Latino Modern Avant-Garde, a group of three New Haven-based Latino artists, launched a weeklong exhibit Monday that honors migrants who died trying to cross the border into the United States from Mexico.
The exhibit, which is being hosted by Unidad Latina En Accion, a New Haven-based immigrants’ rights group, is part of ULA’s celebration of the Day of the Dead, a holiday that families in some Latin American countries spend remembering the lives of deceased relatives.
ULA has been building an altar to celebrate the Day of the Dead since 2006. In 2011, the group added a parade through Fair Haven — an Elm City neighborhood with a large immigrant population — to honor deceased migrants at their celebrations. But Saturday’s march was in solidarity with victims of injustice nationwide, ULA volunteer Megan Fountain ’07 said, noting that this change was the product of the parade evolving through time.
“People think Fair Haven is a dangerous neighborhood, so we try to show a different side of the neighborhood — that it’s a place where people live and make art,” Fountain said. “We’re trying to take back the streets and bring music, art and joy to the community.”
Israel Sánchez, one of three artists whose work is on display in the Latino Modern Avant-Garde exhibit, said Fair Haven is a misunderstood community. He said many New Haven residents think the majority of people in Fair Haven are poor because few residents complete high school. In reality, he said, some of the neighborhood’s residents do not complete school so they can begin to earn money sooner and because their parents and grandparents did the same.
He added that Latino Modern Avant-Garde’s goal is to promote Latino art in the community and eventually incorporate the work of immigrant artists who live beyond the city’s borders.
Fountain said New Haven does not have institutions, such as a Latino museum, that promote Latin American culture. She said children of immigrants who go to school in New Haven have no way to formally learn about their parents’ culture.
She added that New Haven Public Schools celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, but Latino culture is not synonymous with Hispanic culture. Rather, it incorporates Native American, “indigenous” and African cultural influences.
“There’s a real ignorance among the teachers in the public schools about Latino heritage,” Fountain said. “The superintendent never talks about how we should be teaching children about different cultures; he just wants more standardized tests.”
Joel Celi, a construction worker from Ecuador who is also part of Latino Modern Avant-Garde, said he hopes to defy negative stereotypes of Latin American immigrants through his art. Though he is not a professional artist, he said he has used his instincts to inspire the art he creates since he was a child.
“I want to inspire … other Latinos and show people that we’re not just workers; that we are artists,” Celi said.
John Lugo, a founding member of ULA, said Latino Modern Avant-Garde has already inspired some young community members — including Luis Miguel, a 10th grader at Wilbur Cross High School — to pursue art as a potential vocation. He said many Latino immigrants work several jobs and do not have the time or resources to create art, adding that this contributes to why Latino Modern Avant-Garde’s promotion of Latino culture is so important.
Latino Modern Avant-Garde has hosted four exhibits since its inception last year.