Jovenes sin Nombres is a group of first-generation Latino youths with a dream: achievement. They'll unveil their collaborative mural called "Pintando Para un Sueno" ("Painting for a Dream") this Sat., Nov. 13, at the Ava Lounge in East Liberty.
The group ("Youth Without Names") formed in early 2009 when Michal Friedman and Argentinean artist Alfonso Barquera invited Latino youth to discuss immigration and immigrant rights at the Welcome Center for Immigrants and Internationals, a local social-services organization.
This initial meeting of Latino youth spurred a conversation that evolved into a safe space for the youth to discuss their experiences. "They came from schools, workplaces, and they were just very enthusiastic, really intelligent and wanted to keep meeting. It was pretty organic in that sense," says Friedman in a phone interview.
Friedman is an Israeli-American who immigrated when she was 14. She has been interested in immigration issues since the late '70s, when as a young girl she witnessed the plight of many refugees to Israel from countries like Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, in the wake of brutal military dictatorships. She is currently completing doctoral work at Columbia University; starting in January, she'll teach courses on Spain and Latin America at Carnegie Mellon University.
Jovenes sin Nombres consists of about 25 members ages 15 to 24, originally from Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile and Puerto Rico. There are also several non-Latino supporting members. The group is sponsored by CMU's Center for the Arts in Society, the Carnegie Museum of Art, ArtUp and the Hiawatha Project.
The youths are especially concerned with the difficulty of obtaining a higher education if neither they nor their parents had attained U.S. citizenship. Attaining citizenship can take up to ten years, and some youths are still completely undocumented by the time they graduate high school. Many are also misinformed about their rights to a higher education.
"The law is clear that federal aid is not given to those that aren't citizens. That's been a major obstacle to a lot of our students," Friedman says.
"The Dream Act," a piece of proposed federal legislation, would allow undocumented youth a six-year path toward citizenship provided that they earn a college degree or complete two years of military service.
What to do as a Latin American youth faced with political adversity? Create a mural.
The mural is "something that's part of Latin America, that's a very Latin American cultural form of expressing all kinds of political or social ideas," says Friedman.
The final design took almost a year to complete. "We put a lot of thought into ... how we can create a mural that brings together the cultures and the countries that the youth are from, and Pittsburgh, their new home," says Friedman.
The mural is 4-feet-by-36-feet, and accompanied by two smaller panels. (The accompanying photo shows groups membrs and the work in progress.) The final design is being kept under wraps until the Nov. 13 unveiling, at East Liberty's Ava Lounge. On Nov. 18, the mural will be permanently installed on the storefront of the Latino Family Center, in Squirrel Hill.
Group member Ana, 18 and originally from Mexico, says that the local Latino population is growing. The mural is the members' opportunity to announce not only their presence in Pittsburgh but the importance of their struggle.
"We're talking here about 'the dream,' which is a very important thing to us as youth, because we don't have the chance for us to go to college and in this way it can demonstrate that ... we want to keep working," said Ana. (The group does not reveal members' last names for publication.)
The mural unveiling takes place 6-9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 13, at AVA Lounge, 126 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty. The evening includes dinner and music (joveneslatinos.wordpress.com).