Beginning at the age of 14, Vero Sanchez Gomez began their artistic endeavors within the Santa Barbara Arts Alliance, a program assisting at-risk youths within their neighborhoods to explore art. After becoming a mentor in the program, Vero delved into the world of Chicano history and cultura which she currently can express through Chicano Student Programs (CSP) at UCR.

The role of CSP in Vero’s college experience has engraved itself into their life even before UCR. “The main reason why I came to UCR was that my sister was an alumnus. CSP provided support for her, and seeing her graduate motivated me to pursue college since I’m first gen,” Vero stated. Now as a third-year majoring in Anthropology, Vero has collected immense experiences and friendships throughout their 3-year journey at CSP as their Social Media and Marketing Coordinator.

“I feel privileged having art as my main thing, and having CSP value my work. Every piece is very hands-on and there is a contribution from everyone when curating events,” she said.

CSP is known for hosting Semana De La Mujer (Feb. 18-24), “a week-long series that aims to emphasize the accomplishments of Chicanas/Latinas.” This year’s theme: “HERSTORY is healing, strength, and an act of resistance. As we unlearn the things that no longer serve us, lagrimas are what help us release and nourish. Seguiremos floreciendo y brotando con alegría,” as written on their Instagram page.

When talking about this year’s Semana De La Mujer, the joy and passion sparking out of Vero’s voice and eyes was undeniable. “This year was the most personal to me. Our Assistant Director, Arlene Cano Matute, wanted the theme to center around wrinkles —- honoring historias and memories.”

Vero recounted that that same day, her aunt sent her a photo of her grandmother, and after showing the picture to Matute, her grandmother became the central image of the event. “I feel connected to my grandma. She went through so much, and I feel I am a product of her resistance toward the world. I’m in a big academic space, and I hope she is very proud of me.”

The series began with various speaker panels and an art exhibition where Vero had a chance to showcase their work on the first floor of the Rivera Library. When asked if they felt pressure when it came to presenting their work to the public, Vero recalls feeling nervous since she had a three-week deadline of completing the piece.

“Making art for me is chaos, but it’s fun — it’s a fun controlled chaos. When it gets to be not fun anymore is when I need to finish it [a piece]. The last day, I had class and I was between being ‘above the mood happy’ [finishing the piece] or going to class, and I went to class late but I definitely felt rushed, a little going on autopilot. It ended up working out and everyone enjoyed it,” Vero said.

The painting also took on a surrealist approach, and as Vero described, a form of art that takes on fantastical elements with realism. This kind of approach can make pieces feel dreamy, as “surrealism takes on more organic, flowy lines whereas realism takes on more harsh, symmetrical lines.”

Vero later described the messages she wishes to convey in her art. “A lot of my work stems from myself; self-healing, and struggles with mental health. Showing people that even though the world is crumbling around you, you can make your own reality.” Vero went on to say, “A lot of my work has research on it. I base my work on Mexican heritage or different mythology. It’s okay to look into your ancestral roots and look into your culture and thrive within it.”

To end the week, CSP hosted Poesía Peligrosa on Feb. 23, a quarterly event originally hosted by Teatro Quinto Sol (TQS) before it was dismantled during the pandemic. Vero was part of Teatro Quinto’s final year as a freshman, and along with Matute, who was also an alum from TQS, began their goal to host Poesía Peligrosa at The Barn this year.

“[TQS’S] Previous president, Ashley Nicole Diaz, was our keynote speaker for the night. It was amazing, and [Poesía Peligrosa] can be vulnerable and a space to cry. Everyone is willing to listen and be a part of it,” said Vero. “It is a queer-positive, artistic space. It is a space for students to come unrestricted, unfiltered.” Singing, dancing and spoken word are examples of the acts that several students perform during the event. Vendors (often UCR students) are also able to present and sell their pieces to the public.

This year was a true success for Vero and their team, as Poesía Peligrosa welcomed many students into their arms even under the rain. Though Poesía Peligrosa is meant to be a quarterly event, Vero hopes that CSP can continue this and possibly revive TQS. “It may not happen until next year, but there is a lot of support from alumni on campus,” she stated.

For final thoughts, Vero stated that she is thankful for her friends, saying, “They impact my art a lot. [I’ve] been so thankful for all the friendships I’ve created.” Vero also gave a shoutout to Emmanuel Aguilar for their support!