Meet the DACA Recipient Painting to Show that No Human is Illegal

When Arleene Correa wanted to pursue an art degree, she was met with challenges that she never saw coming. Now, as she nears graduation, her future is challenged once again as her DACA grant is in danger.

Arleene Correa in her California studio.

When people see my work, I want them to know there is a place for them. My work is very specific to undocumented Latino people. I am speaking to my community.

Growing up, I thought only wealthy people got to enjoy art. I didn’t think they were speaking to me. I felt so left out. I walk into galleries and all of the artwork is so indulgent. It’s made out of love for painting, not a necessity.

For me, painting is a necessity. I want to change that. I want the paintings to be a reflection of who I am so that my community can connect to that. It’s not about validating existence. It’s about achieving anything I want.

El Piscador / The Harvest Man by Arleene Correa

Painting was never an opportunity to me. My parents never mentioned college. I grew up with this idea that because I was undocumented, I couldn’t become something big. Even though we are undocumented, we are still capable.

I didn’t always have the luxury of free thought. The ability to create is a luxury.

The work I’m making now is people of my community. I don’t paint myself or my family, but I paint people that I know are doing these jobs and living these lives because they’re undocumented. They’re still my family. They are me and I am them. I can’t just focus on my own story — that would be such a narrow point of view for such a tremendous issue.

El Mangonero / The Mango Man by Arleene Correa

A girl in AZ contacted me to say how validating it was to hear that someone is living a parallel life.

Untitled by Arleene Correa

People are listening more. With all the press around DACA, they’re paying more attention than before. They cared all along, but now that I’m being targeted, they have my back.

Two to three years ago, no one cared about the dreamers. They all thought we were living in some faraway land. But now people are realizing that it’s time for us all to have each other’s backs. We’re here — we’re not invisible.

It’s always been so hard for me to hear the term illegal and alien. It’s so hard to understand that people think a human being is illegal. That a human is an alien. It brings on this fear of being discovered. It’s so stressful.