Take Two Interviews Jaime Guerrero
A SoCal artist tells the stories of immigrant children through blown glass
Austin Cross | Take Two®
August 25, 2017
It was the summer of 2014. The United States was in the middle of an immigration crisis. Thousands of children from Central America poured over the U.S. border with Mexico, many fleeing violence at home.
The journey was perilous, sometimes deadly. Those who made it faced more uncertainty in detention centers.
Artist Jamie Guerrero watched these events unfold from his home in Southern California. The headlines would form the inspiration behind his new exhibit titled “Broken Dreams,” which explores the immigrant experience through the art of blown glass. It’s part of a series titled “Mano-Made,” which showcases craft by Latino artists.
“The medium of glass is the most beautiful you can imagine,” Guerrero says. “It’s pretty much harnessing molten lava.”
And harness it he has, creating multifaceted glass children that stand about 4 feet tall. They’re comprised of several parts, and to make them, Guerrero enlisted the help of several assistants.
Each fragile figure tells a different story, according to Guerrero.
“One of them is on the window that could either be crying or playing hide and seek, to give that aspect of a [childlike] innocence,” he says.
Is it a kid just being a kid, or is it something more? That’s a central question in the work.
The three other glass children wear blindfolds. One appears to be hitting a pinata. Guerrero says it’s almost as if they’re at a birthday party, except these delicate glass children are surrounded by more glass — broken into shards.
“They don’t know the dangers they’re gonna face,” he says. “They don’t know if they’re gonna survive the journey. They don’t know if they’re gonna get abducted or be detained. It’s a journey that is very perilous.”
It’s an issue that’s near to Guerrero’s heart. He grew up in Boyle Heights in the 1980s.
“My neighborhood had just a portion of what some other affluent neighborhoods have,” Guerrero says.
Guerrero would go on to attend California College of the Arts. That’s where he learned how to blow glass. He was struck by the lack of access that communities like his had to the arts. So in 2008, he began teaching the trade to underserved kids.
Then came 2014, and the news: tens-of-thousands of unaccompanied children from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras came flooding over the U.S. border.
“A lot of them were alone, and our country was not very welcoming of them,” he says. “Although they were escaping violence, a lot of them got put into detention centers.”
That didn’t sit well with Guerrero. He was determined to create a work to humanize the kids, finishing it just in time for it to find new relevance.
“We have millions of people currently migrating worldwide to escape violence,” Guerrero says. “This is a very important issue right now that I think more people need to be made aware of.”
Guerrero says his exhibit is not directly political, but he feels it’s his duty as an artist to help people have meaningful conversations.
“It is for everybody. It’s for the spectator that may not be aware of these things. It’s also to the lawmakers that can influence in helping these children and not criminalizing them and not putting them in detention centers,” he says.
There’s a final piece to his exhibit: Visitors are invited to become part of it by sharing a handwritten letter telling their migration stories. Those stories will be hung on the walls, among the life-sized glass children at the Craft in America Center.
The exhibit opens Saturday.