Fifteen Basalt High School students are asking the question, “How do you know when you’re home?” The students, all newcomers to the U.S., have been working with a local artist to create the new Art Base exhibit “Home: Unpacking Self and Place.” It opens Friday evening. The students involved are using art to reflect on the home they left behind, while becoming a part of their new one.
Basalt High School teacher Leticia Guzman-Ingram’s students were all living in other countries just a few months ago: El Salvador or Mexico. This is one student’s first week in the U.S.
Now, they’re laughing and joking in the Art Base as they put on white smocks to cover their school clothes.
Local artist MYXZ is helping the class create a mural for “Home.” He stands beside a whiteboard at the front of the room, dry-erase marker in hand and asks the students to brainstorm things that remind them of home. Students shout answers as he scrawls quickly on a whiteboard.
Home for most of them is the country they were forced to leave, like Bryan. (Only first names will be used in this story, as some of the students are undocumented). He is soft-spoken, wearing a backwards baseball hat and describes why he came to the U.S. His teacher Guzman-Ingram translates.
“He said he’s from El Salvador and his family brought him here because of all the problems in El Salvador. Gangs and violence. Lots of gangs," Guzman-Ingram said.
Bryan says he’s happy to be in Basalt because, Guzman-Ingram said, "He’s not scared here.”
Another student, Lorena, is eager to share her story. She came to the Roaring Fork Valley from El Salvador to live with her mother, whom she hadn’t seen for six years.
The mural is an opportunity for Lorena to share her story with her new community. "It gives these kids a voice in a way that they might not have had and maybe not have expected," said Abby Gierke, the Art Base’s youth programs manager.
Artist MYXZ agrees this project helps the students find strength as they learn a new language and negotiate a new country.
"I think that giving kids the ability to be creative without fear of judgment kind of builds bravery," he said.
MYXZ wants the students to feel ownership over the "Home" exhibit.
"What we’re trying to do is give them the power, give them the artistic, creative rights to this whole thing and I’m just here, listening and trying to help them express that in the best way possible," he said.
On the lawn outside the Art Base, Abby Gierke has laid out huge, white pieces of foam board. She pours yellow, red and blue paint onto plates as students outline mountains and a river in pencil. Lorena is smiling as she grabs a brush and starts to paint a yellow sun.
"She says it’s fun because she’s working with her friends and it’s beautiful," Guzman-Ingram translates.
Lorena is reunited with her mother, making friends and laughing in the sun today. It’s as good a start as any on making a new home. When community members come to the exhibit’s opening, Guzman Ingram says, it’s yet another step in helping the students carve out a new place here.
“So they’re coming here, and then they’re like, ‘This is really different, but you know what, the people accept me. It doesn’t matter, like, the color of my skin. I can be a part of this community no matter what,’” she said.
Friday's opening might help these students start to think of Basalt as, if not home exactly, a place where they’re welcome.