On Wings of Inspiration
What is your dream?
Many of us have been asked this question in various ways throughout our lives. But for the women at Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo, a women’s shelter in Vicente Guerrero Baja California, Mexico, this question was completely new. In fact, most struggled to find an answer, sometimes just giving up, saying I’ve never thought of this before. Dorothy, the 76-year old Canadian amazing woman who runs Nuevo Comienzo with her partner Eduardo says,
“you can’t help but love a woman when you see the light in her eyes for the very first time when she dares to dream.”
Dorothy has seen women through countless hardships and has helped carve a path of possibility forward so they can lead healthy and productive lives. This is my artist team In Relation’s (Courtney Branch, Stan Parker, Lindsay Carron) second time visiting Nuevo Comienzo. Three years ago, we drew six portraits and did interviews of the women, painted three murals, and created a short film. This year, we painted an uplifting mural at their new location, drew five portraits and did interviews, planted two gardens and several trees, and are creating another short film. I am excited to share some of the precious, and often challenging, moments of this journey with you.
The team getting ready to drive down to Mexico!
When we arrived in Vicente Guerrero, we met Karly Dallas, a dear friend and fellow Pepperdine alumni who runs Oasis, an after school program in the town and who has been our introduction to the work we do in Vicente Guerrero. Oasis has expanded and has a new addition in Las Aves, Nuevo Comienzo shifted their location to a high hill overlooking the town where the women are camped in trailers until further structures can be built, and Karly is getting married!
the town that keeps calling us back.
There are places in the world that I will choose to return to before ever going somewhere new. This is one of them. Vicente Guerrero is a small town in Baja California, Mexico. This was our third year coming down with paint, art supplies, and passion. It’s amazing how wide a heart can open when life is stripped down to basic needs. It is not that issues here are less complex. Trauma and danger are persistent and layered. But when one stays fluid, which was necessary at the women’s shelter we served, the little successes shine brighter and matter more.
Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo
It may not look like much on the outside, but it is so much on the inside. Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo provides a safe refuge for women escaping sexual, physical and emotional abuse, violence, drug addiction, and extreme poverty. Through learning from and helping one another, lives are slowly pieced back together and hope is found.
Dorothy and Eduardo
After touring the new facilities, meeting women and children, snuggling brand new puppies, and sitting down to coffee and cookies (which happened about four times a day thanks to Dorothy), we flipped through the portraits from three years ago and asked Dorothy about where the women are today.
Where does one end and the other begin?
We were told awesome success stories and stories that sickened us around the table on that first day. The most heart wrenching was Jaira and her three little girls, Joselin, Esmerelda, and Daleyssa. Jaira is now back on the streets, and her girls are in an orphanage north of town. Hearing this brought tears to my eyes. It’s amazing how quickly we can connect to one another. How we can forge a bond that can last years in only a few moments. Overall, we yearn for the success moments. We desire to hear good things after long periods of time away. But life has its way, and it’s often not the easy road in this small Baja town. Nuevo Comienzo aims to uplift women by supplying refuge, healthy meals, work and community. Yet the women are autonomous and make their own decisions. If they choose to leave, that is their right. Even if it’s a road filled with tears before them.
Dorothy challenged us to see the girls at the orphanage, though they are under protection by the state. We aimed to gift them the original portrait we had created three years ago. So on our way up to Ensenada from Vicente Guerrero after our week of work, we stopped at the orphanage and school with hope in our hearts. We were unable to visit the children, but we met the rockstar director, saw their beautiful facilities, gave the portrait to good hands where it would be gifted to the girls, and in an amazing act of serendipity, met the youngest of the girls, Daleyssa, just an infant when we drew her three years prior.
The Mural: En las Alas de Mariposas
Tender whispers pass by on the wings of butterflies. I can rest. I am welcomed in all that I am… with all that I’ve seen… welcomed in all that I’ve felt… all that I carry. I am not alone… I open my eyes… And I am not afraid.
Poem by Andre Bunton
An inspiring motif of transformation. Words of inspiration translated to Spanish. A week of painting and celebrating the possibility of new life.
Susurros dulces pasan en las alas de mariposas.
The opportunity to sit as a stranger and witness some of the most intimate stories from a woman is a precious gift.
Cecilia Cardenas, age 37 and her daughters Chelsea, Anea, and Alissa
Itzel Lopez, age 16, and her infant Angel Manuel
Nereyda Santiago Contredas, age 28
Estela Lida Montalvo, age 28, and her children Jesus Eduardo, Briseyda Yomara, Cristian, and Joshua
Maria Maya and her children Coleman, Kenneth, Ayana, Anthony, Isabella, and Isaiah
Itzel ~ Una Mujer Fuerte ~
16-year-old Itzel was 8 months pregnant when she arrived at Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo. She had stayed here before with her mom, but this time she came back alone. Her mom would continue to return to her abusive husband and was closing the doors on Itzel just as she’s about to have her child. No one in the family accepted Itzel because of her rebellious nature, so time and again she’d return to her mom and stepdad, and to a horrible situation. Her stepdad was sexually harassing her. Eventually he threatened to kill her family if she didn’t have sex with him. So she consented to rape. After months of continued sexual abuse and confused life, she finally fled to Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo. A new mother at age 16, she was terrified and didn’t think she could take care of the child. But with the help and support of the women at the shelter, Itzel has been growing into a good mother and strong woman more and more each day. By the end of the interview, Itzel was in tears. The last question we asked her was, what is a strong woman to you? Tears streaming down, she was silent. Maria, the house mom and our translator, stepped in. She told Itzel, it takes a strong woman to go through everything she’s been through. It takes a strong woman to make the decision to leave her family and her abuse and choose a different path. It takes a strong woman to at age 16 commit to being a good mother to her child. Maria said,
“When I think of a strong woman, I think of one word – Itzel.”
Muchas gracias to everyone who supported our trip. Your contributions make this work possible and breathe life into further projects. Baja California Norte is a truly special place. Its land, experiences and people live in my heart and will continue to impact my artwork for years to come.