“Gilded Irises” superimposed on Meredith Stern’s “Community Housing” relief print completed this past spring at Maria Sola park during the peak of NYC’s first Covid-19 wave. Peak iris season coincided with record death tolls in NYC and the juxtaposition couldn’t be more severe.
Marco Saavedra has lived as an undocumented immigrant for 28 years and is currently seeking political asylum stemming from his immigrant justice work. He works at his family’s Oaxacan restaurant in the South Bronx, La Morada, and enjoys painting and exploring the Hudson Valley with his baby niece. Originally from an indigenous village, San Miguel Ahuehuetitlan, Marco reconnected with his parents in 1993 to live in Washington Heights. Like many immigrant families they were displaced by poverty, hunger, and free trade agreements. Excelling in his studies at a young age he was placed in District 6’s magnet middle school, Mott Hall, in Harlem. With the encouragement of his teachers he applied to Prep for Prep for a boarding school scholarship and enrolled in Deerfield Academy where he discovered oil painting. Continuing his art studies at Kenyon College he graduated cum laude in 2011 receiving both the Humanitarian Award & the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Humanitarian Award for his promotion of immigrant justice. During the Covid-19 pandemic the Saavedras converted their restaurant into a mutual aid kitchen serving a minimum of 2,500 meals weekly to neighbors in need and were recognized as Thrillist’s Heroes of 2020. Individually Marco garnered Kenyon’s 2020 Humanitarian Service Award and was a finalist for the inaugural David Prize.
“Gilded Irises” superimposed on Meredith Stern’s “Community Housing” relief print completed this past spring at Maria Sola park during the peak of NYC’s first Covid-19 wave. Peak iris season coincided with record death tolls in NYC and the juxtaposition couldn’t be more severe. The South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the city with the highest asthma rate and the borough is second in infection rate. Our borough suffers from environmental racism and structural poverty that make its citizens more prone to preexisting conditions that compromise our immune systems. During the day my family was committed to feeding our neighbors in need as the best we could do to offer relief and at night all I could do was seek blessings among the irises, like Mary Oliver writes, “they save me, and daily.”
Going back to my artistic statement, I think about doing the last thing now; that thing you have saved your whole life for— but have always been preparing for. For me, it is mutual aid and art right now because of all /and despite all— the catastrophe. The only moral response is a celebration of all that has produced us and in that creation we are healed.