At the opening of The Cheech, Latino culture claims the spotlight – San Bernardino Sun

At the opening of The Cheech, Latino culture claims the spotlight – San Bernardino Sun
At the opening of The Cheech, Latino culture claims the spotlight – San Bernardino Sun

Dozens of supporters cheered as Cheech Marin’s convertible inched through the parking lot behind his new namesake museum in Riverside on Saturday morning.

Most of the Latino fans took photos and recorded videos from several feet away as Marin waved from the back seat of the 1962 Chevy Impala. A passerby walked up and punched him. Another fan happily yelled, “Cheech, what’s going on!”

“We are!” Marin replied.

In this largely Latino city, Mexican Americans were right in the thick of it all for a change, as the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture hosted a sold-out opening day with 1,800 reservations and a long line to get in.

Artisans and vendors sold wares from stalls along Mission Inn Avenue. The musicians performed on a temporary stage. Dancers from the Riverside Ballet Folklorico twirled in formation under colorful bunting strung across the avenue as hundreds looked on.

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Latin classics poured out of boomboxes along the sidewalk and lowriders on display in the parking lot behind The Cheech.

“Some of these cars are also a work of art,” said David Novelo of Ontario, who was polishing his already gleaming baby blue 1958 Impala half an hour before the museum opened.

His friend Art Meza, wearing a Chicano_Soul T-shirt, was there with his 1950 Chevy Fleetline and his 6-year-old daughter Sophia. She (she has a car seat in the back).

Meza has taken her to the Getty Center and the Palm Springs Museum of Art, all “to open her mind” to art and its potential, “that seed of knowing that you can create.” The Eastvale photographer added: “She can go home today and draw a picture.”

I walked around the back and saw Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson, in a bright orange dress, standing incongruously on the loading dock waiting to be admitted through the rear entrance.

A man with long hair and a longer beard, shuffling with a cane, called out as the door opened: “I’m a VIP. I’m Tommy. Will you let me in? The door closed. “I guess not,” he murmured.

No, he wasn’t Tommy Chong, Cheech’s other half in Cheech & Chong, but nice try.

Marin arrived with a small entourage. Some other VIPs followed. After a delay while the handlers checked with other handlers, I was cleared to enter. I started to wonder if I was going to have to knock on the door and whisper to the stage, “Come on, man. It’s me David. To which whoever was on the other end would reply, “Dave’s not here.”

(Everyone joked about Cheech & Chong’s most famous routine after my interview with him.)

I came in after José Medina, the Riverside State Assemblyman who received $10 million in crucial state funding for the museum in 2018, as well as personally donating along with his wife, Linda Fregosa.

“It’s so much more amazing than I ever imagined — the space, the artwork,” Medina told me, standing near an interior entryway wall that bears his name. “This week has shown the impact that The Cheech is going to have not only in Riverside but in Latino art in California and the United States.”

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Medina continued: “The fact that Riverside can be the center of that is incredible to me.”

Outside, the mayor offered words of welcome to a crowd that filled the lawn before Marin came out to join her.

“My heart is swelling at this point. This is a dream that I never dared to dream,” Marin said.

He said he was delighted to be able to share his art with the community.

“Bring your friends and relatives. Even if you just bring your relatives,” she added, “it’s fine. We will meet our quota.”

The Cheech'S Entrance Hall, Gift Shop And Instagram-Friendly Logo Are Seen From The Second Floor Shortly After The Museum And Cultural Center Opens At 10 A.m. Saturday.  Museum Staff Wear Orange.  (Photo By David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/Scng)
The Cheech’s entrance hall, gift shop and Instagram-friendly logo are seen from the second floor shortly after the museum and cultural center opens at 10 a.m. Saturday. Museum staff wear orange. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Saturday was the culmination of days of preparation, including a “Chicano gala” on Friday night. The dedication was on Thursday, which not only promoted the opening but also got the speeches out of the way.

That day, on a small stage inside the museum, the mayor presented Marin with an oversized ceremonial key to the city. Marin joked: “I would have settled for half a key.”

His next comment: “So how do you like ‘stoner art’ now?” – a reference to the failed candidate who had denounced state funding for “a stoner art museum”. Marin received a round of applause.

But the museum is no joke. Said to be the first in the United States dedicated to Chicano art, it is made up of 500 paintings and other works donated by Marin, who built his collection over four decades.

That week’s media coverage, Marin said Thursday with some amazement, had included “the front page of the New York Times Art section” (written, by the way, by Riverside native Patricia Escárcega), “the The LA Times art magazine, the front page of the Riverside…Press…” she said hesitantly.

“Business!” some in the audience screamed.

“The most important,” Marin said in disgust. (He would not disagree.)

Cheech’s full impact and influence will only become clear over time as the shows unfold. María Esther Fernández, artistic director of the museum, is full of ideas, as is Marín himself. Obviously The Cheech will not be like art museums that put on an occasional exhibit of Latino art.

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“We’re doing this every day, not every few years or every few months,” Fernandez told me.

The second floor is dedicated to a retrospective of the brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre, “Collidoscopio”, which consists of mind-blowing, mind-boggling sculptures and lenticular art. Until now, the only spaces dedicated to Mexican-American art were community centers, not a museum, the brothers say.

“I applaud Riverside for having the courage and fortitude to make this happen,” Einar told me Thursday. “It really had to happen in the United States and kudos to Riverside for being the city to do it.”

On Saturday, in the main gallery, I struck up a conversation with Raymond Hitchcock. A retired art aficionado and contractor, he bought a ticket as soon as they became available six months ago because he wanted to be here on opening day.

Hitchcock drove from San Diego on Friday and stayed the night so he could arrive refreshed at the museum.

“This collection is overwhelming,” Hitchcock said, calling the iconic artists on display — Frank Romero, Carlos Almaraz, Judithe Hernandez and more — the Vermeers and Rembrandts of his culture.

“I wish my mother was alive to see this collection and share this,” Hitchcock said. “She was Mexican. I don’t think she ever saw any depiction of her life when we went to art museums.”

So San Diego was in the house. Highland Park in Los Angeles was, too, in the person of Noelle Reyes, owner of an art-focused gift shop and community space, Mi Vida.