For one family of artists, the separation of children from parents stirs haunting memories
Toward the back of the L.A. art gallery called the Mistake Room hangs a painting of a preteen girl with one hand on her hip and the other pointed defiantly at a military general.
The artist, Juan Edgar Aparicio, titled it “Pesadilla de un General” (Nightmare of a General) and dedicated the painting to children who were kidnapped or killed during the 1980s war between the military-led Salvadoran government backed by the U.S. and the guerrilla group Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, better known by the Spanish acronym FMLN.
“It’s a reminder for the military soldiers and tyrants that there are children who died by their hand, like my first daughter,” Aparicio said by phone from his home in El Salvador. “The girl embodies the nightmare that won’t let them live or sleep in peace for what they have done.”
The painting is a focal point of “My Veins Do Not End in Me,” an exhibition that explores not only the Salvadoran immigrant community in L.A. but also the legacy of the Salvadoran civil war through the work from three generations of a single family: Aparicio; his mother, the late Maria de la Paz Torres de Aparicio; and his son, Eddie Rodolfo Aparicio. It’s a show that resonates all the more potently following this country’s recent immigration crisis, as families fleeing violence in Central America were detained at the U.S. border and children were separated from their parents.
Eddie Aparicio spent months looking for pieces of his father’s art for the Mistake Room show.
“I took on finding the works because it was an opportunity to re-engage with all these histories, the stories and the memories that I was too young to absorb,” he said. “Thinking about what the works meant versus who bought them and where they are now is interesting.”
Step inside the gallery and you have a view of all three artists’ work. To your left and right, Eddie’s grandmother’s handmade dolls stand on tables. At the center, Eddie’s immense casts of trees are arranged in a way that frame “Pesadilla de un General.”
Eddie’s father was a student leader and organizer who responded to socioeconomic disparities and human rights violations in El Salvador, but he ultimately left the country after his daughter, wife and brother disappeared — taken by government forces during a war that lasted from 1980 to 1992.
Juan continued his activism through community and arts organizations in L.A. and still sees art as an instrument for protest, whether the issue is gay rights or social injustice in El Salvador. (He moved back to El Salvador when Eddie, his youngest son, grew older.)
For Eddie, the parallels between past and present have been striking.
“My first response was this is the most recent version of children in El Salvador being separated from their families,” Eddie said. “As catalyzing as this event has been, I can think of so many events in Salvador where children have been separated unwillingly, whether it’s conscripted into the military or [by] left-wing guerrillas, or conscription of gangs that forces so many minors to come to the U.S.”