Esteban Torres, The Artist, an exhibition of Esteban Torres’s works was curated by Shervin Shahbazi at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles in July 2016.

Esteban Torres, May 25, 2016, Photo © Shervin Shahbazi

Esteban Torres (in his own words)

When I was a child, I watched my grandmother painting a picture of a man on a tractor. I said I wanted that and she said you try it. That’s how it all got started. My father was repatriated in the 1930’s for his union activities and we never saw him again. But the family stayed on in the small mining town of Miami, Arizona, before we finally moved to East Los Angeles.

I went into the US Army and was stationed in Germany to guard bridges against the Russians. People forget that it was the middle of the Cold War and the threat was real and tangible. I painted landscapes and drew cartoons about Army life. I thought about staying in and making a career in the service, but I met a girl, Arcy.

Later when I got out I used the GI Bill to take classes and study at the L.A. Art Center, specializing in advertising art. I wanted to be an artist but I wanted to get married and Arcy said I needed a job! I studied at East L.A. College and Cal State Los Angeles to become an art teacher.

But before that could happen I was approached by the United Auto Workers Union to join the international staff, who were in the middle of adding Mexicans and unionizing in Mexico. I was sent to Washington D.C. and was named Chief of the Inter America Bureau. By 1964 I was an organizer for the International Metal Workers, and I was sent to Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and Colombia to unionize workers in those countries. I was also sent to Iowa State to study the automation process.  The modern methodology of speeding up time and process was a threat to workers earning a living as well as their health.

We decided to create a community union, to sustain the support of workers fighting automation, and to support the  lettuce workers union that Cesar Chavez was trying to get started. The UAW supported the creation of TELACU, The East Los Angeles Community Union. People asked me what the anagram stood for. I joked it was an Aztec word. We supported Cesar Chavez  and his struggle in the fields, we helps support and organize the Chicano Moratorium, and we led the fight to incorporate East Los Angeles to aid the community.

I eventually went back to DC to become the first U.S. ambassador to UNESCO.  Then later President Carter asked me to become his Special Assistant for Hispanic Affairs. After Carter was out of office, I went home and was encouraged to run for the new congressional district that was created for East Los Angeles. I ran and was elected in 1982 and served until my retirement in 1999. Throughout my career I painted and sketched images, often of political meetings and great personalities I met along the way.