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Immigrant youth express fears, determination through self-portraits

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IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Charities of Oregon

By Katie Scott

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) — “I want my dad to stay with me.”

“We are not giving up. We keep going.”

The words of first- and second-generation immigrant students in Portland are written across bold self-portraits, conveying fear and courage during a time of uncertainty.

“Some are afraid they might lose a friend, an uncle or grandmother; one student has a dad in deportation proceedings,” said Kat Kelley, director of operations for the Pope Francis Center, an initiative of Oregon Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Portland.

The portraits are part of “Ni de aqui, ni de alla” — a collaborative project between the Pope Francis Center and El Programa Hispano Catolico. The goal is to give voice to youths affected by immigration and support the expansion of Catholic Charities’ low-cost and pro-bono legal services for families at risk of forced separation. The agency has the only full-time nonprofit attorney in Oregon handling immigration cases.

The Spanish phrase “ni de aqui, ni de alla” translates to “not from here, not from there” and frequently is used by bilingual and bicultural young people to describe the complexity of being both American and immigrant.

The artwork, created last fall by 11 students from Reynolds High School in Troutdale, allowed participants not only to express their thoughts and feelings but also to take action, said Adriana Lopez Garcia, youth services program manager for El Programa Hispano Catolico, who coordinates a mentoring program for the youths.

“They were very happy and proud at the chance to raise money for (legal services), because sometimes they feel powerless,” Lopez Garcia told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland’s archdiocesan newspaper.

Local artist Patricia Vasquez Gomez, a longtime immigrant advocate, guided the students through six printmaking classes. The students took photos of themselves, traced their silhouettes and then painted the images.

Last November, the art series was released in several galleries in downtown Portland, including Portland Center Stage, through a partnership with the Portland Art Dealers Association. The pieces will be installed temporarily in the state attorney general’s office this spring.

Kelley said the fear of deportation is a daily experience for the students, with many wondering: “Am I going to come home from school and find my parents gone?”

Yet they don’t want to burden their families with their concerns, added Lopez Garcia. “This project is a way for them to share in a safe way their anger, frustration and sadness. It’s powerful for them to be able to let that out.”

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Scott is special projects reporter at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

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