HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE
By Sujata Dand
Dallas Artist Cristina Medina points to the Mayan symbols on her vivid watercolor painting.
“They spell out warrior and protector,” Medina explains. “A lot of my work can be quiet, but I wanted this one to be stronger.”
Medina is an art professor at Mountain View College in Dallas. She was one of 11 artists recruited by the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI) to depict the stories of refugees and asylum-seekers. The art will be auctioned as part of the 4th annual Rock Your HeART Out fundraiser on Oct. 19 in Deep Ellum.
HRI provides immigrants and asylum-seekers free legal services, as well as various social services for their families. In 2019, they helped more than 630 clients.
“She was bigger than what happened to her,” Medina describes the woman in her painting. Her almond eyes look up with hope, the rest of her face is protected under an abstract helmet. “It’s not a portrait of the client, but it’s meant to be a representation of a female figure who is a warrior.”
Medina met with the client a few weeks ago.
“It felt emotionally raw to hear her story,” Medina recalls. “She was someone who was undocumented who came to this country with her family when she was very young.”
Medina doesn’t use the client’s name as she shares her story because she wants to protect her privacy. As a young teenager, the client was sexually assaulted by a classmate in a Dallas school. Medina says the client was afraid to tell anyone because she was worried it would endanger her family.
“She didn’t want to burden her family because they were already burdened with their documentation status, and she hesitated to tell her parents because she wanted to protect them,” Medina says with tears in her eyes. “I’m very empathetic. I also have a daughter and [this story] stunned me.”
The client eventually did tell her parents about the assault, and her family went to the police. Law enforcement authorities directed the client to HRI.
“We help the vulnerable immigrants and refugees who are unable to speak up about the atrocities that are happening to them or crimes that have been committed against them,” Maryam Baig, HRI marketing coordinator, says. “They are humans first and citizens of a country later and providing them services for them to feel safe and have a legal voice is important.”
HRI was able to help the client get a special U visa, which allows victims of crimes to remain in the United States when they might not be otherwise be able to do so.
“It just allows law enforcement to solve crimes and for our district attorneys to prosecute crimes,” Sarah Wall, crime victims program director for HRI explains. “They need eyewitnesses and people who are willing to testify in court. It does not matter to their legal case if the people who are witnesses are documented or undocumented. They need people to say this happened and I saw it.”
In this situation, the client’s assault case was never prosecuted, but Baig says the client was able to move past the assault with the help of HRI.
“If this particular client had not received legal and social services through HRI this assault would have gone unnoticed,” Baig says. “She would have just become another number.”
Medina says she was deeply moved by the client’s fortitude in coming forward despite the risk to herself and her family.
“I was just really impressed by her tenacity and strength. She wanted to share her story to help others,” Medina says. “It was one moment in her life that affected her so deeply, but she took it and turned it around and she became stronger for it.”
Medina’s painting will be up for auction at the Rock Your HeART Out event at Life in Deep Ellum on Oct. 19 from 8-10:30 p.m. Jamal Mohamed Ensemble will headline the event. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
Medina, an art professor at Mountain View College, is one of 11 artists participating in the Rock Your HeART Out event on Oct. 19.