Latino artists in St. Louis use art to express shared ties with black Americans
Luisa Otero Prada can’t forget how she felt in 2018, watching footage of U.S. immigration officials abducting children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Seeing children in distress moved Otero Prada, Aleida Ruelas Hertel, Carol Lara and Eliana Cristancho – and made them want to portray Latinos in a different light.
Otero Prada suggested that they devote their time to creating art.
“Of course, we knew it wasn’t going to be something that was going to solve the situation at the border at that time, but we were touched by it,” Otero Prada, a Colombian painter who lives in Saint-Louis for 17 years said.
The women, all visual artists, decided to create a mural project to spark conversations about the shared African experience in the Americas.
Otero Prada searched for a building to display the artwork. Eventually, she found the perfect spot along Delmar Boulevard – the Loop Trolley Building. In July 2020, the group worked with the Latinx STL Arts Network group for a $ 10,000 innovation grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance.
While brainstorming and sketching out ideas, Otero Prada proposed to center the project around an Afro Latina.
“From the start it was clear that we wanted to have a child,” said Otero Prada, whose husband and stepson are black Americans. We wanted a child in the fresco because the child is a symbol of hope.
In the 912 square foot “Building Bridges” mural, the girl gazes out into a blue sky. Around her are flowers, a papel picado, African baskets and orange monarchs, which represent the migration stories of Latin Americans and blacks to the United States.
The women want to draw attention to Afro Latinos who are an under-represented group among Latin American immigrants in the United States and how their struggles are similar to those of black Americans.
“I know we have to represent black Latinos,” said Carol Lara, a photographer from St. Louis. They are a huge part of us… It’s just a part of our culture that is not represented.
Lara, whose family is from Peru, hopes the painting will help bridge the gap between Latinos and Blacks in St. Louis by highlighting their similarities.
“They will find that the Latino community is so much more diverse than what we see in the mainstream media and that we are much more alike and intertwined,” said Lara.
Black Americans and Afro Latinos have a shared history of slavery, racism, discrimination and the struggle for equality, said Mexican artist Aleida Ruelas Hertel.
“It is important to have this lens of critical thinking and critical analysis towards our own historical segregation and the importance of continuing to empower Afro Latinos whether in our country or in the United States,” Hertel said.
During the transatlantic slave trade, experts claim that most Africans were sent to Latin American countries, which explains the large black population in those countries. Many others have African, Spanish and indigenous ancestors.
Many Afro Latinos in the United States are doubly marginalized, said Karma Frierson, assistant professor of African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
“When you think of black Latinos there is this language barrier, especially for people who are not fluent in English, so you see a lot of accounts from Afro-Latinos who say they feel distant from both. sides of themselves, ”said Frierson. .
Colombian artist Eliana Cristancho has lived in Saint-Louis for 22 years, said she wanted black people in Saint-Louis to see themselves in the mural.
“What we want is for the community to take ownership of the fresco, it represents hope and love,” Cristancho said.
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