100. Jesús tells us about his life as a worker and an artist in his Nashville neighborhood.
Jesús is undocumented.
He has lived and worked in the United States nineteen years.
As a dishwasher, bus boy, general laborer.
In Nashville he washes cars.
He is 63 (as of 2019).
Jesús is also an artist.
Jesús‘ primitive artwork can be deceiving at first because it can be mistaken for a child’s artwork. But a closer look reveals interesting stories told through fascinating and often humorous details.
AT TOP: CLICK ORANGE ARROW TO LISTEN
BELOW: CLICK WHITE ARROWS TO VIEW JESúS’ ARTWORK
One afternoon in the autumn of 2018 we visited Jesús at his home, a rented room in a trailer in West Nashville. He asked us not to take photographs. He was embarrassed, he said. Neither did he want to invite us inside so we stood with him at a row of mail boxes attached to a wooden plank set on posts. And there we had a conversation as he flipped through his artwork.
Through his drawings we visited his imagination and his history. We looked at Nashville through his eyes–fascinated as he is by machines and construction. We looked at the picture of a deer he saw one night on a city street. We looked at drawings of a coyote and learned the undignified double meaning the animal has for one who has experienced being trafficked across a dangerous border. Often he returns to the same characters and themes, his stories deepening. A true folk artist.
The conversation is two hours long and worth your time. Cook a nice meal, turn up the volume, and come along on the journey with Jesús (and our translator Lorena) and experience a side of Nashville few have known. For those who prefer to read along we have placed the transcript of our conversation below.
philip So first of all I’m not even sure if you understand what I do for a living and why I want to meet you.
Jesús (Lorena) Yes, he can understand that you are a journalist, like a reporter.
philip And I… so I’m a very… I’m a different kind of a journalist. I don’t do news stories. I work on books. Mainly books. And so I was hired to, to write a book and photograph a book about Nashville. So I’ve been here one year working on it. And now they’ve just asked me to stay for another year. And, so I’m interested in people’s stories. And I’m very interested in artists, especially. And so the first time I saw your drawings at the car wash I knew I wanted to find out who you are. I was curious. I just knew you had you had to have an interesting story.
Jesús (Lorena) He says it’s not that interesting.
philip No. I think so. I mean, so, your drawings say something about you. My brother was an artist and I’m first a photographer. So, I don’t consider myself an artist but I’m very influenced by painters and artists. So I have a very high regard for artists. You… So I guess just a little bit of background information is…
philip (Speaking directly to Lorena) He was telling me a little bit of a story [just before you arrived] but I was… I was trying to understand sort of [but my Spanish is very poor]… He came to United States for the first time in 1977. But maybe if you could just [get him to] tell his story a little bit. Why did he first come? Why did he leave? Did he come for a job? And you can sort of feel free to ask questions and talk if you want. But mainly I’m sort of trying to find out… I know he’s been here about eighteen years now. So he’s going to come back and forth and somewhere along there his family didn’t come with him. So I’m not sure where they are. I think they’re in Tijuana, [Mexico].
Jesús (Lorena) He says the reason that we are all here [is] for… To work.
philip Did you have a specific job in 1977 that you came for?
Jesús (Lorena) He says he came because one of his brothers told him to sell his house and come over here to work.
philip So you sold your house in 1977.
Jesús (Lorena) Yes.
philip And you moved to Chicago?
Jesús (Lorena) Yes.
philip What was your job?
Jesús (Lorena) Restuaruant. He was a dishwasher and a busboy.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he didn’t want to sell his house but his brother pushed him to sell it. And he didn’t want to lose that house. But they ended up selling it anyway. He says that his brother wanted to sell it because he didn’t want his children to fight over the house.
Jesús (Lorena) He was afraid to lose the last penny that he had for his house.
philip So you sold it. You moved to the United Stated. You worked as a dishwasher and then what happened?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he started working here and then he started building his house in Mexico again. His own house.
philip And how long did you work here when you first moved?
Jesús (Lorena) Four years. Four years.
Lorena Do you know who the [U.S.] President was in 1977?
philip Yeah that would have been Jimmy Carter.
