A five-year-old Guatemalan child drew this picture of a bloody gunfight, depicting the conditions from which his family had fled. Photo by Chuck Klingenstein

COVID19 concerns curtailed some of the activities of the Hope and Healing series focused on seeing migration through the eyes of children. Others went forward, including a short run of the art exhibit at Cady Hall that allowed Patagonia schools to visit.

The gallery opening of children’s artwork was held at Cady Hall on March 12, catered by the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center. The show’s curators, Valarie James, the founder of the Trauma-informed Arts and Activities program at Casa Alitas, and Arivaca artist Antonia Gallegos spoke about the works. 

Those who caught the exhibit early were lucky to see and absorb the drawings of children of asylum-seeking families stopping over at Casa Alitas in Tucson, a shelter operated by Catholic Community Services.

James said that the children’s drawings specifically about the journey were done on their own in the evenings, after staff and volunteers had left for the day. “They were so eager to claim their right to exist, to say ‘I was here, I matter,’ that they used cardboard and paper towels to draw on if they couldn’t find paper, and gum in llieu of tape to make sure their drawing made it to the wall, to be seen in the morning.”

In one drawing, a 5-year-old Guatemalan child’s experience of trauma is evident. Two stick figures, locked in a gunfight, stand next to a house riddled with what appears to be gunshot holes. The weapon is large and in the forefront. Both figures’ heads are smudged with blood red marker. To the right, a door-shaped grid drawn in black marker is a graphic symbol of detention in children’s drawings. Next to the grid, two large green trucks head right for a larger fortified wall. 

Self-portraits are another common theme in drawings made by children in trauma. They often show a child’s face with eyes wide open; some children just draw their eyes, indicating all they have seen along the way.

Children also drew in response to the question “What do you love?” They depicted family, home, God, and nature, as well as writing thank you letters to the volunteers who showed them kindness during their short stay at Casa Alitas. Drawings of pets were common. Many children had not had the opportunity to grieve pets who were left behind as they fled northward.

And houses were common subjects as well, as they are for all young children. For these children, the houses drawn were either homes they had left or homes they long for. 

Patagonia children who visited the exhibit were asked to draw their own pictures of what they love. They noted that we all love the same things regardless of our backgrounds.