Image courtesy of Rafael Rodriguez.
Through his art, Rodriguez hopes to remove some of the guilt undocumented Latinos face through the way the media portrays them.
Inspired by his high school art teacher to incorporate his background into his art, Rafael Rodriguez began painting about the experiences of immigrants.
“We go through a system that kinda makes us seem like we are committing crimes by entering the U.S. and most of the time we feel guilty or we feel like we actually have committed such a crime. But in reality we never get to understand the real reason why we become undocumented immigrants.”
Rodriguez is a junior studio art major at UMD, his art primarily focuses on how undocumented immigrants are seen by Americans.
At 17 years old he left El Salvador, fleeing the gang violence that now fills the country as a result of their civil war.
Upon settling in Maryland, he attended Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County where he took an art class his sophomore year that made him discover his love for art.
After finishing his sophomore year, Rodriguez applied for the school’s Visual and Performing Arts program. While being a part of the program, he met a teacher who motivated him to do art that, as Rodriguez describes it, “would represent myself.”
After finding his theme on immigration through art, Rodriguez explains that he was able to explain to others his journey of migrating to the U.S., something he was unable to do at the time through words due to language barriers.
My decade in a mugshot, painting (courtesy of Rafael Rodriguez.)
His piece, My decade in a mugshot, is a collage of all of his immigration court hearings.
After highschool, Rodriguez chose to continue his education in the arts. He was offered admission at various universities, some even offering him scholarships.
However, he turned them down due to the financial challenges due to being undocumented. Students without a social security number generally cannot apply for financial aid.
He went on to enroll in Montgomery College, where he received his associates degree in the fine arts. During his time in Montgomery College, Rodriguez learned about various forms of art which helped him build his art portfolio.
In his time at both Montgomery College and UMD, Rodriguez has met Latino artists but says he has yet to see any who incorporate their culture in their art.
“I think that’s why I want to be a professor, so I can kind of push them [students] the same way my teacher in high school kinda pushed me to find myself.”
Rodriguez also hopes to send a message to U.S. Latinos in general through his art.
“Through my artwork I want to change the perspective of Latinos or Salvadorans in general, about the way we see ourselves as undocumented immigrants in the U.S.”
I’m cold, painting (courtesy of Rafael Rodriguez.)
Rodrigiuez explains that most people are unaware of the U.S’s intervention in El Salvador, and other countries.
“The reality is, we come here because of the way the U.S. has intervened in our countries and I myself have seen how difficult it is to leave everything behind and families and everything and in a country where you have to start from scratch again.”
According to data from TRACImmigration, undocumented Salvadoran migrants only received a 18.1% asylum acceptance rate in 2020, leaving the rest of Salvadorans to enter the U.S as undocumented.
In the near future, Rodriguez hopes to work on an art piece focusing on latino construction workers, highlighting their work, and lack of labor rights.
“Most of undocumented people come to the U.S and they dedicate their whole life, they give their use to this country and they never get recognized and they go back and they feel like it’s right to be treated as less and not have any right to demand some type of equal treatment.”
To view his work, visit Rodriguez’s website: