The Mexican expression, con el nopal en la frente, translates literally, though clumsily, as “with a prickly pear cactus on the forehead”. This expression, often used disparagingly, refers to a person who looks “very Mexican”, especially Indian, rural, and unsophisticated. The prickly pear cactus is a symbol of homeland and sustenance originating from Aztec legend, and is a prevalent motif in Mexican folk art.
In this piece, I wanted to express a few ideas relating to my Mexican heritage. What first inspired me were the many strangers who approach me in daily life and recognize me as Mexican and speak to me in Spanish, even though I have become quite Americanized in the U.S. I wanted to explore this curious ability of people who share an ethnicity or a culture to recognize each other, even when they have been transplanted to other cultures, as if they were tattooed with readable symbols.
I also wanted to address the attitude of racism inherent in the expression. As a generality, it has been my experience that Mexicans tend to be disdainful of or shamed by their indigenous heritage; the reality is that most Mexicans are a blend of Indian and European. In this sculpture the cactus is exaggerated and prominent, and the Mexican woman takes possession of the label and wears it with pride and dignity.