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High School Mural Depicts Students' Shared Immigration Struggle

By Katie Honan | May 18, 2014 10:05am
  The artwork shows the pain and sacrifice, as well as excitement, in coming to the United States.
High School Mural Depicts Students' Shared Immigration Struggle
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FLUSHING — Students at a high school for international students spent months painting a mural that depicts their cultural pride as well as the shared struggle to begin a new life in the United States.

Eleven students at Flushing International High School, which opened in 2005 and serves recent immigrants to the city, worked on the mural since October.

Tania Romero, 35, works as a social worker at the school and helped organize the project, which was funded by a $3,000 grant from Citizens Committee for New York City.

The "Our Roots" mural allowed the students, who hail from 11 countries, to share their cultural identity, their struggles and their dreams with help from artist Angel Garcia.

It also helped them feel comfortable discussing their immigration stories — from leaving everything they knew behind, or being separated from their parents.

"We were creating a safe space for students to talk about trauma," she said.

The bright mural features imagery that represents their culture and experiences — a butterfly holding a baby, which represents separation from families and loved ones, for example, or a man holding the strings, which represents government oppression. 

"When I started to paint, I discovered new things about other people, other cultures," said Pamela Guaman, 15, who came to Elmhurst two years ago from Ecuador.

She painted a man with a happy and sad face, which illustrates the mix of feelings she felt when she came to the United States.

Surya Rahman, 15, came to Queens two years ago from Bangladesh and helped draw a woman carrying a broken heart.

"The woman has everything, but she is missing her family," she said. "She's trying to keep it together."

Other students painted cultural symbols, like a hijab from Egypt and silk from Tibet.

Other symbols, like a scale that features the heart and the brain in balance, represent what they have in common — stories of sacrifice and adjusting to a new life in the United States.

The artists hoped the artwork will help inspire future students,

"I hope that new students see the mural, and they feel like they're at home," said Longenn Nie, 17, who hails from China.

"We made it for them."