Lorena Carter. Ok.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he had an… Because the President in that time had done like an amnesty for immigrants. So whoever came to the United States to work could, you know, be legally here. He says he had that but somebody stole it from him.
philip Ah, your paperwork. Somebody stole it?
Jesús (Lorena) Uh hum, somebody stole it from him.
philip Is that how… is that why you had to leave after four years?
Jesús (Lorena) Yes. That’s why he had to leave the U.S.
philip And was it a legal action that you went?
Lorena Was it a… What?
philip Uhm, did they force you… force him to leave?
Jesús (Lorena) No. He went voluntarily. Yeah
philip And so you had a house you had started building and then… When did you come back to the United States a second time?
Jesús (Lorena) 1980… He came back in 1982. Yes. He returned to Chicago the second time.
philip And what type of work did you have then?
Jesús (Lorena) The same place. He said he went back to the same restaurant. Doing the same thing.
philip How long did you stay that… During that time?
Jesús (Lorena) A year and a half.
philip And. When you left that time why did you go back?
Jesús (Lorena) He says he wanted to see his kids again because they were really young. So he went back again.
Jesús (Lorena) There was a time where your boss could help you, uh… Like take a green card and he says that they sent him a letter when he was in Mexico that he was able to do that.
Jesús (Lorena) He’s saying that… When they sent him that letter that he tried to get in contact with his boss and he says that another guy also lied to him and stole that card, that letter from him. And he says that he [the other guy, who lied] used his information and everything. But he says he doesn’t understand why he [the other guy] did that because he was a citizen of the US, the person who stole his letter from him. And he’s asking if he could somehow report that and they can see that all that document is under his name and not under the other person’s [name] who stole the letter?
philip Yeah. I don’t know. I mean…
Jesús (Lorena) He’s saying that he remembers that guy’s name. And that he’s a U.S. citizen. So he doesn’t understand why he stole his documents.
philip Hard to understand why people do what they do.
philip So. You’re… You have a family now in the 1980s. And children. And so you have a wife. And how many children do you have, uhm, now?
Jesús (Lorena) He says the oldest is thirty-four…
Jesús (Lorena) He says he has four kids.
philip Thirty four? It’s not polite to ask somebody their age, but, I can’t do the math here. So. He must have…
Jesús (Lorena) He’s sixty.
philip Are you kidding me!
Jesús (Lorena) Sixty years.
philip He looks younger than me. A lot younger than me. I think he looks a lot younger than me.
Jesús (Lorena) He was born 1956.
philip So you have four children. And I’m asking all this so I can understand the context of…. And so, the same wife your whole life? And are you still married?
Jesús (Lorena) Yes.
philip And so you went back to Mexico. And then you came back to United States. I think in 2000 or 2002?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah, he went back.
philip And did your family come with you or stay in Mexico?
Jesús (Lorena) They’re still there. They never came here.
philip So that’s why your wife… you said she didn’t wait for you. What did you mean when you said she didn’t wait for you?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that whenever he started to make his house, when he bought the land, that his wife asked him to come back to the United States, to leave [Mexico]. He says that probably because she met someone. Or she felt like he was gone for too long, that she didn’t wait for him.
philip When is the last time you’ve seen her?
Jesús (Lorena) Five years ago. He hasn’t seen her since eighteen years, but he talked to her on the phone five years ago. But they’re still married. He says that they’re still married but she’s probably with somebody else (laughs). He says that if she asked for a divorce he’d probably give it to her since they haven’t been together.
philip How long has it been since you’ve seen your children? Or do they live here?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he brought his son over just once. Because he has three daughters and one son. He brought him over to work but he was only drinking and not doing good so they deported him back to Mexico.
philip Oh, sorry.
Jesús (Lorena) He was only here for a year. He says he didn’t last very long because he wasn’t doing the right thing. He says that his roommate got into a fight and since he was with them they deported them all together.
philip When was that?
Jesús (Lorena) Two and a half years ago.
philip So, pretty recently.
Jesús (Lorena) His son is 22.
philip So you you moved to Murfreesboro to get warm. You said you didn’t like the cold weather in Chicago.
