Lancaster city resident Salina Almanzar’s work is rooted in her love for family, community and culture, and with the purpose of community engagement, neighborhood connectivity and creating spaces for collaboration.
A Latinx artist and activist, Almanzar earned a bachelor’s in studio art and English literature at Franklin & Marshall College and a master’s in arts administration from Drexel University.
Almanzar, 28, wears many hats. She currently is teaching at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design and at Franklin & Marshall College, where she also serves as a photography technician. She is a director on the School District of Lancaster’s school board and serves on several committees, including the South Central PA Partners for the Arts. Her mural project on the Water Street Mission was recognized by Americans for the Arts as one of the top 50 public art projects in the nation.
Another interest, Café Pa’lante, will soon come to fruition for Almanzar. It’s a cafe that will utilize traditional brewing methods and cooking and will serve as a cultural space for education and community connections in Lancaster city.
What was the pivotal moment when you decided to set your path as an artist?
I’ve always had a love for the arts. My parents are both artists … creative folks. I’ve learned that my grandmother was also very creative and my family has a long history, as many Caribbean families do, of making things. I first seriously considered a career or lifelong journey in the arts during my high school years.
A teacher asked me what I wanted to be and I remember saying, “Well if I could do anything, I would be an artist but I guess I want to be a doctor.” He challenged the idea that I couldn’t be an artist and that thought sat in the back of my head like a real possibility.
In college, I enrolled as a pre-med student at F&M, but within the first semester realized my heart just wasn’t in it. I had fun writing and experimenting but I couldn’t connect it with the theory. I decided to double major in studio art and English literature because they were my first loves. By the time I graduated, I knew that I could forge my own path and that the arts, reading and writing would always be a part of me.
Connecting with people, their history, your heritage is important to you. How do these connections inspire or inform your work?
I like to think of myself and everyone around me as ancestors. We will all disappear sometime, and I imagine that we want our stories to live on. I also think that our stories are interconnected and if we could see this and honor it, we might be able to live more peacefully together. We need each other.
In my personal work, I’ve been mining my family history as a way to learn more about my maternal grandparents and my connection to the Caribbean (specifically Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic). They passed before I was born and yet I have always felt very connected to them. I think that as people making a home in a brand new place and new country, they would have wanted their stories to be preserved and shared and for their future family to know who they were.
Separately but connected, I also deeply value representation, and I think it’s important for Puerto Rican and Dominican voices to be heard. It’s something I wish I saw more of as a growing artist.
Our history is so beautiful and is full of stories of resilience and powerful women. I try to weave this into my work to show how important it is to understand that we all come from some place. The islands are thought of as small, and yet there are millions of us here on the mainland making art and really molding the culture. We’re small but mighty.
Does your art represent something about you?
A lot of my art is definitely a kind of self-portrait even if my face might not be the first thing folks see. I believe in making work about what you know. I also have always been fascinated by how we change as we grow older. My work has helped document how I’ve changed and how my relationship with my family and myself has changed.
I think it’s our responsibility as makers and creators to be the person we may have needed when we were kids. We can’t do that unless we have a deep connection to our inner child and the freedom that affords.
What does Latinx mean to you and how do you see or envision yourself as a Latinx artist in contemporary art?
Latinx means understanding that gender and sexuality are huge categories and that queer folks of color have always been a part of our history. It’s certainly not a perfect term, but I use it to honor the many ways we can show up in our world.
So often we hear about machismo as synonymous with Latinx culture and yet when we look at our roots — specifically in Puerto Rican culture this would be our Taino roots — we see how women played leading roles in our communities. Even now, we see how the tias (aunts) and abuelas (grandmothers) who keep watch from their windows are the protectors of our neighborhoods.
Latinx helps us reconnect with the spectrum of identities we claim. I tend to use a lot of Taíno and Yoruba indigenous imagery.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.