He traveled to China and Cuba. Returning, he aligned himself with Chavez's UFW. He once said, "I love people more than art," and set out to prove it as a social worker in the Boyle Heights district.
"It lasted about five years," said Romero. "Carlos continued to paint, too, then he just burned out behind the inevitable disillusionment of realizing that a guy like Chavez is only human and that his own save rate as a social worker was very low. About five of his clients were murdered, 15 went to jail. He saved a couple."
"Los Four" opened first at UC Irvine, where it was conceived by Hal Glicksman. The LACMA showing was another kind of acid test for the young artists. "We weren't ready for such a show. Much of the criticism of it was right but we weren't about to pass up our big break," said Romero.
The same year "Los Four" opened, Almaraz met Elsa Flores. In 1981 they married. Soon after, his career took off. He was included in an increasing number of prestigious museum solo and group exhibitions. In 1984 he contributed a poster to a portfolio for the Olympic Arts Festival. In 1987 he was part of the Corcoran Gallery's traveling exhibition, "Hispanic Art in the United States," a bellwether of rising interest in the genre.
Despite the attention, he still maintained a degree of militancy. In 1989, when the Corcoran show opened at the County Museum, he told a Times reporter: "(Institutions) are not interested in Hispanic art. It's like the song, 'Another Op'nin', Another Show.' This is supposed to appease the peasants. People will be quiet for another 15 years."
By then, Almaraz had devoted himself to making prints and inventing memorable half-dreamed images of enchanted nights in Echo Park and cars exploding on L.A. freeways.
Flores, interviewed in her comfortable, art-filled home in South Pasadena, said: "Carlos wanted to be a mainstream painter. When he began to have a career, it caused a lot of resentment among his old friends. I think they were more hurt than angry."
As for their personal relationship: "Carlos had dated a lot and lived with two women before we met. He made no secret of his sexual orientation. He wrote about it in his journals, which he knew would one day be public.
"We knew each other as friends for seven years before the relationship turned romantic. We kept to ourselves after we were married and spent summers in Hawaii. After Maya was born, he said he finally had all he wanted--a family and his work. We made love and painted.
"Carlos was devastated when he learned he was HIV-positive. He worried Maya and I would be infected, but we weren't. He kept quiet about it because he didn't want to be an 'AIDS celebrity.' He kept working hard. He left thousands of pieces."