Jesús (Lorena) He said yes. He said he didn’t have a car so he had to walk a lot and it was way too cold to walk in the cold.
philip Yeah. (speaking to Lorena) Have you been to Chicago?
Lorena Yeah, I have been. It’s very cold there.
Jesús (Lorena) He said he would just see how the snow would pile up on top of the cars all the way to the top. And he didn’t like that. He said when he was walking the snow would come up all the way to his knees. And he was walking and it got very uncomfortable.
philip Yeah. So you you moved here… Now, tell me about your life here. And. I just wanted some background but… In thinking about an artist… What is… what is your average week like? Do you work eight hours a day? Twelve hours a day? Ten hours a day? Do you have a social life?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he works Tuesday to Friday. He’s off on Mondays. And he says that he makes, like, $10.50 or $11 an hour. He says that he cooks. He doesn’t go out to eat. And weekends he goes to the store to buy his meals for the rest of the week. He doesn’t really go out a lot.
philip So you’re alone a lot?
Jesús (Lorena) He says, recently someone moved in with him. It’s a guy that works for… the same place… he works at the car wash. He says there’s no time for parties or anything like that.
philip Tell me about your drawing. How… When did you start doing art? When you you were young? When you were older?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he stopped going to school in middle school. He didn’t finish. And that’s when he started drawing. Because he says his dad would always make him go to work with him. So he missed school so much that he just stopped going. That’s when he started drawing.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he draws whatever inspires him, that he doesn’t have any specific thing.
philip So tell me about that. Like, Ok. Tell us about some of the pictures. Like this one right here.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he likes to see construction workers using the big machines. He says he doesn’t know anything about construction but that he likes to see the big machines and the guys operating them.
philip So what do you like about that?
Jesús (Lorena) He says he would like to learn how to use the machines. That he thinks it’s really interesting how they do the changes to pick up the stuff. He says there’s no time for him to learn.
philip So tell me this. Nashville has been changing… Nashville and Murfreesboro… a lot. Have you seen a lot more machines lately? Because of all the new work in Nashville? Or has it always been the same?
Jesús (Lorena) He says he does notice all that because he always has to walk everywhere since he doesn’t have a car. He says that he always sees new buildings and how they’re making them and how fast they’re being built. And he… He just thinks it’s eye catching. The machines.
philip It’s interesting that the first drawing that he has laying here is this.
Lorena You think it’s interesting?
philip Well it’s interesting because of what’s happening in Nashville and that’s…
philip (Turning a page) Wow! That is really cool!
philip OK. So this is this is a very detailed backhoe. Did you draw this from memory or did you sit and look at… a backhoe?
Jesús (Lorena) His memory. He jus thought… He imagined it and he drew it.
philip I mean this is pretty complex. Like the hydraulics, the the tracks…
Lorena Yeah he remembered everything.
philip I mean. Do you have a… do you have a really good memory?
Jesús (Lorena) (Laughing) He said no.
Lorena I think he does. He just doesn’t… He says he doesn’t, he just says he really concentrates on remembering.
philip Yeah, the gearing and everything… I mean I’m no expert but that looks… It’s spectacular detail of a backhoe.
Jesús (Lorena) (He opens a large home-made portfolio holding his drawings) He says he takes this to work. So he puts this on top of it because sometimes it rains and he doesn’t want it to get wet.
philip Yeah. Well, I noticed that, I mean, obviously I noticed that at work because that’s where I first saw it. So, uhm. Show us some more and tell us some more.
Jesús (Lorena) You can look at the rest.
philip OK. Animal. Colorful flower. boy with… money?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that it’s the squirrel’s money and he’s giving him a dollar for it. He’s buying one for a dollar. (Laughter) He says he just came up it. He has no reason. To why he’d drew it.
philip (Speaking to Lorena) What do you think about this? I mean it’s, it’s, it’s really creative. What do you think?
Lorena It’s interesting. It’s cool that he’s giving him a dollar for the acorn.
Jesús (Lorena) He says they’re acorns… Or pine cones!
