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Latinx artist channels his own migrant story to empower his community

Posted at 7:04 PM, Sep 23, 2022

Art gave Riko Rivera an avenue to find his voice.

“I could be myself, just dig in deep inside and find myself,” said Rico Rivera, who is a tattoo artist and muralist in Santa Maria.

Most importantly, a blank canvas gave Rivera the courage to embrace his true self.

“Rico is my artistic name but Yurico Caridad Rivera is my full name, and I cherish it because it is the first name my parents ever gave me,” explained Rivera. “It’s the person that brought me who I am today.”

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Artista latino usa su propia historia migrante para empoderar a su comunidad

Three years ago, Rivera began his transition, breaking many barriers along the way.

“First generation in the United States in a very strong Mexican household going against the grain in every aspect, coming out queer when I was in high school and then coming out again as transgender […] in my late 20s,” said Rivera.

A self-portrait now rings differently.

“I found this again, and I saw it in completely different light because instead of seeing myself falling apart, I saw myself building myself back up,” said Rivera.

Rivera, who was born in Mexico City but raised in Santa Maria, keeps his roots close to his heart.

“I miss Mexico but because I grew up here, this is home, so you know, it’s torn apart,” added Rivera.

It is through his tattoo work and paintings that he often shines a light on Mexican icons such as movie stars Pedro Infante and La India Maria.

In April of this year, Rivera painted a mural in Santa Maria commissioned by the Future Leaders of America.

“We’re all one, we’re all together, we’re all united,” explained Rivera. “Those labor jobs are the ones that unite us, so we have to stick together.”

Specific elements are highlighted in the mural, such as students tossing their caps into the sky.

“Education is something they can’t take from you,” said Rivera.

The mural has a monarch butterfly to symbolize immigration and strawberry fields to acknowledge the struggle farmworkers face.

“You can’t really tell if it’s the sunrise or the sunset and that is exactly how it is for our people,” said Rivera. “They are out there from the sunrise to the sunset.”

It also includes a shoutout to DACA recipients, also called Dreamers.

“I want to make that inner child proud and say this is what you wanted to do and you have to work hard,” said Rivera.

His message to the community: know that you are not alone.

“Timing is everything and you really have to go through a storm to really appreciate the sunshine,” said Rivera.

Rivera is hoping to eventually open his own tattoo shop and art gallery to keep showcasing his pieces.

Rivera will be at the 10th Annual Chalk Festival in Old Orcutt on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

The event is from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.