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Ypsilanti Youth Paint Murals To Deliver Messages About Immigration and African- American History

Nov 19, 2015

Should you walk or drive through Ypsilanti, you may come across some new artwork. The murals were created by some of the area's young people to send messages about immigration and African-American History.  We spent time with the artists and has their story in this special feature.


Martha Valadez is a community organizer for the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrants Rights.  She's looking at an immigration themed mural at the corner of North Hamilton Street and Michigan Avenue behind Abe's Coney Island restaurant.  She gets emotional.  Standing right next to her is eighteen year old Katia Salazar.  She is among the members of the group WICIR that painted the mural and is pleased with the results.

The mural illustrates a large tree. That represents the United States. The 130 green leaves on the tree are the people who immigrated to this country from around the world.  The root system drawn at the bottom of the mural connects to an image of the Earth that is supported by two brown hands.  Katia says that it shows that we all come from same place. 

Over twenty young people spent the month of October working on the mural behind Abe's.  It's their way of expressing their view of immigration in America.  One of the tree branches is made up of Latino countries and there is a man trying to pull it off with barb wire.  Katia came to U.S. legally. But her father was undocumented when he first moved to this country. She says the branch represents deportation.

The WICIR teens painted the 14 foot X 18 foot oil and acrylic mural with the help of artist Alejandro Chinchilla.  The Costa Rican native says there is a good reason why Latinos countries were placed on that branch.  He believes Latinos are constantly targeted for deportation and that you don't see that with other groups such as Europeans.

Not too far from the immigration mural, you'll find more student painted artwork.  The artists from Ypsilanti Community High School were expressive at their unveiling at Currie's Barbershop on Harriet Street by yelling that they love Ypsi.

Since they love Ypsi, they created a brightly colored image of H.P. Jacobs.  He escaped slavery in Alabama and settled in Ypsilanti in the mid 1800's.  Jacobs used his freedom to open schools for black students in the area.  Seventeen year old Paris Green says the mural celebrates African-American History.  He also says that creating the artwork has helped keep some of today's kids out of trouble.     

Lynne Settles is the art teacher from Ypsilanti High and helped organized the mural project.  She's been impressed with the student's dedication to the project.  That includes seventeen year old TJ West who while helping paint the mural discovered that he loves to draw and paint and may even go to college for it.  Ms. Settles added that students have the skills, they just need someone to motivate them.

It is important to mention these young people, both from the WICIR program and Ypsilanti High, have new hopes because an adult in their life took the time to listen to what they had to say.

The groups plan to paint more murals in the near future.

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— Jorge Avellan is the Ann Arbor beat reporter, and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him studio@wemu.org