Jesús (Lorena) Ah… OK because kids… they, they… everything they see they want. So, he says that he saw… the little kid saw the squirrel eating the pinecone so he wants to buy the pinecone off of the squirrel.
philip (Laughter) That’s incredible. That, that’s not just a drawing, that’s a story.
Jesús (Lorena) But the little kid doesn’t know what it is. He thinks it’s candy or ice cream. He doesn’t know.
philip Okay so you you draw the transaction. Did you draw what happened when the kid tasted it?
Jesús (Lorena) Yes he did.
philip What do you think would happen?
Jesús (Lorena) He would throw it out. (Laughter). He wouldn’t like it.
philip (Turning the page) What is this?
Jesús (Lorena) He says it’s just a flower. He didn’t see it. He just came up with it in his head.
philip It’s really fantastic. That’s like Disneyland stuff.
Jesús (Lorena) (Turning the page) It’s a coyote. He says he’s… that the coyote is just looking at the… at the mouse just to see what he’s going to do. And he’s scared because he sees the coyote. That’s why he’s look down, he says.
philip Have you ever seen a real coyote?
Jesús (Lorena) He says… (Lorena and Jesús laughing)… We were joking… because, because he says that he’s never seen one. But I’m saying, only the one that crossed us through the border (more laughter). Because when you cross the border it’s a coyote. That’s what we’re saying [to each other] (laughter).
philip So you both agreed that this reminded you of people…
Lorena Yeah, crossing the border, they are called coyotes, yeah. That’s what they’re called.
philip And you’ve experienced that (speaking directly to Lorena)?
Lorena Uh hmm, Yeah.
philip And you have experienced that (speaking directly to Jesús)?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah, he’s experienced it.
Lorena If you ever get the opportunity to ask somebody about that story… It is really, really interesting.
Jesús (Lorena) Lot of… Lot’s of walking, he says. And running. For a whole day.
Jesús (Lorena) He said he gifted you a drawing.
philip Yeah I was gonna say that… the first… the first creature that I saw from him was a duck. And that’s when I first saw him.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he likes ducks.
philip Why do you like ducks?
Jesús (Lorena) Because he likes to see when they try to fly. He says he likes to see them in the water and when they try to fly. He says that where he’s from, the little town where he’s from, there’s no ducks. So he finds it really interesting. They don’t have any lakes or anything like that, so there would be no ducks. He says it’s interesting, everybody from his town when they see ducks when they go somewhere else they find it really interesting because they don’t have any in their town.
philip Do you know about the hotel in Memphis Tennessee, where every day…
Lorena The red carpet with the ducks?
philip The ducks. Yeah.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he didn’t know about that.
philip I bet he would love to see that.
philip (Looking at a new painting) Wow. The geometry is really interesting.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he uses a ruler to draw. He says he wanted to draw this boat to use some colors of the United States. He says he’s just missing the white.
philip So the boat is symbolic of the American flag or…?
Jesús (Lorena) He says yes.
philip Why a boat?
Jesús (Lorena) Because, he says, he hears a lot about the Marines. So he always thinks about that. Like, he says, he says he likes machines a lot. So that’s why, he’s saying. He likes the boat. He wanted to represent it with the American flag.
philip Marines are machines (laughter). My father was a Marine.
philip (Looking at a new painting) That’s beautiful.
Jesús (Lorena) It’s an ostrich.
philip An ostrich. And what are these?
Jesús (Lorena) It’s a zebra. And a lion. Just the face. Oh, they’re both preying. He’s preying on the ostrich. He said that this one is trying to get away because he sees the lion.
philip So your drawings are not just drawings, they’re stories?
Jesús (Lorena) He says yes. He says he just uses his imagination as he’s drawing. That he doesn’t ever really have a story set. At first. He says he’ll start drawing something like the bird and then he’ll add on to it.
