Weslaco, Texas native Roel Flores saw his first cotton field – and began picking what he initially thought was cotton candy – at age 6. The first-generation American son of Mexican immigrants was 15 when he became a full-time migrant worker and began playing bajo-sexto with a conjunto band on weekends. He began conveying his experiences via canvas only 12 years ago, filling his paintings with images of fields, sunsets, instruments and other aspects of his life as a Tejano in South Texas. Flores’ paintings reveal his love for music and a certain bittersweet nostalgia for the difficulties of field work.
“For me, la musica y la labor, they go together – the music was our hope of getting out of the fields, and our inspiration to keep working,” Flores says. “Through my paintings I would say, ‘Be proud of who you are, and where you come from.’ I have a saying, that when you go by a cotton field, cuando pases por una labor de algodón – stop, and go sit in la cabecera, the beginning of the row, llega y sientate en la cabezera de un surco y no hagas ruido, don’t make noise; listen – y pon mucho sentido, and you’re going to hear the laughter, and yes, also the crying of our people.”
La Labor: The Paintings of Roel Flores was shown in Texas Folklife’s gallery at 1317 S. Congress Ave., Austin ( behind 10,000 Villages), from Sept. 9 through Dec.21, 2008. It was on display at Talento Bilingüe de Houston April 4 through June 8, 2008, and the Brownsville Historical Association’s Heritage Museum June 15 through Aug. 1, 2008. Other locations are pending. Flores' work is also part of the Smithsonian Institution's permanent collection. 20-page color catalogs are available for $5. Email firstname.lastname@example.org  for more information.
La Labor: The Paintings of Roel Flores is supported by funding from Humanities Texas, the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts.