When Ester Hernandez was a child she watched as Chicano farmworkers marched through her home town of Dinuba, California, and were harassed by other local residents. Despite the danger, her family greeted the workers and their leader, César Chávez. At Grove Street College in Oakland, California, as she learned more about Chicano studies, she turned to the art department as an outlet for her anger about the treatment of Latina women. She was disappointed to find only one Chicano teacher who understood her need to be an effective agitator rather than “one of the boys” who would emulate the accepted, abstract New York art style. Eventually Hernandez met and joined Rupert García’s classes in San Francisco and was invited to enter a Latina womens’ art exhibition.
Hernandez’s posters have been controversial. She recounts how Sun Mad [SAAM, 1995.50.32] began when she went “home to visit my mother in 1979, reading the articles she saved about water contamination in the barrio.” After thinking about it for two years, remembering how she had worked as a farmhand, she focused her anger on the dangers of growing grapes for the raisin industry. “I focused on something personal, the Sun Maid box,” Hernandez said. “Slowly I began to realize how to transform the Sun Maid and unmask the truth behind the wholesome figures of agribusiness. Sun Mad evolved out of my anger and my fear of what would happen to my family, my community, and to myself.” Hernandez finds strength and inspiration in the Latina women with whom she has worked.
Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998)