Jesús (Lorena) He says one time he drew a picture of… a drawing of a cop that always went to get his car washed. And he says he wanted to show it to him lots of times but that he was afraid that he would arrest him or something. But he ended up giving it to him and that he liked it. He said, “good job.”
philip It was out here in Nashville?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah. In the car wash. He said that when he looked at it he said that it looked a lot like him. He said he didn’t want to show it to him at first because he might thought… he thought that he might… would offend him. And he would probably arrest him for offending the officer. But he said that he was really nice about it.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that right here in the United States people take a lot of… people take things too offensively. He says he was surprised that the cop was happy to see the drawing. He was sweating because he was so nervous. He thought… he was really afraid. He says he was very nervous to give it to him. But that he built up the courage and he was happy to give him the painting. He said he was really happy to see that he was happy. He said it was a really good drawing. He said the the officer went a lot. Like, weekly. Said that’s why he just got nterested in drawing him. He said that’s the story of the police officer.
philip (New painting) The auto wash! This is awesome!
Jesús (Lorena) He says this is set, like, in the Flintstones.
philip (Laughing) Yeah it looks like a Fred Flintstone mobile.
Jesús (Lorena) He says this is the vacuum cleaner.
philip (Laughing) The elephant… like, uh…. is this like an ancient elephant?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that this one is fixing the chain but his pants is way too low. (Laughing) He says like a lot of people here in Nashville. This one is the water. He is scrubbing with his fur. It’s a rat.
philip It is brilliant.
Jesús (Lorena) This is a sponge and he’s cleaning a top of the car. And this one, he’s also scrubbing. (Laughing) He says the dragon is the one that is getting all the money.
philip This is brilliant!
Lorena Yeah, I like this one.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he has the tip jar right here.
philip This is like a whole life story here.
Jesús (Lorena) He likes to put his name on all his [drawings]. He says he puts his name on them because he doesn’t want anybody to think that he stole them.
philip Well, one, I love the one you gave to me because I get to say I have a painting by Jesús. And the very first time you sent me a text message, uhm, saying to meet you at the car wash I screenshot it and sent it to all my friends. I’m, like, Jesús wants to meet me at the car wash! (laughing) Because I couldn’t put the accent on it. Because I often joke and say that I’m not allowed to go back in the church because I’ve just been away for so long (laughing).
Jesús (Lorena) (Turns page to new drawing) He says he sees a lot of these types of dogs.
philip Like, uh, a poodle?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah, it’s a poodle.
philip (New painting) And… I’ve seen this kind of a flower… is this a real flower or something you have invented?
Jesús (Lorena) He says he just imagines it in his head.
philip Really creative. They remind me of something from…
Lorena Dr. Seuss.
philip Dr. Seuss! Yeah. Exactly. Is he familiar with Dr. Seuss?
Jesús (Lorena) No. He says he doesn’t know. He says he just tried to imagine a round flower and he just started drawing it. Because he, he said he wanted different than this, to be circled. He wanted it to have more texture to it.
philip Really amazing. You’re really a true artist. Driven by story and feeling.
philip (New painting) That’s beautiful. So this is a little different this is, like, ink.
Jesús (Lorena) Yes, it’s with a marker. He says he uses it with a marker. But he doesn’t like some type of markers because when he lays it down the ink will spread.
philip Ah, yeah.
Jesús (Lorena) (New painting) He says the bird is about to be born.
philip He’s telling the story of life. And Nature. Oh wow (turning page to new drawing).
Jesús (Lorena) (Laughing) He says of the bird’s scared of that. That came out of the ground. He’s jumping off of the backs because he got scared. He says he likes to draw birds because he likes to see how the fly in a flock. He likes to see when they jump around from tree to tree.
philip It’s fascinating.
Jesús (Lorena) (New drawing) He says this one is trying to eat the… the fish. He says the fish is really hard [to catch]. He can’t get it.
philip I’m no psychologist but this seems to tell a real story. I mean, all of these together about… Sort of…. Just….
Lorena …The birds. There’s a lot of birds.
philip And just life and the struggle of trying to catch that fish and… Wow.
Jesús (Lorena) (New painting) He says this one’s different.
philip Well this says something too. The fact that he’s revisiting the same story and looking at it differently.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he does like to draw the same thing but differently.
philip (Comparing two similar paintings of the car wash) And which one was first?
