Affected by DACA decision, student finds solace in art

He shuts the door behind him, sealing himself away from the world around. He seats himself on the plush carpet and gathers his paint brushes, arranging them according to their height and brush tip. With his wooden palette, he begins to mix the paints in order to get the perfect shade. Soft music drifts through the air as he stares at his blank canvas, contemplating his next creation.

When James* paints, he follows this routine to a tee. Not only that, but all of his pieces have the same recurring theme.

“Everything that I have painted has always been a single figure, a single person,” he said.

His paintings, he says, are a reflection of his own self. The pieces he treasures the most aren’t the ones that look the best; they are the ones where he was able to give up a little part of himself throughout the process. Yet, only later in his life has he realized this.

James understood that he wasn’t like the rest of them. While he was born in the U.S., the rest of his family members were illegal immigrants“[My parents] thought it was a good choice to move to the U.S. because we would have better opportunities,” he said. “They knew the possible consequences if they moved, but since they came a while ago, I don’t think it was as big of a deal to them back then.”

As time went on, James’ family began to realize the potential danger their illegal status could cause. Deportation slowly turned into a possibility to  them.

“I feel powerless because I can’t really do anything about it,” James said.

In 2012, they discovered their safe haven: DACA. This policy stated that the government wouldn’t deport illegal immigrants who came into America as minors. It wiped away his sibling’s concerns of deportation, but didn’t alter his parent’s status as immigrants without any legal documents. Yet, it provided his family with a sigh of relief, granting them easier access to education, jobs and better lifestyles.

A weight was lifted from his shoulder. This new feeling of peace lead to James painting with ease and an insurmountable amount of inspiration.

“More often, I’ll have an urge to create or when I watch other people do art, it inspires me to be creative,” he said.

He was excited to create, expressing himself through the bright, pastel colors he used. His brushes gracefully glided across the canvas as he spent hours making everything picture perfect. Painting after painting, he continued to produce many creations without much thought. It simply became a hobby. Nothing more, nothing less.

But his happiness was short-lived. DACA was never written to promise his family permanent settlement, nor did it offer legal citizenship. On Sept. 5, 2017, President Donald Trump declared that Congress had a deadline of six months to determine the fate of DACA, a legislation that many want to see end.

With the circumstances looming over them, James’ family was now threatened to go back to the status they tried to escape.

“I grew more scared and isolated knowing that they could all one day be forced to go back and I would be here, not knowing where to go or what to do,” he said.

He didn’t recognize it for some time, but James found himself treasuring more moments with his family.

“I feel like I’ve found myself spending more time with my family and wanting to be a good kid,” he said.

Still, James says he has lost his sense of security. He found that, due to the uncertainty that his family’s situation has caused, he wouldn’t reveal his true emotions to the people who were closest to him.

“In my actions, I would isolate myself a little more and fall into my own little box,” he said.

He learned to repress his feelings, teaching himself to try to ignore them. Soon enough, the emotions he carried within himself became too much. He turned to art and found himself losing the inspiration he desperately wanted towards his paintings.

“I felt like I was in an art block, where I felt hopeless in a way because sometimes I get that thought randomly, where I would overthink things and have anxiety that [my family’s deportation] would be a possibility,”  he said.

In the midst of his mental block, his creativity plummeted. James would spend hours, days, and even weeks on a single painting. With every painting, he found himself despising his own work more often than before.

“Art that I don’t like [is the kind] where I look at it and get nothing from it,” he said.

Yet when he did paint, there was one thing that didn’t change: the fact that his paintings still only had one person. James never thought anything of it. He initially assumed he was just unmotivated to put more effort into another figure. But he said he now understands that there is more to it than that.

“I feel like that’s my subconscious way of putting myself in the painting because it’s always just that one person doing something,” he said. “It’s always been one figure, alone.”

Isolation may have been the driving force behind his paintings, but his emotions were ultimately the highlight of his pieces.

“I feel like in art, I could channel my expressions and let it all out in order to see how my emotions can be shown visually,” James said.

He began to notice how his emotions became exposed onto one canvas when his fears began to consume him. Locking himself in his room, he aligned his brushes and set his canvas at its usual spot against his bookshelf. He pulled out darker shades of colors and poured them onto his palette. He splattered the colors onto his canvas, creating harsh and jagged lines. Minutes passed and he grew more precise. As his hands gripped the brush, his movements became more calculated when he went over the lone figure. He wanted his message to be crystal clear. Soon enough, his eyes scanned over a finished creation — a depiction of his raw emotions of fear and anxiety.

It was then that James said he realized one vital thing: the process of creating the piece was much more important than the finished product.

“The pieces that are more ‘in the moment’ are when they’re more meaningful,” James said.

How he characterized a good piece didn’t solely depend on whether it was visually pleasing anymore. He finally understood the true value behind his works–the underlying message.

“Art that I do like is something that looks nice and it goes into how it makes me feel,” he said.

His paintings became more than a hobby. They evolved into endeavors that helped guide him to the peace he wanted to reclaim.

He may have released his repressed emotions through his artwork, but the battle wasn’t over. Although painting provided a temporarily release, it didn’t halt the possibility of his family’s deportation. He always viewed his paintings as insignificant since they were simply made out of pure enjoyment. But as time went on and DACA’s fate was soon to be decided, James recognized that painting was an outlet. His newly found discovery made him believe his talent wasn’t only a skill; it was a passion.

As James continued to paint, he realized that the feeling of anxiety always lingered within him. He always knew that his situation was slightly different from that of his family and he grew to accept that. He had always called himself an artist. However, while anxiety over the future of DACA and his family’s ability to remain in the U.S, he began to look at his canvas and brushes as an escape. He knew his paintings wouldn’t change the world, but gradually, he viewed painting as a way not to drown his emotions, but to release them. They became his own safe haven.

*Name Changed