When Harrell Fletcher gave the task of interviewing alumni for this term’s SoFA Journal, I replied within seconds to call dibs on Carlos Reynoso. Carlos graduated from the PSU Art + Social Practice MFA program in June 2021. Now, Carlos is a co-owner with Polo Bañuelos of Mis Tacones, a Chicano and queer-owned vegan taqueria in Portland, Oregon founded in 2016.
My previous interviews have focused on youth empowerment and intergenerational relationships. I found that my interviews have highlighted the power of cultural work and organizing. I’d like to continue exploring this theme for my second year in the program. Cultural practices gave me the tools to reclaim my position within the art world, critique the art world, and be rooted in community at the same time.
Alongside this, one of the reasons that I applied to the program was due to the cultural work and organizing of Carlos. They were the first person that I confided in when I dropped out of the program before school even started. While I did re-join the program, Carlos has been an icon for me in finding process-centered work that is true to my queerness and brownness and speaks to the refugees who raised me and my low-income upbringing. Carlos has been busy taking care of a big baby but I was lucky enough to catch them via text message as shown below.
Lillyanne Phạm: Compare themes relevant to your practice when you graduated in 2021 to now.
Carlos Reynoso: I am not sure I understand, and honestly I currently feel like I haven’t really been very disciplined when it comes to continuing my practice. Currently, I have been working nonstop with my partner, both business and romantic partner, that is, on our family business. It’s more than a family business, it has become a space for black and brown people to work together and build community. A break from the whiteness of Portland, we have this work space to empower ourselves to be talented cooks, bartenders, bakers, content creators, community organizers, and anything we wish to explore while highlighting our own experiences and celebrating our cultures. It is very important for us to do that because we live in a culture that seems to want to steal it from us through cultural appropriation. I am not sure anymore if Mis Tacones is an art project and honestly it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I’m just happy we can share it with others so they can empower themselves and find ways to celebrate and uplift communities that tend to be marginalized, or at times fetishized by outsiders for their own personal gain.
Lillyanne: How has academia helped and hindered your practice?
Carlos: To be completely honest I struggled with this question mostly because I have a lot of trauma when it comes to education. I have struggled my whole life as a student. I was never into books; I preferred watching tv and movies. I was more of a dreamer, creating stories and fantasies. In school, I tried really, really hard to get by and barely made it, it took me 8 years to earn a BA. After I graduated from the MFA program I discovered that I am not a conventional student, my whole life I have learned unconventionally through people I love and care about. My first introduction to storytelling was from the films I watched con mi abuelita. These films exposed me to old Mexican cinema, The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema of the 1940s and 50s. Films such as Macario (1960) introduced me to longing and despair, and the realization that I am one day going to die. Mis hermanas and I all love the 1997 film Mi Familia. This film made me realize that I could be a writer like Edward James Olmos’s character. While working in the various non profits as a social worker I learned empathy, compassion, patience, and that even the most vulnerable individual never wants to be saved, you have to empower them so they can save themselves. I learned all these from the various mentors I had the honor of working under. As a small business owner I have learned that sometimes you have to create things not only for yourself but for people you love and care for deeply.
Lillyanne: How has food and language grounded and shaped your practice?
Carlos: Food has shaped my practice a ton, it’s my love language. I love watching our cooks create food and see the joy it brings them. I spend all my time cooking on our line. Even when I am not needed as a line cook I find a way to get back on. I absolutely love love love feeding people, whenever I can I hook people up it’s my way of telling them I care and that I want to spread warmth. I am also very interested in having others spread the love of their experiences with food through their own culture or food they love eating and cooking.
Lillyanne: How has achieving Mis Tacones as a storefront impacted you?
Carlos: The storefront of Mis Tacones has impacted me in various ways, I am soooo soooo soooo tired, and I say that with a lot of love. When you have a baby you lose a lot of sleep and you have to make a lot of sacrifices. I see Mis Tacones and its new storefront as our new born baby that will eventually be strong enough for us to not be so sleep deprived and overworked. I also don’t see it as just ours. It also belongs to our beautiful staff and community who love it and support it. I have always seen Mis Tacones as belonging to the community, a space to belong to and feel seen. I hope one day I can eventually move on so I can focus on other projects.
I would love to write a short film or go back to writing up crazy stories. I am also so beyond proud of my beautiful husband who has gone on this intense and most difficult journey with me he is the only one who really understands how hard complex and messy being a small restaurant owner is in one of the most fucked up capitalistic countries in the world.
Lillyanne: How have you honored your brownness, queerness, and past after the graduating?
Carlos: I have always honored my brownness but just recently like in the last couple of years started to celebrate my queerness. I am older and grew up during a time of a lot of shame, especially within my culture. During my last year in the program I jumped into a very hard and complex graduate project dealing with commercial sex venues. The project was intended to celebrate queer sexuality and highlight sex positivity but I traumatized myself because I was still internalizing a lot of shame, the shame I grew up around by my family who didn’t really accept me and the shaming I received as a queer kid by the gay community for not being white, buff AF and super masculine. All that shame and trauma came up while working on this project. It was heavy. Once I graduated, I abandoned the project all together because it felt like I was projecting a lie; I didn’t feel empowered through my sexuality and that’s something I am still dealing with and processing, and honestly it’s okay that I am.
Sexuality is extremely complex. I hope I can pick the Proyecto Bathhouse project back up one day because I really enjoyed connecting with others through the project and I love the storytelling opportunities it created.
I also loved collecting and archiving.
Lillyanne Phạm (b. 1997; LP/they/bạn/she/em/chị) is a cultural organizer and artist facilitator living and working in East Portland. Their personal work centers on low-tech ancestral wayfinding, nesting, and communicating. Her current collaborative projects are a queer teen artist residency program at Parkrose High School, a canopy design for Midland Library, and a youth learning program at Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. LP’s work has been supported by Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Mural Arts Institute, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the City Arts Program – Portland, and the Dorothy Piacentini Endowed Art Scholarship. For a longer bio and more work visit: https://linktr.ee/lillyannepham
The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.
Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.
Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program