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'I won't give up': Queer artist Alvaro Orozco speaks from immigration detention

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At 8pm on Friday May 13, award-winning undocumented queer artist Alvaro Orozco was arrested by Toronto Police after being 'randomly ID'd' on his way to dinner with friends. Now in detention at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, he faces imminent deportation to Nicaragua.

In this exclusive interview for Rabble.ca, Alvaro Orozco speaks from detention directly to his supporters. Alvaro shares his hope for the future and reflects on his experience as an undocumented artist in Toronto.

Do you have any message for your friends and supporters that you want to share?

I think it’s been amazing. I feel blessed and happy to have all of the support from all of the organizations I know. 

Even in this time of struggle, I think one of the most important things is that all of the groups that I know, all of the community, has come together. That’s very remarkable and important and can make a big difference in Canada.

What does it mean for you to live in Toronto? Can you talk about your community and your connection to it as an artist?

Toronto and Canada means everything to me. My friends (smiles) … To come to Canada I crossed six countries by myself, it took a lot of effort to be here. As a gay man, it is the most amazing thing, because I feel open and spiritually free. 

When I met Jumblies Theatre, for me that was amazing, in an artistic way it was everything for me. I feel like I belong. I share my ideas and do all kinds of projects - photography, painting and design - I feel rich. I can share my artwork in exhibitions and I feel blessed that a lot of people take my work seriously.

Can you talk about some of the art projects that you’ve done in Toronto?

In 2009 I made a project with the Evergreen House. It is a place where youth feel safe with resources like food and shelter. My mission was to work with youth who use drugs and have addictions. Through the Under the Bridge project, I worked with youth from age 17 to 24 to help them live with more harmony. It was an outdoor exhibition, I displayed a lot of photos, they also took part in photography sessions.

My second project is called Fashion on the Street. It involves youth who live on the street who want to pursue or to become a model. For this I was nominated by the Toronto Youth Cabinet for their Street-Level Advocate Award in 2010. 

Right now, my last exhibition was with Mayworks Festival, where I am exhibiting some of my photography that shows struggles that gay refugees face.

I feel blessed that no matter that I don’t have papers that say I am legal in Canada, I fee in my heart that I belong here, and at the same time I feel honoured by the community and the people and that makes a big difference in my struggle in all this time, these six years. This has been a struggle, but at the same time, I’ve accomplished so many things.

In 2007 I was at the Olympic Outgames in Calgary and I competed in 5K. A lot of things to mention that I have accomplished in Canada, without papers. So I feel blessed and at the same time I am still in struggle. It’s a lot of mixed feelings. The last thing I want to do is give up. I think I have a future and I still have a lot of things to accomplish.

Why is art so important to you and what makes you want to create art?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a famous artist. For me that was impossible to picture that as a reality, it was just a dream, I never expected it to really happen. I wanted to become a painter, a photographer, a designer. 

Despite all the struggles I have had, the arts has been amazing for me. During all this time I have been “illegal”, I have invested into my art and exhibitions. But to grow as an artist is also a struggle. It’s not easy to be “illegal” and to be an artist and hold exhibitions.

Do you have any advice on how we can better support undocumented artists?

One thing I believe is that, I think that people who are invisible, who are undocumented, all the people, have a gift. Because we are “illegal”, because our minds are closed with all of the fear, we don’t see inside ourselves all the gifts we have. I believe every single person has a gift to give. For some people it might be easy to be open with art and to acknowledge all the gifts they have in their minds and in their hearts.

I believe that all the people who are refugees, who are without papers, they have so much potential. With no rights, we are unable to be open and free and express the qualities we have inside.

Any last things you want to share?

There is a lot of things to say, but I just want to say thank you. Thank you, thank you for all of the support. I won’t give up and I hope the community is still there and I hope they won’t give up too. 


The Let Alvaro Stay Campaign is asking for your support!

- Email, Tweet, Call Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, ask him to issue a Temporary Resident Permit to Alvaro, and grant him status on Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds. [@kenneyjason, 613-992-2235, [email protected]]

- Sign the petition: www.tiny.cc/alv2011

- Join www.facebook.com/LetAlvaroStay. We've organized a community meeting, a community press conference, and a dance mob and will be continuing actions till Alvaro's released to his Toronto family.

- Watch the Video Testimonials: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?p=PL63AC9B4B2BC74AA3

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