Portraits of Immigrant Farmworkers Bring More Visibility to Their Labor | KQED Arts

Portraits of Immigrant Farmworkers Bring More Visibility to Their Labor | KQED Arts


– Most of my work comes from
thinking about my position in this country as an undocumented person, and these labels that
define who I am, legally, in this country and illegally, and where I’m allowed to go and
where I’m not allowed to go. I’m also really interested
in what it means to grow up and to live in Napa, a
wine country that is so rich and full of wealth
but also is home to some of the most cruel conditions for human beings and the labor industry. My name is Arleene Correa
Valencia and I was born in Arteaga, Michoacán in Mexico. And I came to the United States
when I was three in 1997. There’s definitely a lot of shame that comes with being undocumented, especially when you’re younger. Growing up in the Valley,
you know, you see limos driving by with people that
are going wine tasting. And meanwhile, I was worried
and my family was worried that if we go to the grocery store, there might be like an ICE raid. But it wasn’t something
that like I allowed to stop me from pursuing
a higher education. – [Arleene] This one’s a lot bigger. When my family came to California, my mom had an aunt in
Napa, so we came here. More family started coming up. It was such a tight living
situation, that at one point there was 16 of us in a
two bedroom apartment. My father worked painting houses and my mom was a house cleaner. And then in 2001, they were
able to buy their first home. And we moved 15 minutes
away, just on the outskirts. But growing up here, you know, we were amongst all the
other Latino families. The first time I had an article
written on my work and me, my dad, he was like, “Why
would you want to talk about these things, it’s gonna put you in danger”. And then I like sat
down and I talked to him and I was like “Dad, look, listen.” A lot of the people
talking about this haven’t necessarily really lived it. I have to try to show
people like what it’s like.” And I think that’s when
he really understood. My life has always been
this like in-between, right, where I had
uncles and family members that harvest the grapes,
but I also have friends that invite me out to go wine tasting. So when I go out and I do my research and I talk to people, I
try to make sure that they know that I don’t feel
like I’m better than them, and that, you know, that I would never want to belittle them or use them. Showing them that I
speak their language is a way to connect, it’s a
way to like break that ice and to really bond and
to allow them to trust me and to show them that I can be trusted. I want to commemorate these
moments and to honor them and say like, “This was a beautiful moment where I saw that my
community was reflecting this resilience, extreme work
ethic, this need to survive”. (ambulance sirens) – [Male News Anchor] Fires are
burning in Sonoma and Napa counties. – [Female News Anchor]
Thousands of residents have been forced to flee. – [Male News Anchor 2 ] At least 10 people dead, 100 people missing. – [Male News Anchor 3] One of the most severe disasters in decades. – [Arleene] The fires of October 2017, it was such a surreal experience. All the cars were rushing
to the gas station, people were getting out, and it was like the peak of harvest season. I looked outside and
people were still working and I was like, hold on, you
know, if we’re not advised to even be outside to breathe the air, these people should not be harvesting. Automatically, like the
artist mode in me turned on. And to really honor that sacrifice. For them, if they didn’t work, they couldn’t feed their
families, couldn’t pay rent. So I painted portraits of people doing their job and they’re all at night. I really wanted to play
with this idea of finding your way through the painting
in this moment of darkness. My dad, he’s comes into my
work in everything I do. He’s the reason why I paint. When he was younger, he had a lot of dreams of being an artist and as
soon as, you know, he had us and his children, he
realized that his life goal was no longer to fulfill
his dreams, but to make sure that we never had to step down from ours. His knowledge of color and
work with wood and textures, it really informs a lot
of my work and what I do. When the idea of painting
on pallets came to me, thinking about manufacturing goods, and what it means to
import and export goods, and the freedom that goods have versus the freedom that
I have in this country. I consulted my dad, and
so now we’ve developed, you know, this technique
of working the pallet where I’m able to paint
it and it’s able to have a longer life and
transform this thing that’s literally found in the
streets into a piece of art. And that’s really how I see our relationship and, you know, our family. I believe that we transform ourselves from being considered nothing
to being something. I’m really honored to be here
and to be a part of this show and very proud to represent
both my family and my culture. I’m really excited to be able to bring a brown face to these galleries. When my work gets to
actually exist in places that are beyond the confinements of the undocumented experience.

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