At a moment when the federal government is attempting a “sweeping transformation” in immigration and asylum policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, San Antonians are rallying to help asylum-seekers and draw awareness to their cause.
The Soñando Despierto (Dreaming Awake) exhibition at the Dock Space Gallery Annex in Southtown features the work of nine young asylum-seekers and their local artist mentors, with an opening reception on Second Saturday, May 11, from 6 to 10 p.m. Proceeds from any sales go to the artists and to Posada Guadalupe, which offers aid and shelter to asylum-seekers who have aged out of State-run facilities.
On May 19 from noon to 6 p.m., Paper Tiger will host a benefit for Sueños sin Fronteras de Tejas, a collective dedicated to helping asylum-seekers.
Both events have the goal of raising funds and awareness for Mexican and Central American immigrants attempting to escape extreme poverty and violence in their home countries.
Dreams Without Borders
During the height of family separations at the border last June, Laura Molinar started a task force to help asylum-seekers in need of resources while awaiting their fates. The task force grew into Sueños sin Fronteras de Tejas, a conglomeration of “healthcare providers, immigration advocates, social workers, legal providers, and compassionate individuals who have committed themselves to assisting and supporting asylum-seekers from Central America,” according to the organization’s website.
“There are a lot of resources and skill sets and amazing people in this community,” Molinar said, able to mobilize on behalf of migrants in need.
On May 19, Paper Tiger will host a pachanga to benefit the organization, which is seeking volunteers and donations to staff a downtown overnight shelter, and feed and supply the more than 100 asylum-seekers arriving from the border each day, Molinar said.
The festive Sunday afternoon benefit will feature “food, drinks, a raffle, donation drive, card-making table, [and] art from local San Anto artists,” according to performing artist Marisela Barrera, who will read an excerpt from her recent story published by the Brooklyn Rail, “Frontera/Frontier: Chaos at the US-Mexico Border.”
Molinar said while Sueños sin Fronteras focuses on basic needs like hygiene products, underwear and socks, health services, food and shelter, she and co-director Isabel Ramos “also want to include art and culture and music in those resources, because we believe that’s really healing too.”
Including culture in their services can build a bridge between communities and help gather support, Molinar said.
Ideally, the Soñando Despierto (Dreaming Awake) exhibition might “change people’s perceptions about the whole issue in general, or make them more compassionate about the whole thing,” said Tracy Biediger, a volunteer at the Posada Guadalupe shelter for asylum-seekers.
Watching news of migrant caravans, “some of the stories I saw really tugged at my heartstrings. I remember thinking I wish there was something I could do,” Biediger said.
She was inspired by a Cruz Ortiz visit to Posada Guadalupe to paint portraits of the young men living there. Thinking that hands-on artmaking might help the asylum-seekers express themselves, Biediger approached San Antonio light-sculptor and gallerist Bill FitzGibbons, who put her in touch with local artist mentors and offered his Lone Star Art Space to facilitate a Dock Space annex exhibition.
Rather than being criminals, as some would portray them, these asylum-seekers are in fact fleeing from criminality in their homelands, FitzGibbons said. He told of the harrowing experience suffered by 37-year-old Honduran Reniery Mendoza, who made it to Nuevo Laredo before being captured by members of the notorious gang MS-13, which is aligned with the drug cartel Los Zetas.
FitzGibbons said Mendoza endured 14 hours of torture, all the while refusing either to pay money or carry drugs across the border. Finally, cartel thugs broke his leg with a sledgehammer, FitzGibbons said, and Mendoza now walks with a crutch as he heals at Posada Guadalupe. His vibrant painted abstraction is on sale at the Dock Space annex for $45, with all proceeds going to the artist, FitzGibbons said. Sales of work by the mentees, Biediger, and other local artists will go to Posada Guadalupe.
Through translator Erick Villarreal, Dock Space gallery technician and one of 15 artists who have donated work to the Soñando Despierto show, Mendoza said the experience of making art has been a welcome distraction from other pressing concerns and an uncertain future.
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“We’re just here, we’re surviving, we’re getting through it,” Mendoza said through Villareal, adding that he’s thankful for Biediger’s efforts and those of Jesus Toro Martinez, his painting tutor.
Biediger hopes to change prevailing perceptions about the people she volunteers to help. She said she hopes the Soñando Despierto exhibition might attract other volunteer-minded San Antonians “and maybe change the rhetoric a little bit as to how we perceive these asylum-seekers.”
While installing the show on Thursday, Biediger reflected on seeing her efforts come to fruition for Saturday’s opening. Things went from being “just an idea,” she said, “from just being empathetic watching coverage on the news, to watching another artist do something. I just felt compelled to do something myself.”