Like the tents that surround them, art is temporary refuge for some asylum seekers


Sidewalk school students create art while waiting for asylum at a border tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico.

Harlingen, Texas (KVEO)—Melvin, a 22-year-old from Guatemala, paints in the open at a border tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico. For him, it’s an escape from a world of struggle and pain.

Beneath his quiet exterior, Melvin hides the pain of a life marked by violence. Three years ago, he was shot six times by cartel members in Guatemala.

The art he creates is for sale online at The Sidewalk School Etsy Shop, operated by a school for asylum-seeking migrant children in the border tent encampment. It gives the artists inside the camp an opportunity to sell their work.

Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, who runs the school, says the majority of each sale goes to the artist, and the school does not take a profit.

“There is so much natural talent inside the encampment,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “We just want the world to see and make them aware that there are still hundreds/thousands of people waiting in Matamoros to cross legally to the U.S.”

Painting made by Mel (Credit: The Sidewalk School for children)

Melvin has been with the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum seekers for almost a year. He has been denied asylum, but according to Rangel-Samponaro, Melvin’s lawyers filed for an appeal.

“I paint (sic) since I was 10 years old,” Melvin said. “Right now I paint the moods of the people at the camp. It can be very depressing, but I have faith in God.”

Among the Sidewalk School artists, CBS4/Local 23 met a young artist we will refer to as Estella. She is a 13-year-old from El Salvador.

Melvin and “Estella” painting together at border tent the encampment in Matamoros, Mexico (Credit: The Sidewalk School for children)

Estella taught herself to speak English and has several goals.

“I want to draw and paint professionally,” she said, “learn how to play the piano and guitar, learn rhythmic and artistic gymnastics and travel the world.”

Estella tells us she has to work hard to accomplish her goals.

“I know one day I will look back and remember a time when it seemed impossible,” she said.

Paintings made by Estella (Credit: The Sidewalk School for children)

For both Melvin and Estella, the creativity and hard work has helped when they felt powerless and alone.

Rangel-Samponaro says some of the profits the artists make help support their entire families in their home countries.

The nonprofit asks for donations to continue to assist migrant children by providing them with supplies and education online.

Melvin’s last painting sold for $1,300.

“I came here alone,” he said. “I have parents and five siblings to take care of back in Guatemala.”

The Sidewalk School Etsy Shop continues to welcome new artists and encourage them to practice while they await their future.

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The mission of is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.