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A Daughter of Refugees Uses Art to Connect to Her Roots

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“My parents risked their lives leaving their home country to become U.S. residents,” said Jessica Herrera, an artist whose father fled El Salvador at age 14 after his own father was killed during the Salvadoran Civil War. He was a refugee. “He met my mother, and Massachusetts became their home. But if he fled today, he wouldn’t be allowed asylum.”

Jessica Herrera

When Jessica’s father was young, the United States gave him a visa through a program called TPS—Temporary Protected Status. Only people from certain designated countries can apply for TPS; be it because the country’s conditions are unsafe or the country isn’t able to handle their return adequately. El Salvador became a TPS country because of its civil war. After that, several natural disasters and a sharp rise in gang activity and police violence made it unlivable, continuing its protected status. But next year, new government guidelines will end this protection.

TPS is no longer a pathway to citizenship. Even though people are still fleeing El Salvador in critical numbers because of the intensity of the violence. For many years, El Salvador has held one of the highest murder rates in the world. In 2016, a record of 17,512 Salvadoran children were apprehended at the U.S. border—many of them are sent back to the violence they escaped. If Jessica’s parents tried to receive asylum in the U.S. today, they’d be rejected and Jessica wouldn’t be able to paint her story.

“Being the daughter of refugees makes me see things differently,” Jessica said. “Every day, I’m grateful for the freedom I have. I use this freedom to make art—art that I hope helps others understand immigration the way I do.” After visiting El Salvador in 2006, Jessica became inspired by the colors, culture and art of the country—something she says continues to inform her art. “My deep roots in El Salvador have grounded and inspired me to explore my passions.”

Herrera Painting

Many other people share Jessica’s hope and creativity. Inspired by her work, Raw Art Works just launched CORE Portraits on Project 1324, which asks emerging creatives to create a self-portrait that represents the key elements of your identity that help you thrive in today's social climate. Here, emerging artists can upload projects and share their work around the world. These artists are a force for positive impact, and by supporting, connecting, and amplifying their creativity, Project 1324 is spreading empathy.

“We should allow people like my father asylum,” Jessica pleads. “We should protect those who want safety for their children. My life was built on that safety. I hope that through art, I can spread the message of empathy, love and community.”

Herrera Landscape