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Mural artist Eliseo Art Silva is one of eight Filipino-Americans who will receive the 2012 Filipino-American Heritage Achievement Award on Friday at the Los Angeles City Hall to celebrate “425 Years of Filipino-American History.”
The award is given by the Los Angeles Filipino Association of City Employees to those who helped shape Filipino-American history for the last 425 years, beginning October 18, 1587, when the first Filipinos who were part of the Spanish Unamuno’s expedition landed on the coast of California.
“I’m very humbled and honored to be selected among legends and icons in our community. I have always been mission driven to pursue my passion of transforming neighborhoods and communities through my art. Never has my mission included myself—it’s always to inspire, share, and give all I could for the benefit of others,” Silva said in an interview with GMA News Online.
Silva is known for his Filipino heritage murals— he calls them “sites of public memory”—that help Filipino Americans get a better sense of who they are.
At 22, he achieved recognition in the US when he painted the largest Filipino heritage mural in Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles, California.
The 150 by 30-foot public art piece, called “Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana,” was the first to depict the 1965 Delano Grape Strike, in which 1,500 Filipino farm workers, led by Larry Itliong, organized a strike against vineyard owners in California.
Since then Silva has created more than 80 murals in Mexico, as well as in Washington, California, Maine, and New York, not just for Filipinos but also for other ethnic communities in the US.
A recipient of the 1997 Award for Design Excellence from the LA Board of Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Silva recently published the book Filipinos of Greater Philadelphia, regarded as the first published work to document Filipino history in this part of America.
In 1998, his artwork was included in the Philippine Centennial Time Capsule at the Rizal Park’s Binhi ng Kalayaan Monument.
“Identity gives purpose”
Born in the Philippines and migrating to the US at 17, Silva said, “I have always been bitter about leaving the Philippines. Till the present day, I do not think of the USA as my natural place.”
He had just graduated from the Philippine High School of the Arts (PHSA) then, where he was voted “model student of the year,” won the gold medal for most outstanding artist, and received a full four-year scholarship to any college of his choice.
“I felt my Philippine dream was taken away from me,” said Silva.
Silva said his “transplanting” fueled much of his art, which is his attempt of preserving his heritage and forge his identity as a Filipino.
Believing that “identity gives purpose,” Silva said Filipino Americans should not rely on the “mainstream narratives” but that they should uncover their own history, in order to create their own identity.
“There is no such thing as a history machine that will generate all this history for us. We have to do it ourselves,” Silva said.
Silva said his murals are just a part of the Filipino-American experience, and he hopes to see “an amalgamation of various voices, visual narratives, and images” from others so that a “new narrative” will emerge.
“I believe that when the day comes that a Filipino-American child walks into a US museum and is surrounded by art by Filipino masters as well as contemporary art depicting Filipino-American narratives and images, only then can we truly say that the Filipino American has truly ‘arrived’ in the United States.” - VVP, GMA News