By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I knew that he was married, but still I went,” Norte tells me. “When I say ‘went,’ I mean sitting at Clifton’s or at Philippe’s for six hours at a time because I found somebody that I could have an interesting dialogue with. And then, of course, it turns into that other stuff, which is fatal. Love.”
Gamboa was older than Norte. By the time he had become an established member of Asco and something of an East L.A. celebrity, Norte was just graduating from high school, dabbling in photography and headlining at her first readings. She already knew Patssi Valdez — their mothers worked in the same office and Valdez once did Norte’s hair — and she’d started a correspondence with Gronk through the mail, “even though we were blocks away from each other,” she says. “It was the time. That’s what you did.”
Somewhere along the way, she and Gamboa began dating. Photos exist of Gronk, Diane Gamboa, Harry Gamboa and Marisela Norte, looking Eastside-cool as ever, up against a wall painted in Gronk’s signature abstract style. Norte appears in several of Gamboa’s early films. On her own, she’s published work in Rolling Stone, Interview, Elle and, often in the ’80s, the L.A. Weekly. She was the only artist-writer representing East L.A. at a major symposium at Tate Modern in London in 2005, and this year, Diane Gamboa is curating a show at Tropico de Nopal gallery focused entirely on Norte’s effects, photographs and writing.
Yet the omission from Harry Gamboa’s book, the most comprehensive Asco history to date, remains a sensitive subject.
“The ’80s are a little fuzzy. I mean, there’s some of that shit I’d rather not remember, but I was there, which brings us to this,” Norte says, pointing to my copy of Urban Exile, “and how I’m not in there.”
“I would be upset,” I tell her.
“About what?” Norte says. “Get upset because I’m not in a book? That’s not the first book I’m not in, Daniel, c’mon. It’s fine. It’s his choice.”
Harry Gamboa and Norte broke up in 1985. It’s unclear why; neither will discuss it. But soon after, Gamboa married Barbara Carrasco, who does appear in Urban Exile. Norte says that since their split, she and Gamboa have not shared a word.
“Like 20-some years ago now? ’85. Think it’s time to not be cholos and talk to each other? Or say hello?”
The Winter 2007 issue of Bomb magazine published an interview of Gronk conducted by Norte. Norte and Gronk are now close friends, so the interview is a candid conversation filled with clues that suggest she still thinks about the days she spent with Gamboa.
“He’s done it, I think,” Norte writes, describing a photograph Gronk is showing her. “He’s captured a moment in my life. I see an image of my 27-year-old self in bed with a former lover. We are both using our forearms to cover our eyes from the invading camera. We do look like something out of the French New Wave or Confidential magazine circa 1956.”
It’s clear she’s referring to Gamboa. As it is in this exchange:
NORTE: My God, you saved all the postcards! I burned a lot of letters from one.
NORTE: Yes, I only kept the one with the apology.
I ask Norte if she and Gamboa could ever reconcile, for the purposes of history, at least.
“What’s there to reconcile? What are we reconciling?” she asks in reply. “It’s almost like it’s just not even there anymore. It hasn’t been for many, many years. Cada quien su vida.”
To each his own life.
There’s a trend at play here that can’t be ignored. Why is it that so many relationships among Chicano artists, and the Chicano art community in general, can be defined by strife, conflict and drama? Historians, academics and curators have largely glossed over the subject. I found a few passing mentions of strained relations among the artists of Asco in several books and articles I reviewed in researching this piece.
Earlier this year, UCLA professor Chon Noriega, who is a co-curator of the “Phantom Sightings” show, appeared at Avenue 50 Gallery in Highland Park to deliver a talk called “Defining Chicano Art.” He was put on the defensive during the question-and-answer period by audience members angry about the Chicano pedigree of some pieces Noriega highlighted. Tropico de Nopal gallerist Reyes Rodriguez especially pressed Noriega on his belief that the LACMA show should not be dubbed “Art After the Chicano Movement” but “Art After Asco.”
Fighting, debate, strife — “I think that’s actually integral to the Chicano movement,” Harry Gamboa says over the phone. “I refer to it being gossip-driven. At the same time, I don’t think it’s coincidental that telenovelas are one of Mexico’s primary exports. It’s the ultra-theatricality of everyone’s lives that informs the art and how everything is exhibited and responded to. And I have a feeling that’s one of the reasons why, on some level, Chicanos have been avoided in the media.”