90-Year-Old Latina Brings Art to Life and Life to Her Art

90-Year-Old Latina Brings Art to Life and Life to Her Art

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Gloria Patiño, 90, is shown with gift cards made from her artwork. Photo by Johanes Roselló/Mundo Hispánico

ATLANTA -- An Ecuadorean woman who resides in Georgia is an example of how living more means we have to live better.

Gloria Patiño, who was born in Quito, Ecuador and has lived half of her life in Atlanta, not only celebrated Christmas recently, but also her 90th birthday.

Her eyes have seen many seasons, and it was her desire to know the colors of autumn and winter that she said motivated her to immigrate to the United States in 1962 and settle in Georgia four years later.

"I had seen Coca Cola posters with such beautiful colors of summer, fall, winter, and this does not exist in Ecuador. I still marvel at how wonderful autumn is, and winter with its snow is marvelous,” said Patiño. 

Keys to Her Longevity

Patiño belongs to a group that, in addition to having increased in age, has grown in numbers, according to the latest U.S. Census. The 40 million people ages 65 years and older in the United States has increased by a greater percentage than the overall growth of the country’s population since the 2000 census.

Patiño talked while offering a children’s art class at a stand she has at a fruit and vegetable market in Atlanta.

She arrives there every Sunday, dragging a wooden cart built by her son, Manuel Patiño, that accommodates her watercolors, brushes and paper for the children to draw on and color. Patiño walks there from her home located a few blocks away.

Patiño is in good health, which she attributes to her diet and spiritual life. She says she eats vegetables sold in the market and drinks plenty of water.

"The doctors tell me I am in very good health for my age," she said.

Patiño is an example of the latest scientific studies that link longer life to a person’s lifestyle.

Lifestyle and Heredity

"Hereditary factors help increase longevity by only about 30 percent. Environmental factors have a greater impact and we know there are other factors like lifestyle that are incredibly important," said Donald Ingram, president of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), during the organization’s 64th Annual Scientific Meeting held in Boston in November.

Ingram, a neuroscientist at the University of Georgia, Athens, noted the GSA conference theme, “Lifestyle Contributes to Lifespan,” and said factors, such as diet, smoking, education, stress management and physical activity have an impact on how many years people live.

Patiño exercises and can be seen walking with ease through the market, as she greets other people who have stands there. Every Friday she goes to the Latin American Association where a group of elders gathers to share experiences and exercise together. Her daughter, María Earl, offers group exercise classes.

"I am happy with my children. I have raised them well. They have all gone to high school and have done what they wanted to do. They are all doing well, thank God," said Patiño, who had nine children, of whom seven are still living. She also has 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The senior population increased across the country, but the South has the highest number of elders, according to the 2010 Census.

According to census figures, there are 1,033,898 people in Georgia over age 65, up from 785,275 in 2000. Patiño is one of 20,080 Latino elders in the state, a majority of whom are women.

In his demographic analysis, titled “The Graying of the Rainbow,” Steven Wallace told reporters attending the GSA conference at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), that if this trend continues, the Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, 43 percent of the U.S. elder population will be ethnic.

While Patiño and her contemporaries are living longer, she also gives life to her years. She says that her spirituality has a lot to do with her health.

"The secret is my faith in Christ. That's the truth. I love Christ so much because he is the only thing that sustains me in all ways," said Patiño, who worships at an evangelical church.

Gloria “The Artist” Is Born

Patiño looks for strategies to keep in good spirits: daily walks, painting and volunteering at a senior center. Patiño, “the artist,” was born during one of the hardest moments of her life, she said.

"It really started when my husband died in 1999, and I was left alone. I came here [to the vegetable market] very sad," she remembered. Offering art classes for children was the ideal way to handle mourning the loss of Angel Patiño, her husband of 52 years.

She recounted how their early years in the United States were very difficult because her husband, an architect, could not get work at first. She also said it was “terribly difficult to learn English.”

Eventually, Angel landed an architectural job, where he would serve as one of the designers of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. In the meantime, though, Gloria helped support the family by working in a garment factory. Her love of art remained in the background.

Although she has not formally studied art, she said artists such as French impressionist Claude Monet, inspire her fine drawings. Some of her work appears on cards Patiño sells or gives to her friends as gifts. 

"At first it bothered me to be called an artist, but then I said, 'Gloria, if you're making art, then, why does it bother you to say you’re an artist?’” she said with a laugh.

Also a writer, Patiño has won awards for her poetry and wrote a memoir titled "A Life Well Lived."

"I have made myself a woman here, that's the truth. I've made myself a person,” said Patiño who explained that the opportunity to teach the children every Saturday at the market fills her with life. "I have a very beautiful experience with the children and they really are a reason for me to leave the house and to do something productive," she said.

Now at 90, Patiño said she is surprised to be alive, but she recognizes that there is an important reason that keeps her celebrating birthdays.

"The Lord has me here for something, and that something is to help and encourage people. Suddenly, a word of recognition brings a feeling of peace, joy, of changing the mood," she said. 



Johanes Roselló wrote this article as part of the MetLife Foundation Journalists on Aging Fellowship, a project of the GSA and New America Media.