Roxana Leiva Exposes Salvadoran Immigrant Experiences with Exhibition 'Mourning and Scars: 20 Years After the War'

roxana.jpgRoxana Leiva knows what it is like to be an immigrant. She has done it herself - twice.

First, she moved to Petaluma at the age of 13 from her homeland of El Salvador. She recalls the experience as terrible--an incredibly difficult cultural transition--and vowed that after she grew up and finished school she would move back to home country.

After high school, she earned her B.F.A. in Art/Illustration and her M.A. in Latin American Art and Culture at Long Beach State University and then she followed her heart and returned to El Salvador.

She had a great job at the Art Museum of El Salvador, and even worked as the project director to establish a government funded arts school for youth. She was making a difference in the lives of hundreds of children through her arts education program there, but after several years, Leiva felt a need to come back to California and be near family, so once again she became an immigrant.


The Salvadoran Diaspora through the Lens of Visual Arts, Literature, and Politics is a panel discussion about El Salvador's 12-year civil war and its immigrants in the United States.

The event will be held in the HUB from noon to 2 p.m. on Feb. 28 and features
Beatriz Cortez, Ph. D., Douglas Carranza, Ph. D. and Ph. D. candidate Karina Zelaya from the Central-American studies programs at California State University, Northridge. They will share their research and discuss Salvadoran culture in the postwar years.

Their approach supports and expands the visual discourse of the artists in Mourning and Scars: 20 Years After the War, in the understanding of the Salvadoran democratization process since 1992.

Leiva recalls the culture shock she experienced both times she moved to the U.S., and how she felt out of place, and marginalized socially. Although she is Salvadoran, she was often referred to as Mexican, and she felt that people she interacted with didn't treat her as an educated woman.

Even now, as a single subject credential program candidate in art at SSU and student teacher in the Art Quest program at Santa Rosa High School, she says people that she meets and talks to often assume she is training to be a Spanish teacher, not an art teacher, just because she is from Latin America.

Leiva is motivated to break through these stereotypes, and aims to work on building cultural understanding through teaching art and art history--both in the classroom and in the broader community.

As an artist and an educator, Leiva understands that art is a powerful medium which can help express ideas and feelings and expose people to new ways of thinking about culture.

Leiva is on a career path for arts education, and realized her employment options would be much wider if she had a Single Subject Credential in art. As she looked for jobs in arts education both in non profits and in public schools, most required that she hold a credential.

In the single subject program, students work directly with young people as they learn the teaching profession. Leiva's field site is the Art Quest program at Santa Rosa High School. She loves the program and the opportunity to work side by side with an experienced mentor teacher and share both art and art history with high school students.

At the same time she was starting the credential program, she decided to build on her graduate school research too. Continuing her exploration of art, culture and civil war in 1980s El Salvador, Leiva applied for and received a grant the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco to be a Commons Curator in Residence.


Artists installing their work at SOMArts. Left to right: Leiticia Hernandez, Jan Carlos Mendizabal, Tessie Barrera-Scharaga and Rick Victor

Her project, Mourning and Scars: 20 Years After the War presents new artwork by Salvadoran immigrant artists and exposes their life straddling two cultures 20 years after the signing the Peace Accords which ended civil war.

Leiva hopes that the show, which opened on February 1 and runs through the end of the month, will be a catalyst for dialogue on ethical, political and cultural matters and that it will help the reconciliation process needed after experiencing trauma and war.

The exhibit features work in a variety of media, including paintings, video, textile sculpture and large-scale multimedia installations by prominent contemporary artists, all immigrants from El Salvador, including Victor Cartagena, Carlos Rogel, Tessie Barrer-Scharaga and Juan Carlos Mendizabal and others.

SOMArts is located at 934 Brannan St., San Francisco (between 8th and 9th streets). The exhibition will be on view through Feb. 28.

More information at:

- Pamela Van Halsema

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