Pedro Rodriguez, 1936 – 2022

by Jessica Fuentes December 8, 2022

Pedro Rodriguez, a San Antonio arts administrator, professor, activist, and artist, died on December 1, 2022 at the age of 86. Perhaps best known in Texas as an early and long-time director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Mr. Rodriguez was a leader in the Chicano rights movement and brought Chicano Studies programs to universities in New Mexico and Washington. 

A photograph of Pedro Rodriguez at an event hosted at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

Pedro Rodriguez. Photo courtesy Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

Born on July 25, 1936 in San Antonio, Pedro Rodriguez earned a BA in Spanish Language and Literature from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in 1964, and an MA in Art and an MFA in Sculpture from the University of Dallas in 1970. In the 1970s he became the first Director of Chicano Studies at New Mexico Highlands University. 

During a panel discussion at the 2019 National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Conference, several students spoke of Mr. Rodriguez’s mentorship and guidance. Noél Márquez explained, “Our mentor/art teacher from Chicano Studies, Pedro Rodríguez, said, ‘You know, you should study a little bit about your own culture, where you come from.’ Pedro was an amazing influence on us… when we came back from the first trip to Mexico in 1972, we painted a mural at Highlands University… and that was powerful; it reawakened our spirit and we just started thinking, ‘We’re community artists, we’re activists, and we’re going to use art to activate and inspire, and to connect to our community.’”

A detail of a mural by Pedro Rodriguez.

Pedro Rodríguez, “El Saber Es La Libertad,” (detail), mural, lobby, Northwest Rural Opportunities, Granger, Washington., 1976, 8 x 11 feet.

After leaving Highlands, Mr. Rodriguez went on to be the first tenured professor in Chicano Studies at Washington State University (WSU) at Pullman. He taught art and Chicano Studies there from 1973 to 1980. During that time, he painted El Saber Es La Libertad, a large mural, commissioned by the Washington State Arts Commission and the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a small farming community in the Yakima Valley. He also took a leave of absence from WSU to work on a project documenting Chicanos in the workplace in south and central Texas. His work has been exhibited in Texas, New Mexico, California, Oregon, and Washington.

A painting by Pedro Rodriguez featuring a raised fist in the foreground and a figure holding a red flag in the background. The flag has white text in Spanish calling for a stop to deportations.

Pedro Rodriguez, “Manifestación,” c. 1980s, oil on canvas, 37 x 32 1/2 inches. Courtesy of Jane and Gilbert Rivera.

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (GCAC) opened in San Antonio in 1980, and three years later, Mr. Rodriguez joined the organization as Executive Director. Over fifteen years he helped shape the organization and some of its best known programs. During his tenure, GCAC launched the Tejano Conjunto Festival (1982), the first and longest-running festival of its kind, and the Guadalupe Dance Company (1991), one of the leading professional Folklórico and Flamenco dance groups in the nation. In 1985, he hired writer Sandra Cisneros to direct the organization’s literary program and photographer Kathy Vargas as the visual arts program director. Throughout his time at GCAC he secured major grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and pushed for the renovation of the historic Guadalupe Theatre. Even after he left his position as director, he continued to consult for the organization and stepped in to assist with transition between directors.

In a press release from GCAC, Executive Director Cristina Balli remarked, “In the 1980s, the political climate was fierce and Chicanos and Chicanas had to fight for every cent they could get their hands on for the community. Pedro was a guiding light for our community. The Guadalupe is what it is today because of him. We stand on strong shoulders and take reverence and pride that Pedro’s legacy will continue to live on through the people he influenced and within the walls of this great institution. Que en paz descanze Pedro!”

From 1998 to 2001, Mr. Rodriguez served as the founding director of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), based in San Antonio. During that same time he also served as a professor of Chicano studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Throughout his decades of experience in arts administration, he served on the board of the National Concilio for Chicano Studies, Instituto Nacional de Artes y Artesanias Chicanas, and the New Mexico Chicano Art Education Association.

Mr. Rodriguez is survived by his wife, Cynthia Cortez; his children, Eva Garcia, Adon Rodriguez, Nicole Rodriguez and Bianca Puleo; and his siblings, Andres G. Cano, Juanita Sylvia R. Ehlers, Jose Enrique Rodriguez and Elías G. Rodriguez.

A black poster with white text. A black and white photograph of a young Pedro Rodriguez is at the center of the poster and the text includes Rodriguez's birth and death dates as well as information about funeral arrangements.

Pedro Rodriguez’s memorial details. Courtesy of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

A viewing will be held at Angelus Funeral Home (1119 N Saint Marys, San Antonio) on Monday, December 12 from 5 to 7 pm, with a rosary service at 7 pm. Mass will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church (1321 El Paso, San Antonio) on Tuesday, December 13 at 10 am.

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