By Anton L. Delgado | NC News Intern Corps
Veronica Arellano put her painting on pause after having her first child nearly a decade ago. Arellano said she didn’t have any plans to return to her “side hobby.”
That was until Vanessa Guillén, a U.S. Army soldier was found dead in Fort Hood, Texas.
To remember the 20-year-old soldier, who was killed and dismembered, Arellano co-painted a several-foot-long mural of Guillén. She says the most meaningful artistic part of the mural is the U.S. flag painted within the tear streaming down Guillén’s face.
“She devoted her life to the military and to her country. The tear represents how her country failed her,” Arellano said. “It’s really meaningful to me that I came back to painting for Vanessa because this mural is another way I can express myself, besides protesting.”
Arellano’s mural was the centerpiece of a four-hour-long demonstration in Raleigh on Saturday, which was hosted by Nuevos, a local Latino advocacy organization.
Just over 20 protesters, including Arellano, joined the four organizers of Nuevos in the walkway between the N.C. Museum of History and the N.C. State Museum of Natural Sciences.
“No matter where you are, if it is an issue that is important to you, it is important to bring awareness to it,” said Yulianna Navarro, one of the Nuevos organizers. “This is so that the leaders of this country can see that it doesn’t matter where you are, you can still feel a connection to other families suffering.”
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Navarro says the distance from Fort Hood to Raleigh — roughly 1,300 miles — makes no difference on how she feels about Guillén’s death.
“For us in the Latino community, we find a connection with her and her family and identify with her struggle,” Navarro said. “We want to show her and her family that they are important to us.”
According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, Hispanics and Latinos make up nearly 25% of all active duty service members. The website of the U.S. Army, which is the largest of the seven branches, states that in 2017 approximately 17% of its active-duty soldiers were Hispanic.
Next to Navarro for most of the protest was fellow organizer Carina Lozano, who served four years in the U.S. Navy.
“When I was in the military I never spoke up or did anything about the things I saw or hear about,” Lozano said. “Reflecting on it now, I ask myself why I didn’t, but it’s too late now. This is what I can do now.”
The NC News Intern Corps is a program of the NC Local News Workshop, funded by the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund and housed at Elon University’s School of Communications.
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