Cheech Marin discusses Chicano art, marijuana and movies at U-M Ann Arbor

Actor/comedian/musician Cheech Marin speaks inside the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Jerome Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

Ann Arbor, Mich. — Actor/comedian/musician Cheech Marin was the featured speaker at the U-M Penny Stamps Speakers Series on Thursday evening inside the Michigan Theater. He discussed various topics including Chicano art, marijuana and some of his movies.

Marin from “Cheech & Chong” fame talked about his old movie “Up in Smoke.”  “This movie took off like a rocket.  That’s when Cheech & Chong really exploded,” says Cheech.

Did you ever think weed would be legal?  “It was always legal to me,” as the audience chuckled.  “My dad was a policeman, LAPD.  I was almost going to be a priest.  I was on my way to a junior seminary.  I went to a party and no women?  Let me re-think this,” he says.

“I went to a Catholic school in the liberal arts program and went to the library every Saturday.  I built a relationship with the librarian and took out books; that’s where I learned about art.  Paintings have to be seen in person.  It is an experience.  Oil paintings take years to dry.  When I got in a position that I could afford art, I bought paintings.  I have always been a collector of something, i.e. baseball cards, matchbook covers, etc., added Cheech.

All the masterpieces of Chicano Art was still out there, ready to be bought.  “My last semester in college, I always knew I was an artist.  I could never draw.  The teacher said ‘draw a picture’ of something in the Central Market.  I drew a banana squash.”  The teacher said, “Well, you’ll never be an artist.”  “My artistic soul withered up and died.  But I loved art.  Art was something you can learn to do.” 

In his last semester at Cal State, he enrolled in Ceramics.  “Then, I made pottery from when I woke up until I went to sleep.  It didn’t please my father.  “You want to be a potterer?” he said.

Cheech is an activist for latino artists.  “You know one Chicano artist, then you meet lots of Chicano artists.”  He advocates and exhibits Chicano art.  “It was something I can relate to.  Why isn’t there more Chicano art museums?  No directors wanted to acknowledge Chicano art.  So Cheech got sponsors and put an artistic presentation in San Antonio, Texas.

What does Chicano mean?  Chicanos are Mexicans who left Mexico and came to the United States.  They were no longer Mexicanos.  They were called Chicanos.  “My father always called himself a Chicano.  Chicano has a can-do spirit.  That is part of Chicano culture.”

He then opened The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of Riverside Art Museum in June 2022.  There was a building that needed to be refurbished and it was offered to Cheech for his collection.  Art would be housed there permanently.  “It was a huge opportunity.  The Museum has incredible reviews.  When we opened, we were voted one of the top 50 shows in the world.  We are  trying to fill in the colors with old art from the past along with new ones.”

For more info about  The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of Riverside Art Museum, visit

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