HOMENAJE: A Tribute to Nitza Tufiño

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“In many ways, I was privileged growing up. I was always surrounded by artists,” begins Nitza Tufiño.

Nitza’s father was the great Puerto Rican visual artist Rafael Tufiño, and her mother was a Mexican dancer and model. We are inside the ground floor of a Spanish Harlem brownstone that houses the Rafael Tufiño Printmaking workshop. Inside is a flurry of activity. I have walked into the Saturday class. Artists are painting, talking, walking, printing, talking, etching, coloring, writing, asking, and talking. There is a lot of talking.

It is clear Nitza loves to paint, Nitza loves to create, Nitza loves to make, Nitza loves to teach, and Nitza loves to talk. For the next two hours, Nitza teaches me with her talk, a salty and saucy mix of Spanish, English, Spanglish, and a whole hell of a lot of code-switching. Nitza discusses her childhood, the artists she knew, the movie sets she visited. She discusses her biculturalism—her looking Mexican, but her sounding more Puerto Rican “en mi forma de hablar, de comunicar con mi gente (in my way of talking and communicating with my people).”

She pays homage to other great artists like Francisco Oller, Rufino Tamayo, and David Alfaro Siqueiros whose work influenced hers. She talks murals in Aztec temples, how the sunlight is bluer in Puerto Rico than in the streets of New York, and how her first memory of art is the painting of her grandmother that her father put in her cuna (crib) to calm her down. She talks vejigante masks and carnivals and finding oneself in a school where one’s history is never mentioned and one’s people is never celebrated. She discusses the connection between bodegas and cuchifritos and barbecues and dancing in the park and taking all of our history and putting it in a museum in Paris and saying, “Ven a bailar y beber la cultura de nosotros. (Come and dance and drink our culture with us.)

Nitza has received numerous honors. She is one of the founding members of El Museo del Barrio. Her ceramic murals hang in the 103 Street subway stop on the 6 line right on the doorstep of Spanish Harlem. But, today, Nitza does not talk “me.” She talks about “we.”

“If you are an artist, you use your paintbrushes to rebel. Your guns are your colors and brushes. You express your idealism in your painting.”

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then Nitza’s brush is greater than any gun.

© Ricardo Muñiz. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 15 January 2015.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.