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An artist in a pandemic: Yehimi Cambrón’s murals aim to ‘redeem the soul of America’

David Pendered
Yehimi Cambrón, homepage Yehimi Cambrón poses in front of the mural she recently completed in Hapeville: ‘We Give Each Other the World.’ Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

By David Pendered

Yehimi Cambrón is a visual artist making her way through these rocky times, painting murals intended to convey the immigrant narrative and help “redeem the soul of America.”

Yehimi Cambrón, Home Depot Backyard

Yehimi Cambrón is now working on a mural at the Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes Benz Stadium: ‘Faces of Atlanta’s Immigrants: The Resilience of Our Community.’ Credit: facebook.com/ycambron

This past weekend found Cambrón at work on her latest project, a mural taking life at the Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes Benz Stadium. The paint on her most recent mural may be barely dry to the touch, a work in Hapeville that shows the hopeful faces of five local children.

The National Endowment for the Arts provided a $10,000 grant for the Hapeville project. The award stated: “Through a process centered in community engagement, Cambrón will create a mural that reflects Hapeville’s diverse population.”

Both the message of a mural and the process of creating the message are important to Cambrón. The message communicates the courageous spirit of the oppressed. The process includes hiring young women from the immigrant community to assist, which channels money through women to families and neighborhoods in need.

Cambrón knows the life of the undocumented immigrant. She is one. Though, in April she received a two-year extension of her DACAmented status, referring to the Obama-era policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. She has rallied for immigration reform on the steps of the Supreme Court before it ruled against the Trump administration’s effort to end the program and returned the policy to the administration for further review.

As a 7-year-old, she came without papers with her parents from Mexico in hopes of creating of a better life in the United States. Cambrón was graduated from Cross Keys High School, in DeKalb County, and went on to earn a bachelors degree from Agnes Scott College – which she attended on a prestigious Goizueta Foundation Scholarship that provided $40,918 to cover four years of tuition, room and board.

Yehimi Cambrón’s mural in Hapeville, ‘We Give Each Other the World,’ encourages youngsters to be ‘limitless in their hopes and dreams for the future.’ Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

After returning to Cross Keys to teach art, Cambrón focused on her own artwork. The pandemic hasn’t been easy; speaking engagements have dried up and she’s had some big ones – Harvard University’s Immigration Initiative hosted her in February and the student newspaper provided a comprehensive report.

As fortune would have it, two major projects were about to come into being. As Cambrón wrote in a weekend email:

  • “I feel extremely privileged to be able to work on these massive projects during a pandemic, both of which are the largest public art projects of my career to date. These projects have been in the works for the last two years and I just got lucky with the timing…
  • “It has also been rewarding to be able to share my good fortune with those I have hired to assist me in these special projects, and to be able to prioritize working with young women from the neighborhood in which I grew up.”

A series of frequent posts on Cambrón’s Facebook page show her support for immigration reform and the current social movements. One entry pictures her in front of the Supreme Court the day justices heard arguments in the DACA case; another urges readers to buy empanadas from her mom on a day in June because proceeds were to be donated to the Atlanta Solidarity Bail-out Fund to support BLM protesters; and several posts relate to conditions at the deportation facility operated in Stewart County by the federal Department of Homeland Security – where backpacks and clothing are being collected for those being deported and allowed to take one piece of luggage.

In Yehimi Cambró’s mural in Hapeville, a young Latina girl looks up with hope as Monarch butterflies, a symbol of migration, surround her with their resilience. Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

Cambrón emailed over the weekend observations about her work. Here they are:

  • “I feel extremely privileged to be able to work on these massive projects during a pandemic, both of which are the largest public art projects of my career to date. These projects have been in the works for the last two years and I just got lucky with the timing. Though I sometimes complain of the physical toll that painting murals can take and that I am at the mercy of the Atlanta heat, the fact that my work is outdoors is precisely what allowed me to continue to work during this difficult time for many. It has also been rewarding to be able to share my good fortune with those I have hired to assist me in these special projects, and to be able to prioritize working with young women from the neighborhood in which I grew up.
  • “My murals serve as a platform to reclaim the immigrant narrative and unapologetically center the stories of power and hope of people who have been historically and systematically oppressed. These spaces of public art actively juxtapose the symbols of hate, slavery, colonization, and racism that are courageously being taken down around the country by the people. There is a focus on diversity and intersectionality among the five portraits of the mural, an aspect that must be embraced in our fight for social justice. As Atlanta and the world moves forward from this poignant time in history, I hope this space helps us reimagine an Atlanta that is fearless and willing to “get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”

Yehimi Cambrón stands in front of the blank wall on which she is painting the mural, ‘Faces of Atlanta’s Immigrants: The Resilience of Our Community.’ The start date happened to be her birthday. Credit: facebook.com/ycambron

Cambrón provided this artist’s view on the Hapeville mural:

  • We Give Each Other the World is centered on the portraits of five children from the City of Hapeville who represent the diversity of the community – a reaching for the sky and looking up, all with hopeful looks on their faces. The children are being elevated by the hands of adults from the community who are working to give them a world that is worthy of them, encouraging them to be limitless in their hopes and dreams for the future. Cambron recognizes Hapeville as a community that values its history, that gives back, and provides opportunities for children to grow.”

