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Utah Artist Who Visited Migrant Caravan Wants To Dispel Stereotypes

Utah artist Jorge Arellano posing next to one of his art works.

Midvale artist Jorge Arellano spent a few days last month helping members of the migrant caravan while they stopped in Mexico City on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. This group of Central American migrants fleeing their home countries has been in the headlines after President Trump labeled the caravan “an invasion.”


Arellano recently returned to Utah from Mexico's capital where he grew up. He spoke with KUER’s Rocio Hernandez about the obligation he feels to support the migrants as an immigrant himself.

Rocio Hernandez: What did you see during the few days that you spent with the migrant caravan?


Jorge Arellano: I have a group of friends that pretty much organized in the neighborhood where I grew up down there. So basically we got together a van and came over and talked to some people in the caravan. We were able to meet them and we deliver all the stuff that we put together in the same community.


RH:Did you get to ask them why they want to come to the United States?


JA: We didn't get into the really specific reasons because it's obvious why everybody is immigrating, so mainly we just got there and start (talking) about how their trip was going, if they needed anything, how we could help them out. Some of us started talking about how the traveling was so hard like to move from one place to another. But I didn't ask them like specifically why were you doing this because to me it's obvious ... because all the violence and all that crime happening in their countries.


RH: We've been hearing on the news that these people are said to be “invading the country” and that there's dangerous people among the migrants. Can you talk about those concerns?

JA: These are families. There's kids in there, a lot of young women, a lot of mothers, fathers and a lot of people are traveling together just to be safe. I didn't see any weapons, I didn't see anyone organizing to commit any crimes. We need to be as humanitarian as possible. We need to understand their needs. We need to really think (about) the reasons why they're doing this, why they're risking their lives. I mean, there has to be something really important to push them. I don't believe that a bunch of criminals got together and said let's to go to this country and destroy it. I honestly think these are people that are trying to flee from a country that is really aggressive, really violent and they have no option. I wouldn't put my life at risk for it if I didn't need to.

RH: Are the migrants being taken care of in Mexico, from what you saw?


JA: From what I saw in that camp in particular, yes. But the thing is they have to travel long distances from one camp to another camp. So that is when there is the real risk, when they need the most, because they sleep outside, doesn't matter if it's raining, it's really cold right now. The distances for traveling is pretty far from one city to another. So Mexico City is a big city and they have a stadium there and they could have from 2000 to 3000 people at a time, but when they get to smaller cities then they have to camp on the streets because they don't have that capacity. So it depends on what city they are (in).


RH: And you mentioned that you have a desire to go back and to Mexico specifically Tijuana to continue more work.


JA: Yes, so my desire to go back is just because ... I have to always be supporting the immigrant community. Tijuana (has) really amazing groups that are working with the caravan right now. It doesn't matter what they do with, the caravan, it's not like they're going to be in a really good condition. They're sleeping on the street, they're sleeping in tents. It's a super cold. They faced a lot of danger from organized crime ... border patrol, see what happened with the gas.


RH: What makes you passionate about helping this group?

JA: It's not just this group. It's everything. I'm an immigrant. My passion comes from my community, from my own family and I don't think I can sit back and see what happens and think that someone else is going to do their job. You know I always feel that need to do something about it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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