By Abhinanda Datta and Manasi Kaushik
The room echoed with the laughter of little children and nervous chatters infused with a sense of anticipatory excitement, despite the ominous pall that shrouded the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Members of the Pilsen community gathered recently at the Providence of God Church on Friday to share mutual feelings of fear and unease, while trying to allay their growing anxieties through art.
“Today is the day that Trump is being inaugurated and it is a very sad day for America,” Tracy Schnabel, an occupational therapist, said at Friday’s event.
“So my friend presented this event to me as a way to do alternative activism – turning something negative into something positive. I was really upset when he actually won because I feel like a lot of people that are the most vulnerable in our society will be at a disadvantage.
“So this is a way to come together and counter that, do something positive and I really like the idea of the church doing social activism in the community. It actually comes alive to do something for the people in need.”
Organized by the Parish Peace Project, “Paint with your Neighbor” created a healing space where attendees could speak their minds and indulge in bias-free rhetoric.
The people combined their skills to paint a community mural depicting the monarch butterfly, while munching on an array of delectable food items such as pizza and cookies. They even had an opportunity to take lessons from artist and muralist Robert Valadez.
“We chose the monarch butterfly because it is a metaphor for freedom,” Valdez said. “There is a forest in Mexico from where these butterflies fly as far north as Canada. They cross the border and gain complete freedom and so it has become a symbol for the immigrants.”
The Parish Peace Project, a faith-based community organization,focuses on the engagement for young adults in the Southwest Side of Chicago, combining ministry and community organizing to develop the leadership of the youth, thereby enabling them to support the larger community.
In October, the organization hosted an event called Rally for Peace and Dignity at the Providence of God Church to take a stand against the hateful messages that emerged out of the 2016 presidential campaign.
“This past election cycle was charged with anti-immigrant sentiment and hostile rhetoric that divided people in communities across the nation,” said Fernando Rayas, executive director of the Parish Peace Project.
“As peacemakers, our intention with this canvas painting class and community art project is to bring people of the community together to begin a different kind of conversation”
Rayas added: “Many people across the nation have mixed feelings and are upset about the result of the presidential election. Some people may just stay at home by themselves feeling lonely, we are creating a space for them to come to experience art, build relationship with others and create good memories.”
Protestors at every anti-Trump rally across the city have chanted, “A nation united can never be divided.” The Pilsen community turned out to be a living testimony to that.
“There is a lot of anxiety and tension among us, specifically our Latino community,” aid Carolina Perez, a sociology major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I know my community has suffered and will continue suffering and the greatest fear, if anything is just having this country being OK with discrimination.
“I know that many people are going through anxiety, especially the undocumented community. I am a citizen so I don’t have the same fear as them, but I am standing in solidarity with them.”