Farmworkers kids’ art has powerful message

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The Miami Herald

May 11, 1997

In an art gallery just off Miami Beach’s newly renovated Lincoln Road, the paintings and drawings of youngsters from a different world seek to be recognized.

The works at first may appear simple, done with basic materials. But a closer look reveals some powerful messages.

The artists are children of farmworkers in South Dade. They do not have easy lives. They struggle with financial and social pressures, and many are seeking an identity that straddles their Mexican heritage and American lives.
It’s all laid bare at Arte del Centro, a special exhibit sponsored by the Metro-Dade Cultural Affairs Council, Centro Campesino and Local Initiatives Support Corp. Arte del Centro is on display at the artcenter/south florida artsite gallery, 1655 Lenox Ave., Miami Beach.


The artwork, drawn by kids in elementary through high school, shatters stereotypes.

“I think the message is really subtle,” said Xavier Cortada, the artist in residence at the “Art Shack,” the name given to the Centro Campesino program where the young artists worked.

“The exhibit talks about how Centro Campesino has helped in the mainstreaming of those kids,” he said. “These kids are voiceless. Through art, they’re expressing themselves.”

Rafael Alcaraz, 15, a sophomore at Homestead High School, has very little art training. Yet the teenager’s painting of a bluish-purple figure with raised arms and a metal dagger piercing his heart, moved many of those who saw it Thursday, the opening day of the exhibit.

“It’s just what came into my head,” Rafael said.

For Claribel Gomez, 10, a fourth-grader at A.L. Lewis Elementary, sharing her colorful rainbow with birds flying across it was like sharing a present.

“I like the rainbow in the sky because when it stops raining, it shows,” she said. “I like the colors in the rainbow.”

Steve Mainster, executive director of Centro Campesino, said the project is an attempt to give kids an outlet and keep them out of trouble.

“It’s a nonthreatening way in which young people are expressing themselves, getting to know themselves, relating with our staff and avoiding breaking from the adult world,” he said.

Supporting programs such as the “Art Shack” are a worthwhile investment, according to Barbara Bernham, the newly hired senior program director at LISC.

“Being able to teach that there are other ways to express themselves other than through violence, that is absolutely part of community building,” she said. “It’s the kids who are the future of that community.”

The exhibit runs through June 8.