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Richmond Artists Celebrate Immigration As International Migrants Day Approaches

Artist presents dancers with sketch
Alfonso Perez Acosta presents Yu Xiao and her daughter with a sketch inspired by their dance. (Alan Rodriguez Espinoza / VPM)

Reported by VPM Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza.

The United Nations observes International Migrants Day on December 18. The day aims to raise awareness on the issues faced by immigrants around the world. Alfonso Perez Acosta dedicates himself every day to celebrating immigration through with artwork.

The Colombian painter arrived to Richmond four years ago and depicts immigrants dancers in his art, in an effort to do away with the negative narrative that surrounds immigration in American political discourse.

“It always has a tone of being problematic,” he said. “I’m trying to avoid this because what I feel in my real life is joy from being here and from experiencing another country, another culture, a different group of people, and just growing in that difference.”

Since coming to Richmond, Perez Acosta founded the Casa Lapiz arts program at the Sacred Heart Center, which focuses on teaching non-English speaking students art skills so that they can escape the social pressures of learning English.

“They’re always trying to adapt to English and in that struggle they forget to talk about important things,” Perez Acosta said. “When you are aware of the language barrier, you’re also aware of the cultural barrier, which has to do with understanding yourself as someone who wasn’t born here.”

At his art event in October, Migration Flow, Perez Acosta invited immigrant dancers to celebrate immigration with him. One such dancer was Yu Xiao from Chengdu, China. Yu came to the United States in April of 2003, but her nine-year-old daughter, Zoe, was born here.

“We always tell her ‘you are Chinese and you are also American.’ We don’t want her to lose the culture. We wanted her to be bilingual. I think it’s a benefit for her. From the other side, I want her to still have the relationship and the connection with her grandparents in China and all her relatives in China,” Yu said.

In their dance routine at Migration Flow, Yu and Zoe tell the story of a little girl who misses her hometown. Through her traditional Chinese dance classes, Yu seeks “to enrich the Richmond community.”

“I feel happy about sharing our culture. I’m very fortunate that I could share a different culture with people that are willing to learn,” she said.

Perez Acosta always identified himself through his nationality as Colombian. But after making the U.S. his home, he found that many people see him first as Latino. He says he feels that he belongs most with the immigrant community in Richmond.

“Drawing is my home… I didn’t know that when I was in Colombia and here somehow Richmond opened that door for me to know that, and now what I try to do with everything that I do is invite people to my house, and say mi casa es su casa.”

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