Activism

New Mural in Five Points Depicts Immigrant Journey

Families of Convivir students at the mural unveiling.
Families of Convivir students at the mural unveiling. Anthony Maes
"La Serpiente Dorada," a new mural depicting the immigrant journey, was revealed on 33rd and Larimer streets this past weekend. Painted by Colorado "artivist" Diego Florez-Arroyo in collaboration with Convivir, a sixth-through-twelfth-grade program for refugee and immigrant children, the artwork adds a vibrant story to the Five Points neighborhood.

Convivir was officially incorporated in 2020 and has been a thriving community program since. Tania Chairez, the CEO and creative director of Convivir, says, "We are a leadership program that encourages students to find power in their migrant journey." Each summer, Convivir hosts a community project program, and this year the students focused on the mural as their way to give back.

Diego Florez-Arroyo is a first-generation Chicano from the Northside who works as an artist, poet, musician and educator. He is Indigenous from both sides of the border, with his mother being Tarahumara from Chihuahua, Mexico, and his father being a North Pueblo Indian. Convivir reached out to him in June to start workshopping the piece, and the actual painting of the mural began on July 18 and was finished six days later.

click to enlarge
"La Serpiente Dorada"
Anthony Maes
To begin the project, Florez-Arroyo asked the students what their culture and experience tastes, feels, looks, sounds and smells like. From those sensory details, they came to a consensus that the mural would depict the past, present and future of immigration. The painting begins with the Quetzalcoatl-plumed serpent, which represents ancient times. The serpent leads into the thorns of a chain-linked fence, which demonstrates the conversion to Catholicism that many cultures had to undergo. Next, the piece transforms into DNA, which represents the links of seven generations and the ancestral power that they hold. Florez-Arroyo says that this part of the mural is one that "shows the understanding of ourselves again, from where we came from to where we're going." Finally, the piece morphs into the future with flowers and butterflies; the latter were painted by the families of the students.

The mural means different things to each individual involved. For Xiomara Moreno Nunez, a first-generation student, the mural shows that "there is always someone that can help you as an immigrant or first generation." And for the leaders at Convivir, the ability to see their students make their mark on something so concrete and take ownership and pride in their work was so powerful that Chairez could only describe it as "intergenerational healing."

Creating this mural was not just for the kids, Chairez notes, as the facilitators involved were also all directly impacted by immigration in one way or another. By forming the community-based project, they were also able to be part of a greater story that builds understanding and love that crosses borders.

Dozens of families gathered at the mural unveiling on Saturday, July 23, to paint their own mariposas, with the butterflies' orange wings symbolizing their vibrant journey through time and space. There were speakers, artists and incredible food. Ximena Saucedo Diaz, an immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico, and a student at Convivir, called the event "home — a community full of first-generation and immigrants." Filled with song and laughter, the event demonstrated the power of immigrant families. Teacher and activist Alejandro Fuentes Mena said one of the most beautiful parts of the process was to see the students sprout their wings, too. "Every student here struggled to share their thoughts in the beginning," he said, "and it's been beautiful to see their transformation."

After going through the program, the students say they want to be the kind of people to use their voice for what's right. "There is always hope no matter your background," says Nunez, "and...you can always speak out."

"La Serpiente Dorada" is located at 3264 Larimer Street, Unit D.
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