‘En El Frente’ Exhibition at Island University Provides Glimpse into Chicano Social Justice in ’60s, ’70s

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A bold new exhibition titled “En El Frente (On the Front): Celebrating the Impact of Chicano Publications” utilizes rare archival materials, immersive installations, and thought-provoking displays in both English and Spanish to demonstrate the power of Chicano publication design in challenging societal norms and driving social transformation. “En El Frente,” located in the Weil Gallery in the Center for the Arts at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, serves as the research framework of Alexandria Canchola and Joshua Duttweiler, both TAMU-CC Assistant Professors of Graphic Design.

“En El Frente” highlights the clever use of technology, iconic imagery, mastheads, and artwork in the innovative designs that emerged in Mexican American communities in Texas and California during the 1960s and ’70s. The era was a time of radical social upheaval, a time where previously unheard voices found or created platforms to broadcast messages of protest and defiance as well as a driving determination to not be overlooked. In urban neighborhoods whose residents were primarily of Mexican descent and in farmworker communities, many of those voices found an audience through the independent publication of zines and community newspapers that advocated for social justice. During this time, over 300 Chicano publications were distributed across the United States representing 150 different communities, according to the researchers. More than 25 of those pieces are included in “En El Frente.”

“This exhibition bridges us to our rich heritage, celebrates Chicano contributions, and preserves history,” Canchola said. “For those with a personal connection to Chicano/a culture, it’s a source of empowerment and pride. Beyond that, it educates on Chicano history, literature, and art, and fosters broader cultural understanding. It preserves legacy, sparks dialogue, and acknowledges often-overlooked narratives.”

Canchola said she and Duttweiler were initially conducting research on the ethical aspects of journalism in relation to design when they came across Chicano/a — to use the vernacular of the time — newspapers from the ’60s and ’70s. Starting in Special Collections and Archives at the university’s Mary and Jeff Bell Library in September 2021, the researchers also visited the archives of University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, University of Texas-Austin, Museo Guadalupe Aztlan in Houston, University of California-Los Angeles, and UC Santa Barbara.

“For me, growing up in South Texas, it was particularly intriguing to delve into the history of my culture and region through these publications,” Canchola said.

Duttweiler points out that publication designers sought to grab their audience’s attention using bold bilingual headlines, critical and humorous political cartoons, and striking photography.

“One of my favorite publications, visually speaking, is ‘Barrio’  a Chicano publication in Corpus Christi. It’s exciting to flip through the pages and see the concerns and progress of our community from this era all layered over familiar names and places,” Duttweiler said. “Corpus Christi has such a rich history of fighting for justice, so I’m glad we have an opportunity to remind those here of that history and how it connected to the larger movement at that time.”

The exhibition also includes the design work of Islander students Katelynn Phelan ’24, Eric Davila ’22, and Chris Gonzales ’24. Gonzales, a graphic design major, created a zine that focused on the stigma of mental health in the Hispanic community and said he sees similarities between his work and that of the publications featured in the exhibition.

“When creatives in the Chicano community felt that their voices weren’t being heard, they set out to do it themselves,” Gonzales said. “With social justice issues always being a topic of discussion, I want people to see the problems earlier generations were fighting to fix.”

“En El Frente” is sponsored by Humanities Texas, the TAMU-CC Research Enhancement Grant, and the Arts and Culture Commission of Corpus Christi. TAMU-CC Assistant Professional Professor of Art David Hill, who serves as galleries manager, helped install the exhibition. “En El Frente” also features translation work by Dr. Rossy Lima, TAMU-CC Assistant Professor of Translation. The exhibition also includes a listening station where visitors can view Zoom-based interviews with publishers and a section on modern-day zines called “Contemporary Voices.”  


A reception for “En El Frente” will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, in Weil Gallery. The reception will feature a Chicano Publications Panel discussion with activist-designers Carlos Marentes, Director of Border Agricultural Workers Project, and Jesus Medel, Director of Museo Guadalupe Aztlan, along with two current zine activists — Isabel Castro and Natasha Hernandez, co-editors of the contemporary San Antonio-based feminist zine St. Sucia. Castro will also lead a mini zine-making workshop for up to 20 participants starting at 3:30 p.m. in Weil Gallery. To register, click this link. Weil Gallery is open to the campus community as well as the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.