Roberto Baez is a high school student and the son of an undocumented immigrant. He says his life experience has forced him to mature very quickly.
“Basically it started when I was really little," Baez said. "There was – I think it was two times in which my mom was deported. So, I had to be alone with my father.”
As a young boy, he couldn’t speak up for his mother, but now he’s a part of an exhibition that features socially engaged art as a platform for problem-solving and amplifying student voices. J.C. Futrell, the director of education at Redline Contemporary Art Center, says professional artists have been working with students in more than 25 schools.
“The schools that we work with by design are Title 1 schools and those are schools that have a significant rate of their student population that’s on free and reduced lunch," Futrell said. "We do this specifically because those schools are the ones with the fewest resources and obviously with the least amount of connection and networking and community with artist populations.”
Futrell says students have been working on their art since the world shut down in March of last year.
“You’ll see issues around isolation, depression, you’ll see everything from how the pandemic affected us to how immigration has affected us during this last year," Futrell said. "What we try to do here is allow those students to have an opportunity to voice themselves where they felt maybe powerless before – hence the title of this exhibition which is empowerment.”
Baez says his work was inspired by his mother, Jeanette Vizguerra. She’s an immigrant rights activist who was selected as one of Time Magazine's most influential people in 2017. She’s taken sanctuary at a Denver church running four immigrant organizations, one of which is called "Sanctuary for All."
“She’s gone through a lot of struggles," Baez said. "She physically has been hurt. She’s been emotionally hurt, mentally hurt, and she still powers through it. She’s still very strong and it’s very inspiring.”
Vizguerra says there’s much value in art.
“Art is part of the culture, the social justice that explains what happens in the lives of people," Vizguerra said. "It’s real stories, real stories. And my kids sometimes express emotion in their art.”
She considers her son to be a young activist – bringing awareness to her situation as she fights for her rights.
“I’m very proud my boy," Vizguerra said. "Not only of my boy, of my four kids. They’re very intelligent, have good hearts, support other persons, express emotion.”
Expressing emotion can be very effective through art.
“You can feel the anguish, you can feel the resolve, you can feel the hope within every piece of artwork that’s on display here at Redline this year,” Futrell said.
Vizguerra says she hopes the artwork on display will inspire people to take action.
“Try to change lives for better lives for everybody," Vizguerra said. "Not only for immigrant people or for Black Lives Matter or Native American people, for whatever movement, try to change life for better. Come and support.”
Baez says he will continue his activism for the rights of immigrants and families like his. Right now it’s through art, but eventually, his plan is to make a difference on an even larger scale.
“If I become governor, I want to help make policies, I want to talk to families, I want to talk to the community, I want to get closer to the community,” Baez said.