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Undocumented in Color

Atlanta Artist Yehimi Cambrón (Metro Atlanta ’15) brings to life the complexities of the immigrant experience through murals that make this issue, and the people at the heart of this issue, unavoidable.

By Paula Ann Solis

June 9, 2020

A mural against a brick wall depicting the faces of three women.

When she first started teaching, Yehimi Cambrón (Metro Atlanta ’15) says she would have been embarrassed to call herself an artist. Today, her colorful murals coat nearly a dozen walls in the Atlanta area, with more commissioned for the year ahead. The city’s renowned High Museum of Art has displayed her series “Family Portrait.” And if you catch the new Netflix series Gentefied, you’ll see actress America Ferrera wearing Cambrón’s monarch design on her T-shirt.

Atlanta’s renowned High Museum of Art displayed Yehimi Cambrón’s seven-portrait series “Family Portrait” as part of its “Of Origins and Belonging, Drawn from Atlanta” exhibition. The series featured images of Cambrón’s own family, displaying the reality of mixed-status families.

Cambrón, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, dedicated herself as an educator to helping undocumented students navigate the path to college—work that was featured in a 2018 article in One Day. “You don’t understand what undocumented means until you transition into adulthood. Until you transition into illegality,” says Cambrón, who was born in Michoacán, Mexico, and raised in Atlanta.

Though she’s no longer a classroom teacher, Cambrón continues to mentor her students. She hired a former student as her assistant and passed along a mural commission to another to help him get his start. “Each time one of us makes it out of survival mode, then we can lift another one up,” she says.

Her hope is to use her art to lift students, and others as well, by expanding narrow ideas of what it means to be an immigrant. “My murals focus on people who don’t get the focus they deserve, who don’t fit that ideal immigrant narrative,” Cambrón says. “Immigration stories aren’t just about college students or Latinx people or Mexicans. It’s not just undocumented youth. We have parents, too. They were the original dreamers.”

Although the COVID-19 shutdowns have derailed a speaking tour and progress on her murals, Cambrón has kept busy drafting a memoir about her life and art. “The book will be for someone who’s never met an undocumented person,” she says. “And it’s also for newly arrived immigrants trying to figure out what undocumented in America means.”

This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2020 edition of One Day magazine which went to print in mid-May.

 

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