By Veronica Restrepo
UHS GRADUATE 2018
In kindergarten, my five year-old friends would line up, waiting for me to draw colorful fairies for them. I spent all day drawing, and, being bilingual, I often used pictures to communicate with my teacher instead of sorting words between two languages. I was a little girl who loved fairy tales and I expressed this in my drawings. This could be seen in how I viewed Colombia, my parents’ home country. I loved this country and its amazing food, beautiful landscapes, and loving family members. I saw Colombia as a magical place, and I looked forward to vacationing there every year.
A little older, I changed my artistic style in middle school. Instead of drawing magical princesses and fairies, I became interested in anime and caricatures. These images were tougher and colder, and the cartoonish characteristics of my drawings represented an ideal image of a subject. This style reflected my own self-consciousness at the time and my feeling the need to fit in. I began to lose part of my pride in being Colombian because of my classmates’ negative comments about Medellin’s past drug cartel problems. When peers would hear that my family was from Colombia, their immediate response would be some snarky comment about drugs, or some ignorant remark about illegal immigrants. Although I knew that these kids were just making thoughtless jokes about topics they didn’t understand, it still hurt my feelings. I remember a day in ninth grade when I brought my favorite type of Colombian candy to school to share with my friends, and they made faces and responded with, “Is it illegal?” My heart dropped, and I started to realize that many people around me perceived my parents’ homeland as a sketchy, one-dimensional place of cocaine and coffee.
I began to hide the fact that my family was Hispanic because of fear of what others would think. If someone asked me where my family was from, I would avoid the question, instead of proudly answering that they were from Medellin. Suddenly ashamed of my heritage, I continued to hide the truth until my junior year in AP Spanish when my teacher, whose husband is from Paraguay, mentioned that despite all of the things wrong with Paraguay, it is still a beautiful country filled with kind people. Every country has its strengths and weaknesses, and faces its own challenges. Older and wiser, I began to once more embrace my family’s culture, no longer feeling the need to hide my heritage.
In my junior year my art changed yet again, and was better than ever. I worked hard on my projects, finally mastering photorealism, which was what I had always desired. I felt like I was able to create the art I always wanted. The most interesting part about photorealism is that no matter what flaws or imperfections a model has, its artistic interpretation can still turn out beautifully when the essence of the model is truly captured. I learned that in reality where there are flaws, there can also be beauty.
With my new spirit of acceptance, I was again able to appreciate my culture. Not only did I start to express my love for Colombia more openly, but I actually started to find ways to get more involved with the Spanish community. With my little sisters, I created a project called Girls Volleyball Without Borders, where we raise money to buy volleyballs to donate to poor schools in other countries, starting in Colombia. If I had remained embarrassed by my culture, I would never have started this meaningful project. In fact, we wouldn’t have branches in La Manga, Mexico or Haiti, either.
My use of art as a form of communication and expression combined with my roots in this beautiful, magical land Colombia, have taught me to always be proud of who I am.