While some Mexican immigrants may already have found their voices in their new Philadelphia community, others are still searching. Local artists Nora Litz and Michelle Ortiz are helping some of them speak out through their "El Viaje" project.
"El Viaje" - "the journey" in Spanish - is six Mexican families' visual accounts of their experiences leaving their Mexican homeland and traveling to South Philadelphia, where they now live. The paintings and other objects convey the heartfelt emotions of leaving family members behind to embark on a difficult, sometimes dangerous journey to an unfamiliar land.
Litz and Ortiz guided the six families - whose members range in age from preschool to 60 - through a series of workshops, introducing them to Mexican art styles and encouraging them to share their stories with brushstrokes and crafts.
"Some of our participants never painted before. Nora and I were there simply to help bring out their stories, they did the rest," said Ortiz. "The creative process brings people together naturally."
The art will be on display through July 12, with an opening reception tonight at Casa Monarca, a nonprofit Mexican cultural center in South Philadelphia. The show includes numerous watercolors, headdresses and a children's mural.
"The pieces capture the physical experience [of the journey] but also incorporate cultural, emotional and religious dimensions," said Ortiz.
Highlighted in the exhibit are pieces in the style of ex-voto art, a traditional form used to demonstrate when a wish has been granted.
Attendees also will see an outdoor screening of a documentary created alongside the artwork. The 13-minute film is a moving compilation of testimonials from men and women who have emigrated from Mexico to the United States.
Subtitled in English, this collection of personal stories narrates the struggle and fear that these families face as immigrants.
Ortiz called the documentary "powerful" and "something that identifies with all immigrant communities."
The exhibit ends next month, but the artworks' journey will continue. Ortiz and Litz will take the pieces to Mexico and display them in the communities where the families once lived. The artists will invite residents to create their own works to send them back to South Philadelphia as an art exchange.
"We are bridging . . . these communities through art exchange," Ortiz said.