Homegrown comic book artist celebrates leaders who shaped Arizona and U.S. history

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Readers who love the dozens of genres celebrated at the Tucson Festival of Books will also meet authors during special panels this weekend.

For comics artist Henry Barajas, it’s a homecoming of sorts. His journey took him from Tucson to Los Angeles and several major comic studios.

This Sunday, Barajas will share his family’s history in Tucson and Southern Arizona. That history, he said, shaped the heroes and social issues he highlights in his works.

Before sitting down for that panel discussion, Barajas wanted to visit one of his favorite places growing up: Fantasy Comics on First Avenue, north of Grant. In the 1990s, Barajas said his parents bought comic books because they thought they would be worth a lot of money to sell in the future.

They didn’t expect him to read the boxes of issues from cover to cover. The experience sparked his love for the art form, and at a young age, Barajas said he also learned about civil rights leaders like his great-grandfather Ramón Jaurigue.

In his research as an adult, Barajas said he took a deep historical dive into how Jaurigue helped found the group La Voz de MAYO (Mexican American, Yaqui & Others) and in turn the Pascua Yaqui tribe and community helped gain official recognition. of the US government.

Barajas said he is grateful that this passion project was turned into a book that Joe Schmidt, an educator and liaison in New York City, felt was so important that it needed to be shared in schools thousands of miles away.
“He incorporated ‘La Voz de MAYO’ into the New York public education curriculum, which is the largest in the country,” Barajas said. “Millions of kids are going to read it in New York and learn about Tucson and my great-grandfather.”

This collaboration gave Barajas the idea to write his latest comic book – another project about a historical figure who also shaped history.

Barajas pointed out that many children in Arizona schools currently know much more about Cesar Chavez’s legacy as a labor activist. However, students are now less enthusiastic about Dolores Huerta, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and co-founded the United Farmworkers Association.

Through that partnership with the NYC Department of Education, Barajas found the support to write a biography of Huerta, but he also wanted to highlight how Asian farmworkers played a crucial role in changing the history of labor rights in the U.S. after the Delano- grape from 1965. strike.

“I hope (this book) challenges people and challenges what they think they know,” Barajas said. “I learned a lot and I hope… they learn something, and that’s the goal when you pick up a comic and you’ve learned something that you never thought you could get out of something like this.”

When he returns home, Barajas also likes to visit another part of his neighborhood. This week he made time to visit teens at the Pima County Juvenile Corrections Center in South Tucson, on Ajo Way.

For Barajas, these visits are an opportunity to show the next generation two things: art can give them a tool to express themselves, and a reminder that their current situation is just a bump on the road to a long life full of promise.

Jose Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in Southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska, where he reported on topics ranging from local, state and federal elections to toxic chemical spills and community programs impacting immigrant families. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by sending an email jose.zozaya@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Tweet.

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