent to cook, I always burned rice easily. My grandfather, who was a shoemaker, was regularly visited by other artisans from the municipality because he owned a shoe store in the local market. There, I frequented florists, woodshops, and other shoe stores. Some of these were owned by relatives that I didn’t know. Surprisingly, they knew about me and always received me into the shops kindly.
As a gay man, these forms of belonging were only possible because I was silent about my desires with fear of being ostracized. I wove in isolation, having observed my mom and grandmother mend my clothes and that of my cousins. I never shared with anyone my small textiles. I rarely practiced baking. Upon residing in the US, I was able to explore my identity more openly, while being distant from my family. I started to wear nail polish, date men, and attend gay clubs without feeling ashamed. I also started cooking more and reached out to my family for advice. I collected recipes and books about baking. I engaged with woodworking and metalworking through online tutorials, books, and classes at RISD.
I continue to practice these activities—weaving, baking, woodworking, and metalworking-- as forms of affection to honor and confront my heritage.