Nine colleges have accepted high school senior Andres Vasquez, neither a science geek nor a jock, but an artist of rare talent whose soul and eye were honed in a neighborhood that can inspire as much as it can dishearten.
The 18-year-old senior from Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School puts in as many hours as he can after school in the studio at Taller Puertorriqueño, a Latino cultural arts center in Fairhill, the poorest neighborhood in America’s poorest big city. He loves doing anime art, a Japanese style of starkly colorful graphics. Vasquez is so taken with the form that he wants to move to Japan; he practices the language busing tables and washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant in Ardmore.
Tired of the drugs in a community infamous for them — his biological father was deported to the Dominican Republic for dealing — and weary of “seeing traumatic, violent things,” Vasquez is going to pick an out-of-town campus and disappear.
“The only thing good about this neighborhood,” he said one day at Taller, as he painstakingly mixed watercolors to create the correct shade of blue, “are programs like this that get kids like me out of here. Art helps me forget reality.
“I have seen the worst part of this city. And I don’t want to be here anymore.”
It’s a sometimes unavoidable byproduct of the work done at such places as Taller Puertorriqueño (which means Puerto Rican workshop) that a child is taught art and culture so well that he’s inspired to move away. The community then misses out on an exceptional person who may have helped repair it.
But Fairhill is a hard place. The poverty rate is 61 percent, compared with 26 percent citywide. Its median household income is just under $16,000 annually, census figures show, the city’s lowest. Once 90 percent Puerto Rican, the area is more diverse now, with Dominicans and Mexicans making up about 35 percent, Taller figures show.