Migrant Art

Can you imagine being removed from your home, your family and the country that you call your own? That is exactly what is happening to thousands of Latino kids and teens who have lived in the U.S. as undocumented immigrants. Michelle Paez, a visual artist, has used art to give these youth a voice and hope.

Paez is a painter from Juarez, Mexico who believes in the power of painting to reflect hope and overcome borders. Paez, a docent of the Institute of Architecture, Design, and Art (IADA) at the Autonomous University of Juarez, shared her experience as an art instructor for children from different regions in Mexico who were deported by the U. S. immigration authorities to be reunited with their families in Mexico with the aid of the Mexican Consulate. She worked with numerous immigrant children who were separated from their families, moved from their homes and felt lost in the immigrant system. Paez used art as a tool to help these youth open up and deal with their feelings.

This project was envisioned and created by Paez and two co-workers, Maria Eugenia Hernandez and Maria Vega, anthropology and visual arts professors at the IADA. Last year, the three women teamed up to host art workshops at the YMCA center in Juarez, a border city across from El Paso, Texas. Her team decided that they wanted to use art as a way to help children express their feelings and learn about their rights.

“The three of us love the cause of helping children. That is why we decided to work together on this project that lasted a year,” said Paez. “The idea was to generate a book about children’s rights and that the children themselves would propose a code of behavior and rules with respect to their rights.”

During one year, about seventy youngsters between the ages of 12 – 17 created close to 90 drawings. Select drawings were picked to be published into a booklet that visually expressed the rights of migrant children and their families who remain undocumented in the United Sates of America. This project was supported by David Alfaro Siqueiros and the department for culture and arts in Chihuahua, Mexico.

I should be treated well. I should be allowed to use the telephone. I can ask for necessities. I have the right to know what is happening to me. I have the right to ask for the Consulate to help me. I have the right to remain with my family.

“These are only a few examples of the rights these children described through artwork,” remarked Paez. “This is when I realized how art influences them. They simply express their desire to be close to their family.”

A great number of youth remain in the immigration system. According to the Insituto Nacional de Mexico, from Jan. to Sept. 2007 close to five thousand cases of migrant children were handled in the Mexican state of Chihuahua alone. Of these, 3,719 were boys. Paez hopes that the art created by youth in her program will serve as a resource for future migrant children who want to know their rights.

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