Environment & Social Activism through Art

Carolann Espino - My Life in Art 

Artist Biography

Carolann Espino Age 8

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


 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.  Her grandparents and other relatives bought plots of land and built their homes enlisting family. Carolann's grandparents lived on the eastside of San Jose, where most Mexican people settled.The older generation are all gone passing the property to children. Some still live on the same plot of land in the same part of town. Carolann's family has a rich history in the San Jose area; living there for over one hundred years.

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. Carlos, her father worked for several electronic companies and traveled internationally. Rosemary, her mother was a homemaker raising her children, cooking, cleanng and washing their clothes.  Her mother and father had a very volatile relationship. which exposed their children to abuse and violence. Her mother later remarried, moved to Mexico and raised four more children.Her father also remarried and moved to Arizona; both are now deceased. Her parents loved their children raising them under extreme pressure.

While a child, a cherished memory was accompanying her father to the local dump in Alviso. 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. Alviso had unpaved streets, no post office and few services. The dump was her favorite adventure with her father. 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. Mexican people were later displaced and segregated to poor areas of Santa Clara County, California.

Carolann recalls the day President Kennedy was brutally assasinated. Her third grade class cried with confusion and sadness. It was one of the many trauma's are nation would face. As a young girl she felt the sting of racism. It affected her deeply being a shy, sensitive child.  In elementary school she learned she was invisible. Her history 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. This was the remnants of the blackface era, Jim Crow and John Wayne Westerns with Native Americans portrayed as savages. Mexicans were depicted as lazy, uneducated, sitting on a burro. Sunday evenings the Walt Disney show had  cartoons such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland. The villains of course were not caucasian.

Carolann's grandfather, Severo Armas preached at a small wooden church surrounded by corn fields. The Catholic priests allowed Severo to give sermons because he spoke Spanish. Later, Father Antonio Soto was the first Chicano  leading a church in San Jose. He served at our Lady de Guadalupe Church for decades. Father Soto took over after the wooden church was abandoned. Father Soto met Cesar Chavez and Robert Kennedy at his church and became involved in the Farmworker's movement. Chavez's family lived in San Jose near her grandmother's house for several years. Cesar was an American citizen born in Delano California. As a farmworker he witnessed injustices and pesticides sprayed on farmworkers. After years of exploitation by ranchers, Chavez founded the Farmworker's Movement. Father Soto, left Our Lady de Guadalupe Church after being disallusioned with the Catholic hierarchy.  Father Antonio Soto, was the founder of the Center for Employment Training, (CET} in San Jose. He then became a professor at San Jose State, Berkeley and Stanford University. After Dr. Soto left the priesthood he married Carolann's aunt, Phyllis Armas; becoming part of the family. Her aunt and uncle were activist and were a great influence to Carolann's future community activities. 

Carolann was eleven years old, visiting her aunt in Compton, California when the riots exploded in 1965. Many of the Compton/Watts neighborhoods  were decaying and dilapidated. It was one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles. During August 11-16, 1965 her visit became a terrifyng experience. Her family hid in their home  while riots all around them were taking place. Carolann hid traumatized with other family members as they watched 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, Dr. King was assasinated  by James Earl Ray; a white supremist


As an adult Carolann moved to Canada and enrolled in Carleton University in Ottawa. The internet was not invented and computer technology was basically non-existent.  Televison brought the world to everyday viewers. During the 60's, white supremist lynched innocent blacks, and Klu Klux Klan reigned. Civil Right's leader, Martin Luther King, John Lewis and others fought for equality and voting rights for black Americans. Carolann watched speeches by George Wallace and other powerful racist. The world watched Bloody Sunday on television. Images of police beating peaceful protestors, using fire hoses and vicious dogs shocked the world. 

 Carolann had various jobs and traveled to many countries. As an adult, Carolann sought help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her life experiences good and bad have influenced her views and her "Artivism." Art is a powerful healing force in her life. As a  survivor of trauma; 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 1988 in Campbell, CA. She became a single mother in 1993 giving birth to Adam Christopher Espino; her only child.  She closed her business to raise her son and moved to Merced, CA.  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 to work 240 miles each week to San Jose while living in Merced She happily returned to San Jose after six years and enrolled at San Jose Community College.  Her greatest gift to herself is her son Adam who is now twenty-seven and a gifted artist. 


Today the world is fighting for environmental justice and the survival of our planet. It is not a mistake that poor communities live in areas that are hazardous to their health. Black, brown and poor people suffer with severe health issues. There are 72 nuclear power plants throughout this country. They are located in rural poor areas and black and brown communities. Carolann is an environmental and social activist. Slowly those in need find their social safety net gone while  the wealthy control the government with lobbyist and gerrymandering, making it difficult for Americans to vote. She understands the power of  her actions, voice and visual art. She has dedicated over a decade 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 in Spatial Art. This fullfilled a lifetime dream. She is also a 3rd Degree Reiki Master. Carolann has a lengthy resume as a community volunteer. Her next goal is to publish her book about Reiki Healing as well as a illustrated memoir. 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

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

Carolann & son Adam



San Jose, California 95110


Artist. Creator. Visionary

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