Latinas Find Voice, Identity in Art

girls3The future art majors of the world are about to hit the homestretch of their high school careers. Already, art hopefuls are awaiting art school response letters and anticipating the hardships of futures as professional artists. Despite all the stress and uncertainty, young creatives remain as passionate as ever.

Gabby Desporte, a high school senior at McCallum Fine Arts Academy (MFAA), says that she can remember always loving to draw, but it wasn’t until middle school that drawing became something more than just an activity she liked to do. “When I heard about McCallum, that’s when I was like, alright, I want to make some kind of career out of this,” Desporte said. MFAA is located in Austin, Texas and appeals to students wanting to hone and challenge their skills in the fine arts. There is an application process which includes portfolios, auditions, and teacher recommendations. If chosen, students must be prepared to dedicate four years to the program. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Desporte said, “but I knew that I wanted to do some kind of art, so I immersed myself.”

Since then, Desporte has been attempting to figure out which careers will allow her to infuse art with a more financially secure profession. College has always been in the equation, she says, and though her parents have always been supportive, they’ve also wanted her to keep her goals feasible. Currently, she’s considering pursuing a degree in advertising.

Maya Medrano, also a senior at MFAA, finds herself in a similar position. Like Desporte, she has been drawing since she was very young. Art has since weaved itself into her every-day life. “I’ll be doing something and then all of a sudden, oh look, there’s a sketch,” Medrano said. “Recently the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to bed is sketch in my sketchbook. Sometimes I just wish the world could pause so I could get all these ideas out,” Medrano said.

Combining her love of drawing and storytelling, Medrano’s ideal situation is to build a career in comics. However, she’s already prepping herself for the obstacles she may meet in the professional art world. “I’ve met with a lot of comic book artists,” she said. “An alumni from one of the colleges I’m applying to was saying, ‘If I had to go back, I would definitely take a major in something broader.’” The advice has pushed Medrano to change her focus from sequential art to illustration which she hopes will broaden her freelancing opportunities.

Beyond the concerns of careers, art has remained a helpful and essential element in both young artists’ lives, allowing them to examine their surroundings and even themselves through the lens of art. This includes how their Hispanic heritage influences or, in some cases, does not influence, their work.

Desporte is currently working on a project detailing street life in Latino communities, specifically the cholo community. Because her subject is a traditionally marginalized and stigmatized group of people, she says that the images sometimes come across as intense to outsiders. She hopes that her project will showcase something deeper. “They are human too,” she emphasizes. “There’s still going to be those sweet candid moments. They actually are approachable people.”

Medrano, on the other hand, has found herself being less influenced by Latino culture and admits to feeling like she is awkwardly stuck between her Mexican heritage and her American upbringing. Instead, her largest influences came from Japanese manga and anime, superhero cartoons, and horror films. And yet, her experiences through art have been more introspectively enlightening. “Without art, I definitely think I would be more lost and would not have figured out as much about myself,” she said. “I actually think that art is just my default way of life. Art is the same thing as having brown skin.”

Desporte agrees. Art is a way of life.

While both artists admit to feeling worried about the future and about the career path they will soon be pursuing, they also carry with them the understanding that art is just part of their genetic code. “You wake up in the morning and you understand that art is what you do,” Desporte says. “You encapsulate yourself in it. It just becomes a part of you.”

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