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Artivist: Combining art and activism—another kind of social justice
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Artivist: Combining art and activism—another kind of social justice

We arrived at a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Charlotte on a cold afternoon to meet the "artivist" Rosalía Torres-Weiner. Not too long after our arrival, Rosalía’s art truck from Red Calaca Studios pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex. Bright and warm colors fill the truck, giving it a life of its own as you see it coming from across the street. Soon the cold drab afternoon warmed up as we saw a group of kids running towards the truck.

The idea of an art truck is both foreign and extraordinary to me. I grew up in Santa Ana, El Salvador, and I vividly recall a truck that would come to my neighborhood a couple of times a week. As I heard “The Entertainer” playing from around the street corner, I would excitedly turn to my mother to ask for ice cream money. “It’s too expensive,” my mother would say. And I would sadly watch the ice cream truck drive by. I didn’t understand that ice cream was a small luxury—one that my family couldn’t afford because of our socioeconomic conditions.

It warmed my heart to know that the children in this neighborhood could run to the truck without hesitation. Their parents would not have to worry about whether or not they could afford whatever the truck was offering. Parents trust and know that the woman driving the truck has something special for their children, and they are learning that art matters. For Latino families, art may not be accessible or affordable, but this truck is having an impact on some Latino communities in Charlotte.

The rise of deportations and the consequent fragmentation of families, often with young children, is what led Rosalía to do something for the Latino immigrant community. She bought a food truck and completely transformed its function and its meaning. She literally transformed the truck into a piece of art, while creating a mobile space for creative expression.

During our interview with Rosalía, she told us a story about a young girl she met whose parents were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She arrived at the girl’s home to find her crying. How does one comfort a child who has been separated from her parents? Wanting to help the young girl, Rosalía gave her some watercolor paint, a piece of paper and some brushes. She told the child to paint what she saw and how she felt. She also told the young girl that the more she would paint, the easier it would be to ease the pain—that one day she would stop crying. Rosalía shared that the girl started painting, then asked if she could keep the paint. Rosalía told her, “It’s yours.” Rosalía kept that young girl’s painting, which would serve as a reminder of why she drives an art truck that travels the roads in Charlotte.

 

Such encounters helped lead Rosalía to become an artist and activist or, as she refers to herself, an artivist. Children do not understand the realities of immigration reform; they only know that their parents are no longer coming home. And they need the space to grieve and cope in their own ways. Perhaps art can serve as this coping mechanism, a vehicle for emotional expression, a channel for the imagination and, above all, as a means of bringing together a community mourning the loss of its members. Rosalía’s art truck—a mobile and safe space—embraces all of these things. It confronts fear and pain, and it helps transform these overwhelming emotions into something beautiful. This truck may not deliver ice cream or tacos, but it does deliver art that feeds the soul.

Step into the mobile studio with Rosalía on MUSE: The Arts Show, Tuesday, January 16, at 9 PM, on the North Carolina Channel.