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My teachers helped me survive middle school and prepare me for high school. I went to Elsie Allen High School and graduated from Santa Rosa High School in 2006 after transferring there in my senior year to focus on studying art. I think the schools are making strides in serving students from different socioeconomic background like me. They are starting to celebrate Latino culture, but there are still some gaps. There was a very supportive community in the schools. Students could access college-prep programs for Sonoma State University. But, culturally, there was also some negativity toward us as students. During lunch one day, a student said he wanted to rape an illegal because he knew she wouldn't call the police.
I was very shy as a teenager, something people don't associate with me now now. I spent most of my time creating art while I learned English. When you're a teen, it's hard to come to terms with who you are, and as a person of color, a perception of who you are is often imposed on you. Biculturalism is a struggle for many immigrants. I was trying to embrace my culture while living in a new one.
When I was in high school I wrote a paper for the National History Day competition on the history of immigration in the United States. I wanted to understand how it came to be that immigrants here are oppressed, and what it was that disqualified immigrants from accessing basic human rights. Why does one generation of immigrants after another get treated this way? At the time, I couldn't write well in Spanish or in English. I just had that question, and it's one I'm still asking today.
I left the North Bay for New York to go to college. Now, at 28 years old, as I sit here in Christopher Square, in Manhattan, I believe the answer to my old question has to do with religion and money. People deemed second-class citizen do the labor and are kept in poverty because this country is not an equal system for everybody. Too many U.S. citizens stand by their religious beliefs or economic ones as they tell other people how to live their lives and declare them "illegal."
That has become very apparent to me—and all the more so recently, as I've been forced to engage with the realities of Trump's immigration crackdown. I have to stay out of trouble and I have to make sure I am following the rules, and that where I'm living is safe—both physically and legally. Because of Trump, I've moved to a new place, closed my art studio and I put a lot of my artwork in storage to keep it safe.
- 'THE VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE'
THE POWER OF ART
After graduating from high school, I attended Santa Rosa Junior College, which gave me a foundation in government, mathematics and art. I transferred to Brooklyn's Pratt Institute in 2011 on a partial scholarship and graduated with a BFA in 2013, thanks in no small part to the many people who bought my artworks and helped me get through school.
During my time at Pratt, I created a nonprofit program called One City Arts. Now it's a permanent program at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts that teaches art to children from low-income backgrounds.
The arts are a leveling factor. Arts and education are important to improve our lifestyle, but they also enhance our sense of belonging in a country where immigrants too often feel displaced. That sense has only gotten worse in recent days. Nationalism and white supremacy have long served to erase the history of the indigenous people of Americas and oppress the immigrant community—a community forced to migrate to a country, for economic or political reasons, that grows increasingly unwelcoming.
I graduated from Yale University with an MFA in painting in 2015. That was something I'd never have expected to achieve because of my background. My time at Yale taught me many things and introduced me to a lot of people and ideas that have shifted my perception of who I am and my perception of what my work is about. Everything I am has been shaped by the United States. And it has been shaped by its people—the people who are always there for me, those who have been aggressive toward me, who have stereotyped me, who forced upon me the internalized oppression of the undocumented that I live with and am trying to overcome.