BY SARAH DUENAS
PHOTOS BY GIOVANNI CARDENAS
Recent Long Beach State graduate Kiara Machado always knew she wanted to paint.
Growing up, she was shut down by the people around her who didn't believe that she could use art as a career. Now, she hosts her own gallery shows and uses her art as a way to connect to her Central American heritage.
Machado says people often assume she is Mexican. People also misidentify her art as Chicano, connecting to a person of Mexican origin or descent, when that’s not the case.
Machado was born in Los Angeles, after both of her parents migrated from Central America; her father is from El Salvador and her mother is from Guatemala. Her parents wanted their three daughters to get a good education, so they made the decision to move to the U.S.
After living near the projects for a couple of years, they decided to move to Glendora, a predominately white, suburban, and upper-middle class city. She said while living in Glendora she always felt like she wasn’t in the right place. There weren’t people she could relate to when it came to expressing her culture.
“It’s like a weird identity crisis too in a sense,” she says. “We lived there for so many years, but the city surrounding me was not my home.”
When looking at her art, it is clear that there is a deep meaning behind her work. She uses her art to connect to her roots, using vibrant colors such as bright pinks, greens, blues and reds. She says her inspiration comes from Central American design.
“All of the houses over there are different colors. You can walk in and see a red couch, green door and yellow wall,” she says.
Machado says being Central American has a huge impact on her art. For her, it is triggering to be generalized as a part of “just one culture,” such as Mexican, when she comes from such a vast background.
“It’s this weird feeling of being really proud of being Central American, then going out into society, and everything and everyone telling you, you’re not,” she says. “It’s not being given that respect. [My art is] kind of like creating a platform to Central Americans to get that visibility to really talk about representation and misrepresentation. Just kind of creating that solidarity.”
For her it’s important that not only Central Americans connect to her art, but also other people who are considered outcasts.
During her time on campus, Machado found a safe haven where she could be true to herself outside of her art in the on-campus organization La Raza, a multicultural group that advocates for special issues within the Latino community.
“When things happen that other people can’t relate to, I know I can come to them to vent, and they will really listen,” she says.
Machado says she knows that as a person of color she will always experience ignorance and hate from people who are uneducated about her vibrant culture. But no matter what, she says, she will continue to paint about what matters to her.