Cambrón provided this artist’s view on the Home Depot Backyard mural:

  • “This mural is a celebration of the humanity, resilience and diversity of Atlanta’s immigrant community. The five people whose portraits are depicted in Faces of Atlanta’s Immigrants: The Resilience of Our Community
    Yehimi Cambrón, HDBY, full

    Five faces in Yehimi Cambrón’s mural at the Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes Benz Stadium intend to convey the message of, ‘people who reflect our community’s grit and determination to thrive despite the limitations of their immigration status.’ Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

    are people who reflect our community’s grit and determination to thrive despite the limitations of their immigration status.

  • “This mural creates a space of both intimacy and monumentality that complements the Home Depot Backyard at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium – a space that brings us all together as a community. Like a fingerprint, the lines within each portrait are unique to the individual, evoking a sense of intimacy and the uniqueness of each person’s story. At the same time, I want the lines to remind the viewer of a contour line map of mountains, of the monumentality of each person’s resilience, and of the resilience of our Atlanta immigrant community as a whole. These lines create a connectedness that unify and remind the viewer that we have more that brings us together than divides us–that the people in this mural are our neighbors and make contributions to our city that transcend the essential economic roles immigrants have long played in our communities and around the nation.
  • Yehimi Cambrón, HDBY, two faces

    Two faces painted by Yehimi Cambrón are the first of five to be complete in a mural that will welcome sports fans to the Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

    “My status as an undocumented immigrant means there is a constant threat of my forced removal from the home and community I have created for myself in Atlanta and in the United States. Consequently, I have had to learn to redefine home for myself and my murals have become a part of that. I include visual symbolism that gives me a way to feel connected to a home, a home I cannot visit without the threat of being banned from the United States.

  • “The cactus plants in this landscape allude to my family’s migration journey through the desert and my Mexican heritage. I chose to place the people in this mural within a sanctuary, protected by the thorns of the cactus plants and embraced by desert plants that not just survive, but vibrantly thrive in extreme environments. The Monarch butterflies surrounding each portrait have long been used as a symbol of migration by immigration activists around the world. Monarch butterflies find sanctuary in Michoacán, México, my birthplace, and migrate to Canada across borders, each generation more resilient. The backdrop of the composition is unified by the color turquoise, a mineral that the Aztecs valued as much as gold.
    Yehimi Cambrón, detail

    A detail of one of five faces in ‘The Resilience of Our Community,’ now being painted at the Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes Benz Stadium by Yehimi Cambrón. Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

  • “My murals serve as a platform to reclaim the immigrant narrative and unapologetically center the stories of power and hope of people who have been historically and systematically oppressed. These spaces of public art actively juxtapose the symbols of hate, slavery, colonization, and racism that are courageously being taken down around the country by the people. There is a focus on diversity and intersectionality among the five portraits of the mural, an aspect that must be embraced in our fight for social justice. As Atlanta and the world moves forward from this poignant time in history, I hope this space helps us reimagine an Atlanta that is fearless and willing to “get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.
  • “People featured (left to right):
  1. “Mamadou, Mali, Delaware State University, Student + Researcher, DACAmented;
  2. “Sumbul, Pakistan/Saudi Arabia, Agnes Scott College, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, DACAmented;
  3. “Candido, México, Carpenter, undocumented;
  4. “Raymond, Philippines, Mercer University, 2015, Future Attorney + Consultant + Activist, DACAmented;
  5. “Luis, México, Artist + Writer + Activist + Public Speaker, formerly undocumented/DACAmented.”

 

Yehimi Cambrón, SCOTUS, DACA

Yehimi Cambrón, wearing a symbol of migration – Monarch butterflies – joined a rally on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 12, 2019, the day justices heard arguments in the DACA case that led to a June 18 ruling in favor of the DACA program. Credit: facebook.com/ycambron/

 

Yehimi Cambrón donated proceeds of sales on Etsy to buy items for students in Freedom U. Georgia, which says it provides free college-level classes and other programs to undocumented youth banned from higher education in Georgia. Credit: facebook.com/ycambron

 

Yehimi Cambrón, homepage

Yehimi Cambrón poses in front of the mural she recently completed in Hapeville: ‘We Give Each Other the World.’ Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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