Shared from the 5/13/2019 San Antonio Express eEdition

Young migrants say in art what they can’t in words

Their exhibit, ‘Soñando Despierto (Dreaming Awake),’ to benefit shelter


Samuel Rivas, 18, of El Salvador works on a linocut during a workshop at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


Rivas titled his piece “Corone,” meaning “A Crowning.” He said it signifies his goal of coming to the U.S. and doing it safely.

Photos by Jerry Lara / Staff photographer

Juan de Dios Mora, left, guides Anael Saramiento Munoz, 18, of Honduras as he makes a monotype. At right is the Rev. Phillip Ley of Posada Guadalupe.

Photos by Jerry Lara / Staff photographer

Peniery Mendoza, right, shows his linocut print to Rev. Phillip Ley of Posada Guadalupe during an art workshop at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


Walter Rodriguez, 18, high-fives professor Juan de Dios Mora during a printmaking class at UTSA. Rodriguez titled his piece, “Sentimiento,” which means “Feeling.” In the center of the heart in his print is an eye. “The essential is invisible through the eye,” Rodriguez says of his work.

When artist Jesus Toro Martinez asked the students in a painting class he led for young migrants to create a landscape depicting home, one of them teared up.

Martinez asked him why.

“He said, ‘Where I come from, it is beautiful green landscapes, trees, fruits grow everywhere, but you never know who’s right next to you. You have to be afraid of your shadow — it might be somebody who wants to kill you,’ ” said Martinez, who runs Lone Star Art Space. “By hearing those stories, it made me more compelled to open my heart and go deep into my pocket and try to figure out something to give them a free art class.”

Martinez is part of a group of artists featured in “Soñando Despierto (Dreaming Awake),” an exhibit benefiting Posada Guadalupe, a San Antonio shelter for young migrants in need of a place to stay while pursuing asylum in the United States.

The exhibit includes works that young migrants who live at Posada Guadalupe have created over the past month in weekly art classes with Martinez, Juan de Dios Mora and Gary Sweeney. In addition, a number of established San Antonio artists — including all three teachers who worked with the migrants, as well as Kellis Chandler, Felicia Esparza, Ana Hernandez, Erick Villareal and others — have contributed works. Most of the proceeds from the pieces sold will go to Posada Guadalupe.

The art classes and the exhibit grew out of artist Tracy Biediger’s desire to do something to help young migrants, sparked by news coverage of the surge in immigration from Central America. When she read a social media post about a series of portraits that artist Cruz Ortiz had done of migrants at Posada Guadalupe, she thought she might be able to use art to benefit the shelter and the young men who live there.

“I have boys their age, and so when I looked at them, I thought, ‘That could be my son,’ ” she said. “The thought of them being by themselves and being away from their families, it moved me.”

She thought an art exhibit for Posada Guadalupe, which relies exclusively on donations, might be just the ticket. She also wanted to find a way for the young men to take classes so they could express themselves through art.

As she was asking artists to donate work, a mutual friend suggested that she reach out to artist Bill FitzGibbons, who runs Dock Space Gallery, about showing the exhibition there.

FitzGibbons, who has created work dealing with the border, agreed. As it happens, he had planned an exhibit for May in the main Dock Space gallery featuring works by artist Fernando Andrade and Galileo Gonzalez, a young migrant from El Salvador he had been mentoring. Biediger’s concept fit with that show, FitzGibbons said, so he decided to put it into the Dock Space Annex.

FitzGibbons donated some of his own work for the show and sale. He brought Martinez on board to teach and to exhibit some of the work in his neighboring space, too. FitzGibbons also lined up other artists to work with the migrants.

“I’m fully aware that we’re not trying to make artists out of these guys,” he said. “But my experience is that art gives two things to an individual: self-esteem and the ability to think outside of the box. So if they can take any of that away from this, then it will be to their benefit.”

He also hopes that the project will offer a counter to some of the recent rhetoric around the issue of immigration.

“It’s just amazing, the false information about rapists and MS-13 is coming to kill us all and this is who’s coming,” he said. “And it’s not.

“That’s one of the reasons I jumped on this. It’s a small thing, but a thousand-mile journey starts with a first step.”

The Rev. Phillip Ley, who founded Posada Guadalupe 13 years ago, strongly encouraged all of the young men in the shelter to take part because he sees value in the project that runs deeper than the money it raises.

“If they can do art, that expresses things that they can’t say,” he said. “They all have trauma. One of the boys made his first painting, and it’s a heart with an eye in it in tears. It says something like, ‘Tears are the words of the heart that can’t be expressed.’

“I think it’s helpful just to express things they don’t have a vocabulary for. Even in Spanish, they don’t know how to express it.”

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