Mi Vida Arte, My Life Art

by Marcela Castro

About the guest blogger: Marcela Castro is originally from Costa Rica. She is an artist, a mother, and a member of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a national nonprofit working to end the isolation and abuse of people in U.S. immigration detention. Marcela has been drawing and painting for as long as she can remember, but her art began to take on an even more profound significance in her life after she was thrown into the U.S. civil immigration detention system. When Marcela came to the United States, she was immediately imprisoned at the James Musick Facility, a county jail in California that contracts with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold asylum seekers and other immigrants indefinitely. Marcela spent over six months at the jail. She became active with CIVIC, and her artwork and story was featured in Detention Stories: Life Inside California’s New Angel Island. After she was released, she appeared on National Public Radio (NPR), and her story and artwork has been featured on the Huffington Post, WORLD Magazine, and La Opinión. Most recently, she created the artwork for the short film, Drawings By Themselves: Portraits of America, which was screened at the Church Center for the United Nations on November 20, 2014, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Art is all around us. It is in everything that we see, we use, we need each day. Each morning as we awake and we listen to the birds at dawn, art comes into being. Art invites me to peek through the window and see the colors of the new day. It inspires me to be thankful for the long list of things that I received the day before.

For me, I make art at breakfast when I mix the colors of different fruits to brighten my day. Colors affect moods; so, I seek to make every detail of my meal be in harmony with one another in order to increase my self-esteem. I try to cook as if I am la mejor Chef para un Rey, the King’s best chef. Making food that is nutritionally balanced is an art.

With each task I do throughout the day, it is as if I am painting a picture of myself with my life. My mind constantly looks for things to create and innovate. I think of new trends in all areas and when I draw, I seek to balance, harmonize, and innovate every detail.

When I was in immigration detention, there were so many limitations that prevented me from creating, drawing, painting. However, my mind never gave up. Instead, I viewed my physical limitations as challenges for my creative mind. I used art to distract me from the reality of what we lived every day. I used art as a way to escape my cage. And with my dreams, I helped many women escape with me. Together, we left our sad realities. Our minds could not be detained.

In detention, my artistic mind caused me certain problems. For example, I decided to sleep in my day clothes to create a new fashion in the jail. However, the officers prevented me and wanted to punish me for it.  I did not let them imprison my creative thoughts. With paper bags, I crafted handbags almost identical to the handbags made by Gucci and or other famous brands you can see in magazines. Yet, again, the officers said that the creations I made were contraband, and they put my art in the trash.

I did not let this stop me. I do not eat meat or fish because of my religion, but in jail, the officers told me I could not have a vegetarian diet. So, I would make art for the other women in the jail in exchange for their fruit to avoid starvation. I drew many portraits of the women, telling a new story with each drawing.

A pencil: It was the only thing that the officers allowed me to use. So, I would draw. A few times, I drew pictures of horses for the officers who were kind to me and who helped me get a little more food or helped me get to a hospital when I had a severe medical issue.

After I was released from immigration detention, I began to appreciate everything around me so much more. I see so much more detail in everything, and everything I see holds more purpose. I continue to draw as a symbol of my thanks to all the wonderful people who have welcomed me, supported me, and helped me without even knowing me. Art has been and will continue to be my tool to help others narrate their lives. Art is a tool that allows me to explain immigration detention and transfer the knowledge of this cruel system to others. I use art to capture time, to capture a thought, an idea, and much more.

A todo esto le agradezco al arte mi vida entera por todo lo que me ha ayudado en mi vida.

Painting by Marcela Castro
Painting by Marcela Castro