Environment & Social Activism through Art

Carolann Espino - My Life in Art 

Artist Biography

Carolann Espino Age 8, Self Portrait "Carolann Cries for the Earth"


 San Jose, California in mid 19th-Century


 Artist, CAROLANN ESPINO includes memories that are significant to local San Jose history and her upbringing. She spent a great deal of time with her mother's parents. They taught her Spanish and showed her a rich Mexican culture.  Carolann's family has a rich history in the San Jose area; living there for over one hundred years. They worked hard beginning as migrant farm workers, as manual laborers and eventually as employees of Del Monte Cannery in San Jose at the height of the agricultural boom in California.

A cherished  childhood memory was accompanying her father to the local dump in Alviso near the outskirts of San Jose. It was a treasure hunt finding discarded toys. Her dad rescued bikes, and house items later to repair and reuse. Carolann learned to value what others discarded. Alviso, a subsidiary outside the city of San Jose was home to Mexican illegal and legal immigrants. Alviso was below sea level and flooded every year. It had unpaved streets, no post office and few services. Years later, it was discovered that residents near the landfill were becoming ill. The electronic and silicon industries freely  dumped toxic chemicals at the landfill as well as sewer systems.  Protecting residents of Alviso was not a priority of city officials. The residents began to get sick with cancers.  Carolann could no longer run around the dump. Today areas of Alviso are underwater, with  a long abandoned railway station and tracks leading to an abandoned ghost town. These chemicals ended up in our oceans as well as seeping into water sheds. Residents of Alviso had to fight for health services and compensation and many died.

Carolann's childhood home was surrounded by farmland, fruit orchards and open spaces. Her parents moved to Saratoga, California; located thirty minutes from downtown San Jose. She was raised with pets and farm animals and always brought home a stray. Money was always a source of conflict. Her father many times held two or three jobs. Carolann's father, was trained as an electrician in the United States Army. Her father Carlos, worked for several electronic companies and traveled internationally. Rosemary, her mother was a homemaker raising her 6 children like most women during the mid 19th century.  Her mother and father had a very volatile relationship  affecting their children. Her parents later divorced and left California while their children remained in the San Jose area.

As a child she felt the sting of racism in school. The name calling affecting her deeply as a shy, sensitive girl.  Her school books had no mention of her culture's contribution to America. The dolls she played with did not represent her and the cartoons she watched were visually racist. 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. John Wayne Westerns with Native Americans portrayed as savages were very popular.  Mexicans were depicted as lazy, uneducated, sitting on a burro. Walt Disney  cartoons such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland were all caucasian. She knew she could never be a fairy princess. These messages were sent to children over and over.

Carolann was eleven years old, visiting her aunt and uncle in Compton, California. Many of the Compton/Watts neighborhoods  were decaying and dilapidated. It was one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles with the large majority of the population being African American. During August, 1965 her visit became a terrifyng experience. Her aunt, herself and cousins hid in their home  while riots broke out all over the city. Carolann hid traumatized  as they watched and heard the neighborhood burning. The National Guard shot at African Americans running down the street. Some of those running were neighbors who visited her family. A cyclone fence protected them from the rioters. Three years later in 1968 Martin Luther King was assasinated by white supremist ,Earl Ray.

Father Antonio Soto was the first Catholic priest leading a church in San Jose. He served at our Lady de Guadalupe Church for decades. After leaving the priesthood he married Carolann's aunt, Phyllis Armas; becoming part of her large extended  family. Her aunt and uncle were activist and were a great influence to Carolann's future community activities. Father Soto met Cesar Chavez and Robert Kennedy  at his church and became involved with the Farmworker's movement. Chavez's family lived in San Jose near her grandmother's house for several years.  Father Soto, was the founder of the Center for Employment Training, (CET} in San Jose. He then became a professor, author and professor.at San Jose State, Berkeley and Stanford University.

 Several traumatic events framed Her early life,  As a young adult, Carolann sought help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Art is a powerful healing force in her life.   She has a tremendous capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and self awareness. She brings this awareness to her visual art and causes she supports. She opened a Day Spa in Campbell, CA. obtaining a Cosmetology State License in 1988. She became a single mother in 1993 giving birth to Adam Christopher Espino; her only child.  She closed her business after 14 years to raise her son .She moved to Merced, CA where her sister resided.  She began to dabble in art. She became involved in the Merced art community and later became the first hispanic women to become part of Arbor Gallery. She submitted art and was rejected twice until one of her paintings was featured in the Merced Sun Star newspaper.  The first week at the gallery, Merced College brought an entire class to view her work. She remembers that day as one of many peak moments in her life. She  communted 240 miles each week to San Jose while living in Merced. She did this to be home with her child working three days each week and receiving state and federal  assistance. She happily returned to San Jose after six years and enrolled at San Jose Community College, fulfilling a  lifetime dream to achieve a degree.She worked part time in several salon/spas while raising her son. Her son Adam is now twenty-seven and a gifted artist.  

Today the world is fighting for racial, and environmental justice. Carolann understands the power of  her actions, voice and visual art. As an artist she has dedicated almost two decades bringing attention to climate change, animal extinction, pollution and protecting our oceans. She has extensive experience as a curator, artist, teacher and consultant. She graduated from San Jose State University in 2017 with a BFA.  She is also a 3rd Degree Reiki Master. Carolann has a lengthy resume as a community volunteer, advocating for the homeless, women and other social causes. She continues to focus on environmental issues, donating to causes to support the planet and creating art to support her activities.

Alviso of the past South SF Bay

Ghost Town

Carolann & son Adam

Family in Compton California - Rt to lt - Baby sister Rosemary, Me, Cousin Rachael and Counsin Freddy

Luz  Armas, my beloved grandmother

Immigrated from Mexico and Tio Goyo 

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

Artist. Creator. Visionary

S         carolannespino@gmail.com

San Jose, California 95110


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