Ravens, crows, blackbirds and bats vie with each other over the central figure of an Indian man entwined into place with an enmeshment of red branches over everything. A shed horn floating above his heart symbolizes renewal, sexuality and regeneration. The red branches hold life in a particular time and space with gaps offering escape for the soul, not the body.
The flying birds and bats are creatures of the night and the day, each one a representation of one of my father’s children. No bird or bat correlates to any particular child, but to the cacophony of children he fathered. His parenting was solid at times and sporadic at other times, never consistent.
He ran from the depths of intimacy and connection that parenting offers a man, inadvertently running from himself as the decades proceeded. His children flew in every direction to seek him, sometimes waiting in the dark spaces, sometimes soaring indiscriminately towards him.
“This beach boy took one look at those men with snakes and ran,” said my late father, Joaquin Acosta, when he told me the story of escaping from his Native American male initiation ceremony in the early 1940’s. Though his mother, Catalina Ortiz, was half Native American, this fact was a secret by the time she had us grandchildren visiting her coastal home in Playa del Rey, California
During the summer he was about 14 years old in 1943, my grandmother sent my father on a train back to the remnants of her family’s ranch in Ortiz, Colorado, near the Four Corners area of the American Southwest. The final train line, the Columbres & Toltec, ending in Antonito, a few miles from Ortiz, Colorado is now a tourist attraction.
While there, he was taken to participate in his male initiation ceremony. I’m not sure of the tribe – it could have been Zuni, Hopi or Dine, he was vague about the tribe. He was entirely clear about his run.
“I ran for miles in the night until I got back to my grandparents place,” he said.
About five years later, after his death in 2004, I was sorting through his papers and found an old black and white photo of the Ortiz countryside with his handwriting on the back – “I ran” read the inscription to his mother.
In a certain sense, my father kept running the rest of his life. He didn’t run from rich life experiences or hard work, both of which he faced with a huge zest for life and overwhelming charisma. He ran from a type of accountability – the accountability he had towards his own true nature.
By the 1970’s he held executive positions in Southern California institutions and was completely enmeshed in striving to live a successful life. Part of that striving included denying his Native American Indian culture, something he commented on years later.
“I was born in 1929,” he said, “it (life) was hard enough that people thought I was a Mexican, I sure and the hell wasn’t going to tell them that I was Indian, too.”
Though it is easy from my contemporary perspective to comment on the sadness of his decisions or to judge him negatively, the reality is that I was never able to walk a mile in his moccasins, wingtips or flip-flops. He is past and his actions can only be seen from many different viewpoints, none of which involve him directly. Some of those viewpoints may even be true. We can never really know.
This is a painting about a piece of this aspect of my family history and experiences.
Title: My Father with His Children
Original Painting Size: 36” x 36”
Medium: Mixed Media Acrylic & Resin on Wood Panel
Date Completed: 2016
About the Artist: Cristina Acosta is a painter, writer and designer born in Los Angeles. She’s a nature girl who has lived in the mountains and ranch lands of Oregon and the desert and beaches of California.