Jesús (Lorena) This one. He drew this one first.
philip Yeah cause this one’s a little more defined and… Doesn’t have the red pen…
Jesús (Lorena) Ok. He says these are more closed. And these aren’t closed cars. These are more real. He says that there’s the lady right here and he didn’t draw one over here. He says he tried to draw her with a purse waiting for her car. Oh, and he’s calling her over, that her car’s ready (giggling).
philip These are brilliant, man.
Jesús (Lorena) He says this is a dragonfly. And he draws the same type of flowers. He says see something. Finds it interesting and then he’ll draw it.
philip Where did you see a deer?
Jesús (Lorena) He said he saw a deer crossing the road.
philip Right here in the middle of the city?
Jesús (Lorena) He says he saw it going up the road. A steep hill. He said they’re lots of trees there and he thinks that’s where he came from.
philip It’s amazing that he does this all from … just out his mind. The water… Is this rain or…
Jesús (Lorena) They… It’s like presenting saliva. Because they’re hungry. They want to eat the flower. Now. He (the deer) thinks tha’st that kind of flower that has honey inside of it.
philip Wow. It’s like going on a safari looking at his paintings.
philip (New painting) Ah, we have a boat. On a rough sea.
Jesús (Lorena) Yes.
philip And the American flag. Are these… is this a military boat?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah. Marinea as well, he says.
philip What interests you about the Marines?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he likes how well organized they are here. Because in Mexico our troops… It’s… They’re big, it’s a lot. But they’re not very organized and it’s really corrupt. He says he likes how organized and non-corrupt the [U.S.] Marines are. He says in Mexico that whenever you’re stopped by a cop they want to just get money from you. They’re very corrupt. It’s not like that here. He says that here if you try to bribe a cop they’ll probably arrest you or something. He says that in Mexico it’s totally different, that they will take money from you, they’ll take bribes. Everything in Mexico you can fix with money. You have money, you have no crime against you. And if you don’t have money then they’ll probably take you and arrest you. He says if you have money that even if you did something you’ll be OK. And if you don’t have money and you didn’t do anything you will probably not be OK.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he identifies himself a little better and feels more at home here in the US than in Mexico. He says once he was convicted of a crime that he didn’t… he didn’t do. In Mexico. He paid for them to take him out of jail, so he wasn’t in there a long time.
philip That’s frightening.
Jesús (Lorena) He said he doesn’t want to go back to Mexico. That’s why he came back [to the U.S.] last time. Because he was arrested. They don’t care over there if you have a family or not. He said that if somebody that’s rich blames you for something and you don’t have money that they’ll arrest you.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he… that he doesn’t like when right here in the US there’s a lot of people that praise the Mexican flag, and they will parade it around. Because he’s had such a bad experience, he’s saying that he doesn’t like that. Because Mexico… the government is so corrupt…
Lorena …And I’m telling him that there’s a lot of people actually that feel this way. And I’m telling him that it’s not… it’s not Mexico that’s the problem. It’s the corruption that’s the problem. Because Mexico is beautiful. The people, the culture, the food. It’s, like… I was just talking about this to my mom. She says that a lot of people, like, especially people, like, his age. They would love to return to Mexico. In reality. They don’t want to be here. Because let’s let’s be honest. Look, he’s walking every single day to work. He can’t… he can’t get a car and go out. So, she says, a lot of people say that the United States is a place of privilege, but it’s a cage. Because there’s not a lot we can do. In Mexico… If we were in Mexico right now there would be vendors right here selling shoes and food. And the neighbors would be talking to each other and everybody would be like, what are you guys doing? Like coming up to us. And there would be little kids. So it’s not… It’s it’s not a cage in Mexico. The thing is the corruption and that’s what he’s saying, he doesn’t like that. And that’s why he’s saying he likes enforcement… law enforcement here than… better than in Mexico. So he had a really bad experience.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that police officers from other towns will get on top of the buses and ask people for their I.D.s. And even if they do have I.D.s the will still try to take money from you. He says the government, the government he just… he doesn’t like. That’s the only thing. He says if the government was better he would go back to Mexico. So, there… Nobody wants to go back like that. Nobody wants to live like that. He says they always, they’re always asking for I.D.s to see where you’re from just to get money.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he showed him his I.D. that he had and that the police officer just threw it at him, and was, like, this doesn’t work. And just told him to give him money. He says that everybody that was on that bus they took money away from them. He said everybody had anI.D. but they still took money. He says that he (the officer) put down a hat and told them to put everything they had in there. He says that whenever he has to deal with something like that he remembers other things that have happened and it makes him very angry. He says he hates that. He says when they do that it’s not right.
