Miguel Angel Reyes

For Miguel Angel Reyes, finding a family has been a long journey that has taken him from Barrio Soler in Tijuana, B.C., across the border to Silver Lake in Los Angeles, and back again, to Mexico. "I've had to create a family for myself since I've been living here," he explains, pointing to a gallery of vivid, brilliant images. "This is my other family." Beautiful faces. Bold portraits bathed in color and light. Stark images; a row of subjects which unabashedly stare back at you, revealing a sense of character and deep emotion, daring you to look at more than what you see.

Since finishing his studies at Otis Parsons School of Design over eight years ago, Reyes has surrounded himself with a carefully selected nexus of friends, mostly men, a few women, mostly gay; a loosely knit unit that values each other, and most importantly for Reyes, accepts him for who he is. Indeed, this cadre of friends is his "found" family. "I have another family, my real family," he notes. But Reyes is quick to point out that the term "real" family does not devalue his "found" family, or vice versa.

>From the time he was born in Colima, Mexico and raised in the barrio two blocks from the United States/Mexican border, Reyes has never wanted for family. He grew up with his mother and father, five other siblings, as well as a bevy of other elders and relatives. "We had a lot of relatives who would stop at our house on the way to la frontera," he recalls. One of Reyes's most vivid childhood memories is that of laying awake at night and listening to the sounds of people scurrying across his front porch as they hid in shadows and edged toward the fence, la linea, separating the U.S. from Mexico. An unending, nighttime parade of people. Inevitably, Reyes's family made the trip themselves, deciding to stay in Los Angeles following one of their many vacations. "I remember our vacations. We had lots of vacations. My father would come in and tell everybody we were going on a 'vacation'. That meant we were going to Fresno to pick grapes for the summer."

The family settled in Aliso Village, a housing complex just east of downtown Los Angeles. "A concentration camp," Miguel succinctly recalls. It didn't take long for Reyes's father to decide he didn't like Los Angeles as much as he expected, and to pack up his family and head back towards Mexico. They returned to the border one mile from la linea, only this time, on the U.S. side. Again, Reyes stayed up and listened to the sounds of so many shadow people, night after night, cutting through the back yard, hoping to disappear into the city before la migra (the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service Border Patrol) turned them back. No doubt, Reyes's portraits, his remarkable gallery of faces, each inspired by the individual soul of his subjects, are borne out of his memory of the legion of the nameless and faceless. His portraits command the viewer to stop, look, and identify the person. Everybody, everyone, has a name, a face, a family story. After a short sojourn into the fashion industry following graduation, Reyes pursued painting, and today makes his living doing portraits, teaching, illustrating books and taking on the occasional public art project commissions, notably a recent temporary installation in Hollywood for the MTA. Reyes also works actively on issues in the gay community, especially with VIVA, a gay and lesbian Latino arts collective, promoting their inclusion and presence in the contemporary Los Angeles arts scene.

As is the case for many of his friends, there remains a muted separation between Reyes's "found" family and his "real" family. It is another kind of line, a crossing back and forth both geographically and socially, that is now part of Reyes's family story. "I was in high school, doing fashions, [and] my father would see that and call me to come work on the car. Which I did. Sure. Afterwards, I would go back and finish my design," Reyes remembers, smiling, not laughing, at la linea that was created so many years ago.

Nowadays, Reyes communicates well with his father, and is about to head down to Mexico to attend a huge family wedding and reunion. He is a little nervous, but very much looking forward to seeing his real family again. Fortified by support from his found family, but not forsaking either side, Reyes has learned how to cross the border.

by Tomas Benitez

Born in Colima, Mexico, Reyes immigrated to the United States in 1975 with his family and began his career as an artist after graduating from the Otis Art Institute/Parsons School of Design in 1987. Reyes's work has been featured in places like the Mexican Fine Arts Gallery Museum in Chicago, Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles, the Laguna Art Museum, and even the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle for a mural project commissioned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

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