Erik walks into My Eyes Y Corazon with his Pendleton and beanie, but most importantly he is carrying a bag of fresh picked organic cherries that he just brought back with him from his jefitas house in Gilroy. Its customary that a Mexican never shows up empty handed anywhere, and Eric stayed true to that. I immediately open the bag up and take a bite out of the biggest one I could find. Wow! It was juicy and sweet. I knew the interview would be chill.
He takes a seat on my vibrant cobalt blue sofa and I take a seat on my cilla that I had made for the shop in Mexico. We talk about an array of different things before getting to what I have invited him over for.
As we finally get into the purpose of the interview I couldn’t be more excited to interview someone who I know is doing amazing things for our community. Someone who does all this work with his full heart.
Eric Gonzalez was born in Zacatecas, Mexico. He is proud to be a Zacateco!
Erik came to the United States when he was just 8 months old. 18th street in LA became his home. Graffiti caught his attention at a very young age. At age 5 he began to tag his name here and there. He soon realized graffiti was something that called his name. Soon after he took a real liking to skateboarding. And those two things kind of came hand in hand. He would skate board down the streets of East LA and west Hollywood. He noticed the buildings were covered in graffiti.
He roamed the streets as a kid with his crew, “Era un vago, I was very nomatic.” Erik says.
In LA crews were very big. If you weren’t in a gang you better be part of a crew. Erik recalls going into different neighborhoods and getting into fights just for skateboarding. If they avoided the fight they would have to pay their way through the neighborhood, “Sometimes it was fifty cents and sometimes we didn’t want to give up those fifty cents so a fight it was.”
Skateboarding the streets helped him to see the natural setting of Graffiti. Its something he never forgot.
At age 15 his parents divorced, and he moved to Gilroy with his mom, brother and joined his tios and tias and cousins in this small city. It was a culture shock for him. He was used to the rustle of the city, the sky scrapers, all the art all over the streets. But mostly he was used to his crew. That had all changed. He decided in that moment to give his love for graffiti everything he had and would get super good so he could go back to LA. His primos and himself would ride bikes all over Gilroy, “It was like a 5 block town!” He laughs, “That’s what it felt like anyway. Gilroy was small to me.” Erik remembers.
He decided to take a bus to San Jose, “Hell yeah city!” was his first thought. He would skateboard through the streets and meet new people. He described the graffiti as “Wilder, abstract.”
“The people In San Jose were different. Gangs were different. I wore a lot of Dodgers gear because I was from LA and I would get labeled. I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I had never been in gangs.”
Erik struggled in school as he grew. He joined an Art Center in Gilroy and they promoted graffiti. He also became involved with art centers in San Jose.
He graduated from continuation and became a father at the young age of 18, “You step up to the plate, love does that right?”
Soon after he was a single father.
Erik dropped out of Community College 5 times. He wanted to attend but he couldn’t afford child care for his son and go to school and work at the same time. Resources were not available to single male parents. He struggled to balance it all out.
“I wanted to go to school so bad that I would sneak in to San Jose state classes. I wanted to do something different than what I was doing so I would sit in classes that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do. But as long as I was getting some education that’s all I wanted.”
Erik was a volunteer for a nonprofit handing out posters and such things. Soon he started sharing resources with others and was able to connect them with things or people. He was invited to become the recruiting manager for the nonprofit, which he accepted. Not very long after he was invited to apply for a case manager for young people. He would work with their probation officers and connect them with resources they needed. He did that for the next 10 years. All while still maintaining his graffiti art career he was set on.
“Urbanists” started as an exhibit. It was very successful, and people wanted more. Erik decided to start having meetings with these people that were asking for more and soon “Urbanists Collective” Was founded by no other than Erik Gonzalez.
“My vision was to create an organization of artists to not be judged. Specifically, street influenced at work. Tattoo and graffiti background were welcomed. Then came MC’s, poets and DJ’s. We were a place for artists that didn’t identify elsewhere.”
Erik has been running “Urbanists” since 2011. They show at Art Fairs, Schools and many other places and venues. This is the first year Urbanists is a non-profit, “We use Art for service delivery, training's, workshops, campaigning, after school programs and creative outreach. And they are all art driven.”
Erik and the Urbanists team have a satellite site in Lindsay and one will soon be in Hanford. They are currently working diligently to find the future home of Urbanists. It would be one location to house all the amazing things this group does for the community.
“Having our own building space would let us provide youth services regularly. We could share space with other non-profits as well. We would like to have a commercial business to fund the non-profit portion of us.”
I asked Erik how he keeps true to the cultura.
“I’m just being me. I stopped trying to fit stereo types. In my creative field I can look however I want. You see the hood then you see my work and it speaks for itself. I’m breaking stereo types and starting new ones.”
Our interview ended but our conversation continued of hopes and dreams that we have.
Erik is a true example of keeping true to yourself and what you believe in. Life gets in the way of what our hopes and dreams are, and we can all agree that things get lost in translation. But at the end of the day we have to find ourselves and our purpose. Don’t be afraid to dream big and dream crazy! Esta es nuestra vida, and we are meant to live it to the fullest and mas importante the happiest we can. We owe that to ourselves. Because if we flourish and are happy everyone around us will see it and all we can hope is that they may want the same.
If you would like to do a collaboration with Urbanists Collective you can find them on IG and FB. To check out Erik's work find him under crete_85, I told you, you would find out about the Island of Crete.