Latino art came to the U.S-Mexico Borderlands in the 17th century with the founding of several missions in Texas by the Franciscan order. In the 1680s, Mestizos, a blend of Spanish and Mexican Indian ethnic groups, constituted the majority population in Mexico. Franciscan friars, assigned to construct the five missions of San Antonio and those of the upper Rio Grande region near El Paso, relied exclusively upon the Mestizo artisans from the interior of Mexico to build and maintain the missions.
In 1821 Mexico gained its independence from Spain and founded the Republic of Mexico. Texas and other frontier provinces that formerly belonged to Mexico were radically
transformed when Mexico opened its borders to new migration from the United States. In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, Mexico lost the
territories of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah to the United States. Thousands of Mestizos in these territories who had been Mexican citizens became American citizens as a consequence of the American conquest.
Mexicans had lived in the Borderlands for over two and a half centuries. With the United States conquest of the Mexican territory in 1848. rapid economic, political, and social change came to the borderlands. These changes included the expansion of the railroads as well as federal funding of roads, dams, and urban construction projects. The growth of southwestern cities acted as a magnet or pull force for Mexican workers. The push forces of the Mexican Revolution, which contributed to the immigration of over a million Mexicans during the period 1910-1930, proved far more significant. The new migration energized and reinforced Mexican cultural traditions in the United States.
In the early twentieth century, San Antonio became the largest Mexican community in the United States. The experiences of the Armando Sanchez family of San Antonio and other craftsmen and artisans were typical of many Mexican families living in urban communities north of the Mexican border. All of the Sanchez clan lived in socially and economically segregated barrios.
Segregation, which dated back to Texas statehood in 1846, kept Mexican and Black families from finding steady work and good schools. Many in the Sanchez family, including Armando and his brother Santiago, left school early to help contribute to the family income.
In his spare time, Armando Sanchez grew up drawing and sketching, a talent he would develop over his adult life. At age ten, his family moved to Detroit, where his father worked at the Ford Motor Company. Armando decided at that time that he wanted to be an artist. He tried to enroll in the Detroit Art and Craft School but was rejected because he was only twelve years old.
After three years in Detroit, his family returned to San Antonio and Armando enrolled at Burbank High School where he took art classes in the mornings and spent the afternoons and evenings at the public library. He sat for hours at the library studying the lives and works of famous artists. On many days, he would stay until library closing hours.
One Burbank teacher noticed Armando’s art skills, especially his excellent lettering, and suggested that
Armando work as a sign maker. The following year Armando left Burbank before graduating and started working at a sign company. Not satisfied with just his lettering abilities, he sought out art classes at the Art Institute located at the McNay Contemporary Art Museum and the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts.
Armando’s art career had a modest beginning. Determined to learn more about painting, Sanchez took additional art classes, mostly in three to six-month time periods, from the famed art teacher Warren Hunter. Hunter operated the Warren Hunter School of Art at La Villita, and Armando was one of his best students. Hunter taught many Latino artists in San Antonio and served as an excellent teacher and mentor.
While working for the Lionel Sosa marketing firm, Armando met Jorge Cortez, then CEO of Mi Tierra Restaurant, and began a life-long friendship with him. Cortez commissioned Armando in 1970 to paint a Zapata portrait which became the icon for the restaurant. The Zapata image graces the aprons and tee shirts at Mi Tierra and is sold in the thousands annually to tourists and locals.
When President Bill Clinton visited San Antonio in the 1990s, the Cortez family presented the President with a tee shirt with the Zapata image. On his jog the next morning along the San Antonio Riverwalk, President Clinton wore the Zapata shirt designed by Armando and later signed a photo to Armando of himself wearing the shirt.
Armando is best known as a watercolorist, but his outdoor and indoor murals at Mi Tierra and Pico de Gallo Restaurant are highly admired by the San Antonio community. One prominent mural features the famous Mexican singer Jorge Negrete. Another mural captures portraits of over one hundred well-known personalities in San Antonio. All of Sanchez’s murals illustrate the
Mexican spirit of the borderlands. His work reminds us of the traditions and culture of Mexico that reside in the hearts of many of Mexican descent.
In the mid-1990s, Armando decided to try to open a gallery and studio on Market Square hoping to sell art to the thousands of people who visited the Square on a daily basis. He met many people and sold hundreds of his artworks, especially his specialties of Texas landscapes and portraits.
Armando Sanchez is proud of working as an artist. He has fond memories of the people who have bought his work including Mick Jagger and Maya Angelou. He met these personalities in his art gallery and studio at the San Antonio Market Square next door to Mi Tierra Restaurant. Ms. Angelou returned to buy numerous works from him over the years and introduced him and his work to her friend, Oprah Winfrey.
Armando Sanchez continues the tradition of bringing Latino art to residents of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands and beyond. His murals, portraits, and landscapes capture the culture, history, and spirit of San Antonio and the U.S. Southwest.