Jesús (Lorena) He’s very… He admires the law in the U.S. He says he feels more respect for officers here than in, than in Mexico. That’s why he drew that officer that time. He says that they’re nicer. He says that, he says that a lot of them will not discriminate. And they will say hi to you. He says not all of them but most of them. And in Mexico anybody will… Any officer will discriminate or be rude. Or take money. He says the government from Mexico doesn’t interest him. He says that that’s why we come here, that’s why he came here, because it’s just better.
He says if you’re rich [in Mexico] your word is more valuable than anything. He says if you’re rich and somebody says, he stole from me! That person is rich and you’re accused of something and you’re not… You don’t have any money that they’ll take you to jail. There’s no investigations, there’s no question. They just take you to jail. He says they don’t care if there is any witnesses, they don’t care if somebody is right or wrong. They all… all they care about is the money. He says if he could in any way fix the permit that he used to have to be here that he would stay. He says he can’t. He says that he probably will have to go back if Trump kicks us out (laughs).
philip I hope things are not going to be that bad. I hope it’s gonna be different.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he’s hopeful. He says he’s just waiting to see what happens. He says if it doesn’t work out then, then we have no other reason to go back to our country. That’s what he’s saying. He says nobody wants to but we’ll have to.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that the last time he was in Mexico that he almost got in a fight with the head of the police department because he (the police chief) was telling him that his I.D. was invalid. But he just wanted money. He didn’t care about the I.D. He told him (the chief), Okay, if you say that it’s not valid then I’m going to go back to my state and ask them if this is valid or not. He said that he got very mad, the chief of the department. Because obviously he knows that the I.D. is valid. He just wants the money.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he wanted to hit him whenever he told him that. That he was going to go ask… That he asked him, if this is not valid and why do you guys give it to us? [For that] he wanted to hit him. He said he was ready to fight him too.
philip Injustice. I’ve never experienced the kind of injustice that you’ve experienced. But I mean I I deal with a lot of frightening situations. Because I spend most my time travelling. But I never had to deal with…. You know. Not to the same extent. I always have my backup. I have a passport that’s from the United States. So, it’s like a golden ticket. Even if I get in trouble in another country I… I know I have backup. So I don’t know what it’s like for… You.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that maybe not in Mexico. He says that maybe if you go to Mexico and you get in trouble you’ll be in really big trouble because the corruption is so big there.
Lorena But, I don’t know. Sometimes I’ve heard stories that people who are American they go, and they treat them really nice, like royalty. And some… and some other people don’t treat them the same. They will be mean or they’ll want to take money.
philip Yeah. I mean I’ve been shaken down in many different countries. I mean, I I just dealt with it. I just got back from Russia. And… southern Russia. And it’s, uh…. I mean I’ve been in a lot of scary situations where I don’t know if I’m going to get out. But again… even in a really bad situation I know somebody’s going to come looking for me and they have the authority of my country to fight for me. And that’s why I say I don’t… I’ve never had to experience the same kind of nervousness that you do.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that last time, that he was on a bus that he had, like, a radio, big radio with him. That he didn’t even notice when they took it. He says that when you try to get on… That he paid them for the… for the ride and that when he tried to get on that’s when they took it. And he had to go back… He tried to go back to look for it. He says that the same people from the bus stole it so he could go back, get it for money.
philip Thieves are creative, yeah.
Lorena Oh yeah. My mom always tells me, uhm, when I was little that… because they come, they come behind you and they’ll take your purse or they’ll do really creative things. That’s why my mom always says, thieves in Mexico City they’re, they’re very creative and it’s such a show to watch them steal. Sometimes. She says that she would hide our money inside of my little shoe when I was a baby because that way nobody would see a purse. So that the money was under my shoe. That’s what she said she would do.
