When I first arrived at the Latin American Association on Atlanta’s Buford Highway for Maite Nazario’s “Metamorphosis of an Immigrant” exhibition on Aug. 17, I was met with paintings and mixed media pieces that demonstrated expertise and skill that must have taken many years to develop. I saw works that I would expect from an artist much older. But when I finally found Maite, I was shocked to discover she is only 17 and is headed to SCAD as a freshman this fall.
Maite, born in Guatemala, is also Puerto Rican. Four years ago, she and her family immigrated to the United States in search of a safer place to call home. Along with a new home and new school — Chattahoohee High School — Maite also found something else she didn’t have previously: art class.
“I had always been really passionate about art because art has been sort of my coping system since I moved so much,” Nazario told VOX. “The fact that this school had an art program was such a big deal to me.”
Since she started art classes in the U.S., Nazario’s focus has been on immigration. “I began making lots of art, and I started to realize I wanted to do activist art.”
Through her works, she creates a picture of what immigration was like for her family, the things she remembers from home, and negative stereotypes about Hispanic and Latinx* people.
On the topic of immigration, Nazario says, “It’s complex. People don’t realize that no one leaves their country ‘just because’… No one intentionally says, ‘Let me leave my culture, let me leave my language, let me leave my family’, [or] ‘let me leave everything I care about’ just because.”
This is a theme explored in one of her favorite pieces: a painting of her mother, sitting on a suitcase. “It’s basically the moment when she decided to immigrate. I wanted to make the background white to isolate her in the moment because it was such an intense and decisive moment in her life.
“Immigrating, not immigration itself, but immigrating is a type of experience that we all go through parts of our lives [where] we don’t feel secure and we don’t feel happy where we are, [or] we feel like our livelihood is threatened,” Nazario says. “Because of that feeling, we choose to evolve and change. Even if you aren’t an immigrant, I feel like you could relate to that experience.”
Kaylynn, 16, attends Atlanta International School and is the VOX Investigates teen editor this semester, as we take a deep dive into the subject of immigration.