Environment & Social Activism through Art

Carolann Espino - My Life in Art 

Artist Biography

Carolann Espino
"Carolann Cries for the Earth"Self Portrait
San Jose California


 San Jose, California in mid 19th-Century

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 Artist, CAROLANN ESPINO shares memories that are significant to San Jose history and her upbringing. Her family has lived in  San Jose for over a century and has historical significance in the area. Carolann spent a great deal of time with her grandparents.They taught her Spanish and showed her only love. They arrived as poor undocumented immigrants to seek a better life in the late 1920's.. They worked as migrant farm workers, manual laborers and eventually employees of Del Monte Cannery in San Jose.

A cherished  childhood memory was accompanying her father to the local landfill in Alviso at the southern tip of the Bay. It was home to Mexican undocumented and legal immigrants. This place sat below sea level and flooded every year. It had unpaved streets, no post office and few services. As a child,Carolann accompanied her father to the largest dump in the area. For a small child it was a treasure hunt. Carlos, her father, rescued bikes, house items, and miscellaneous tools later to reuse. Visitors could freely roam through trash for hours. Carolann learned to value what others discarded from her father. Recycling is one segment of her art; imprinted in her consciousness from her treasure hunts.

San Jose is the technology center of the world. This of course, had a tremendous affect on the future trajectory of the city. Residents living near the landfill were becoming ill. The electronic and silicon wafer industries was thriving. This industry was known to freely dump toxic chemicals in the landfill and sewer systems. Protecting residents of Alviso was not a priority for city officials. People became ill with disease, and cancer from the exposure to toxic waste. As a result,  Carolann could no longer run all over one of her favorite childhood places. Today areas of Alviso are underwater, with a long abandoned railway station. The rails are no longer used leading hikers to an abandoned ghost town. Chemicals continued to be dumped and it went into water sheds, our ocean and throughout Alviso due to flooding. Carolann painfully describes witnessing her employer at the time, dumping the worst toxic chemicals into the sewer systems. The affected people had to fight for legal representation,  health compensation and many died before much changed. 

 Carolann grew up surrounded by farmland, fruit orchards and open spaces. Her family lived in Saratoga, California in early 1960. She was raised with farm animals and pets which were crucial in her early life. Money and having six children was the major source of conflict between parents. Her early memories when describing her childhood are, "We grew up in a war zone of confusing emotions of love, fear and despair. Her father was trained in the army as an electrician. Rosemary, her mother was a homemaker raising six children. She was a victim of domestic violence and it spilled over to the children. Her mother and her children suffered and so did her father. 

When beginning school she experienced racism from other children. She was called names she never heard before. School books ommitted her cultures contribution to our country. The dolls she played with did not represent her and the cartoons she watched were racist. She uses collectable vintage doll heads in her work sometimes.Many of them are in damaged condition but she repairs them as part of her process. These were the dolls she played with as a child. Saturday morning cartoons consisted of characters such as Speedy Gonzales a rat, Black Sambo, and Asians with slanted eyes, a long braid and buck teeth. Native Americans always portrayed as savages in cowboy movies.  Mexican people were depicted as lazy, and uneducated. Watching Walt Disney on Sunday night gave her the clear message that she could never be a fairy princess.

 She has many role models that affected her deeply. Her uncle, Antonio Soto was the first Chicano head of a church in San Jose. He served at our Lady de Guadalupe for decades. After leaving the priesthood, he married Carolann's aunt, becoming part of her large extended family. Her aunt and uncle were activist and were a great influence. Father Soto was close friends with Cesar Chavez and Robert Kennedy.They met at his church and remained friends until their deaths.

In 1965, Carolann was eleven years old. She was visiting her aunt and uncle in Compton, California. It was one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles with a large African American population.In August, 1965 her visit became a terrifyng experience. Riots broke out all over the country, Carolann hid traumatized as they watched and heard gunfire and witnessed the neighborhood burning. A tall locked cyclone fence protected them from the rioters.

 Carolann's early life was shaped by trauma which as an adult she sought help. She was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)  

Art is one of the powerful healing forces in her life. She has tremendous capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and self examination. She brings this awareness to visual art and social change.  She is a single mother with one adult son, Adam. She closed her business after 14 years to raise her son and moved to the Central Valley in California.

She took up art to share an activity with her boy. Two years later she applied for consideration to Arbor Gallery in Merced. The Board rejected her work but after two attempts she became a member. A  painting she created was featured in the Merced Sun Star. The  first week, at the gallery, Merced College brought a class to view her work. She vividly recalls that day as one of many peak moments in her life. She returned to San Jose after six years and enrolled in  college. She eventually graduated from San Jose State wtih a BFA in Spatial Art,2017.


 Carolann understands the power of her actions, art and voice. She is focused passionately on the environment and social issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, chemical dependency, mental illness and homelessness.

Old Wooden House

Alviso of the past South SF Bay

Ghost Town

Carolann & son Adam
Old Family Picture

Carolann & son Adam

Family in Compton California - Rt to lt - Baby sister Rosemary, Carolann, Cousin Rachael and Counsin FreddyCousins at Riots

Luz  Armas
Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez Founder of  the Farmworkers Movement - Former Resident of San Jose, CA.

Luz  Armas, my beloved grandmother

Immigrated from Mexico and Tio Goyo 



   San Jose, California 95110

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