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Siqueiros’ Three Names

Posted on 27 March, 2017

Guillermina Guadarrama Peña
David Alfaro Siqueiros’ actual name was José de Jesús David.[1] This wasn’t unusual in the 19th century; children were given more than two names, even up to six or seven. He was baptized in the church of San José, on January 11, 1897, near the home adress on his certificate of baptism: 30 Arcos de Belén, where there is a furniture shop today. Back then, people would only baptize their children, omitting to inscribe their birth on the Public Registry office, but according to Raquel Tibol in an article published in Proceso magazine, there is indeed a birth certificate but it was issued in Irapuato, Guanajuato, where he was allegedly registered when he was already three years old, by his grandparents, but she didn’t produce any photographs. It may be true, because after his mother died giving birth to his brother Jesús Mario Luis Francisco, his father took them along with their sister María de la Luz to their paternal grandparents’ house in Irapuato. But apparently Siqueiros’ third name wasn’t written down on his birth certificate.
When he first started off as an artist, he was known as Pepe Alfaro. The poet Graciela Amador, his first wife, wrote an article for Hoy magazine, entitled “When Siqueiros was Pepe Alfaro”, in which she recounts how it was she who gave him the name of David, because he reminded her of Michelangelo’s statue, even though according to his certificate of baptism David was actually his third given name. Siqueiros started using only his first name when he returned from Europe, where he had lived since 1919 as part of the culture section of the Mexican embassy in Spain.
At that time, he signed his paintings as Alfaro, as can be seen in Campesinos, ca. 1913, his most famous work from Barbizón, the first Open Air Painting School in Mexico; in Retrato de Carlos Orozco Romero; and in a sketch he purportedly made for a mural at Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where he drew three horsemen riding next to José María Morelos, with a note that says: “sketch for the decorartion of a mural in the small school (sic) of the Preparatoria, measuring 40 meters”. In this sketch, he signs Alfaro, but in the lower part he uses the signature he would use extensively after 1922: Alfaro Siqueiros. Eventually he just signed Siqueiros.


David Alfaro Siqueiros, sketch for a mural, ca. 1920.

Another erroneous information that has been ceaselessly reiterated concerns his birthplace. The artist himself contributed to this confusion. It is commonly believed that he was born in Santa Rosalía, the present-day Ciudad Camargo, Chihuahua; but his parent’s wedding information and his certificate of baptism provide other references. His parents were married in 1894, in the church of San Antonio de las Huertas, in San Cosme, Mexico City. The registry indicates that Teresa Siqueiros lived in Mexico City before she got married: “a local resident”. His father, Cipriano Alfaro, worked in Mexico City with the Amor Escandón family. His certificate of baptism states that José de Jesús David was born on December 29, 1896, and was baptized on January 11 the following year. It is highly unlikely that anyone would travel from Chihuahua all the way to Mexico City in such a short period of time to baptize a child. He was only 12 days old, it was a very long and hazardous journey back then, especially for a woman who had recently given birth.
Why did he maintain that lie until he died? Angélica Arenal, his third and last wife, wrote what she probably heard her husband say about his family: that the Siqueiros were an old family from Chihuahua, a family of musicians, poets, actors, adventurers, romantics and bohemians. She said that “according to the anecdotes people tell about the Siqueiros, and above all having met them in person, one can see that the essential character traits of Teresa Siqueiros, which she in turn passed on to her son, were inherited from this family of artists”.[2]
This would lead us to assume that his mother’s family was more liberal than his father’s. According to Siqueiros’ memoirs, his father belonged to the ultra conservative Knights of Columbus association; he made his children go to mass twice every Sunday and strictly follow the precepts of the Church. Furthermore, Don Cipriano Alfaro married again in 1913, eight years after his first wife’s death, and the artist doesn’t mention this in his autobiography, Me llamaban el coronelazo; he was 17 by then, and living in Barbizón, where he used to stay for several days. Shortly afterwards, he ran away from home to Veracruz, and he later joined the Constitutionalist Army, in a battalion led by General Manuel M. Diéguez. According to his own writings, he wanted to get away from his father’s conservative authority.
His chosen path was to adopt an opposite ideology to his father’s; from being a liberal, he quickly became an active communist militant. Perhaps for these same reasons he adopted as his signature for his works of art the Siqueiros surname, instead of Alfaro (which he had used in his first works), after 1922 when he joined the Communist Party, organized the Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors Union and published its manifesto.
This might also explain why throughout his life, or at least since he first gained recognition, he asserted he had been born in Chihuahua. There is still the matter of discovering why he chose Santa Rosalía instead of the city of Chihuahua, where his mother was born, or Meoqui, a locality situated two hours from the capital city, where his maternal grandmother was born. According to Angélica Arenal in her book Hojas sueltas con Siqueiros, the various Siqueiros families were close to each other, but she doesn’t mention whether they frequented the Alfaro families from Irapuato, which were several because Don Antonio Alfaro was married three times and had many children.

[1] Certificate of baptism, number 893. “Legitimate son of Cripriano Alfaro and Teresa Siqueiros de Alfaro, residents of Arcos de Belén”. His godparents were José María Covarrubias and María Cortés. Maternal grandparents: Felipe Siqueiros and María de la Luz Feldman.

Angélica Arenal, “A photograph in the hands of Alfaro Siqueiros” Siempre, January 26, 1966.


: 1900-1921
, 1922-1940

Latin America

, Visual Culture
, Graphic Arts, Painting

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