by David Garlock
Many people in Texas volunteer their
time to help children adapt to a difficult world, but few reach out to
Mexican-American children in South Texas with the passion, panache and cultural
fervor of Debbie and Ricardo Backal.
They introduce Mexican-American children to museum-quality
art through their “Museum Goes to School” program, coordinated
with the La Joya ISD in South Texas.
With six children of their own, ranging in age
from 8 to 25, the Backals own
Half Spoon, a McAllen, Texas organization that promotes art from Mexico
and South Texas and features traveling exhibits aimed mainly at children who have had very little or no
contact with art and museums.
They began work in Texas in 2006, emphasizing a family tradition of collecting, studying and
promoting art. “Our main goal is to bring art to as many people as possible, especially
students of all ages in order to preserve art (and) preserve history,” Ricardo
outgoing Ricardo, with piercing blue eyes and a full, well-trimmed beard, is a
dynamic personality who matches well with his wife, who is more reserved yet
shares the same vibrancy and passion for the subject. “Many of these children are seeing a museum
for the first time,” Ricardo explains. “Children hold art in their own hands.
It is no longer something they only read in books,” he says.
Ricardo has a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the National University in Mexico City and comes from an educated family. He credits his
architect father, who is also an art collector, for spurring his interest in
art. His mother has a Ph.D. in history and it shows in his conversation and
He also participates in Imagekind,
website that prints and sells his
print-on-demand images to the public. It also includes a social networking and marketing site for
artists and customers.
Debbie is also
well educated, holding an English
teaching degree from the National
University in Mexico City and is currently finishing her studies in Jewish education in Gratz College in Philadelphia.
You can ‘Touch’ the
The Backals museum-on-wheels for South Texas
children features a rotating
exhibit of some 30 calendar paintings,
both in oil and canvas, their family
has collected over half a century. Knowing few museums allow visitors to touch actual paintings, the
Backals’ took the opposite approach, encouraging
children to touch and feel them at will --- not to mention the silver, coins,
classic piggy banks and other examples of art they bring with them. “We trust them and they see
that,” Debbie explains. “They will remember
having it in their hands.”
They approach a class with the idea
it is a two-way street more than lecturing, Ricardo explains. “When they arrive
at the classroom they see something they have never seen before. We are not
like regular teachers with a blackboard behind us.”
That is an understatement. It’s logical to assume these children, many
from one of the poorest areas in Texas, have never experienced anything like
the ‘Team Backal’ method before. The Mexican couple prepares to show a full art
and Mexican Calendar painting exhibition, and more subtle --- but no less important
--- elements of Mexican culture and history, plus the values of hard work,
pride and self-esteem.