Jesús (Lorena) He says they’ll steal their money, they’ll… They’ll take your phone as you’re holding it.
philip Yeah I mean I’ve taught my daughter because of how I travel and how I live. Her friends make fun of her because she, she won’t leave anything in her vehicle that somebody can see. If she’s in a public place she keeps her phone close to her so nobody can reach and grab it. And even if… If we’re… we travel and, uhm, if our bag is sitting on the ground we tie it around our leg. Even at a restaurant. And this because a smart person can come under your table and… So she’s become paranoid like me because I have to do it with my travels.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that you have to be very careful with your things. He says that here in the U.S. he doesn’t really feel that fear. He’s more comfortable.
philip You’re more comfortable than me then (laughing).
Jesús (Lorena) He says, here (near his house) yes.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that… Since that last time that he got in a fight with the head of police that he says that’s the last time that he ever wants to experience something like that. He says he’s not going to trust anybody if he ever goes back to Mexico.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he doesn’t understand how someone that is in a position of protecting is going to try to steal money and try to hit a citizen. He says that shouldn’t… that’s not right.
philip Human greed. That’s universal.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that the time that they put him in jail, that someone with money said that he stole a little radio that he didn’t… that he had never even seen. [The person said] that somebody had stolen if from him and he believed it… He says that whenever that happened and they took him, uh, handcuffed… He said that he told them that this this isn’t right, this isn’t fair, you guys are supposed to do an investigation and ask around and… investigate further, deep into the situation, and nobody’s doing that, you guys are just taking me to jail. He says that they don’t do that. He says that whoever blames you, they’ll just be, like, he did it. I saw him. And they’ll believe them. He said there’s no good laws.
Jesús (Lorena) (Lorena and Jesús talk in Spanish for a moment) I’m telling him that… He’s from a town… So it’s really small. So sometimes, lots of times they don’t have a good education, they don’t have a lot of things like that so they will get taken advantage of. And I’m telling him that in major cities it’s not all like that. He says sometimes he thinks it might be worse in big cities but, he says, sometimes it’s luck. Everybody’s luck. So he says he doesn’t really want to go back. He says that it’s like having no trust in your own home.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he want to do what the Hondurans… the Hondurans are doing… is ask for refuge in the U.S.
philip Yeah. That’s a whole other discussion. I’m not even sure what’s happening. That’s pretty extraordinary.
Lorena Yeah. I think it’s really interesting.
philip Yeah I think it’s…. they estimate 12,000 people now, total, or in the three groups.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that in the morning he was listening the news that they’re sending lots of troops from here to stop, to stop that. He says that aside from the Mexican Army that they’re sending U.S. Army to stop that.
philip I hope it… I hope after the election tomorrow that… that there is a renewed discussion about the world. Because the reality is, that, just like nature, global events, they’re not random. And… When you see tens of thousands of people that would risk everything as a group to to go to a border that they’re told they can’t cross… It, It’s it’s as if the earth itself is saying, you know, this… it’s, it’s, it’s definitely a clue to the forensics of, you know, how bad things are. And I think that… So, I hope it starts a new discussion. It’s not… The discussion that’s taking place in our media is so black and white that it’s not even sane. It’s… You know…
Jesús (Lorena) He says that they’re risking so much and it’s so bad what they’re going through that it’s thousands of people that are coming over here. He said it’s $7,000 (USD) to cross from Mexico to the U.S. And that’s… Because… Guatemalan, Salvadoran, they pay way [more]. He says [they pay] about $15,000 (USD). He says that if he was in Mexico right now he wouldn’t come to the U.S. right now because that is way too much money. He says, where are we going to get that money?
Jesús (Lorena) So if you want to come to the U.S. you basically have to sell your house and everything. And if they deport you back you have nowhere to stay. You sold your house so…
philip It’s like a gamble isn’t it?
Lorena Oh yeah.
philip I mean like literally, like gambling.
Lorena I was listening to a story of a friend because she’s from Guatemala. But they were telling me that in Guatemala things are really good. That the government is good and they’re actually thinking of moving back. Because they say everything is good now. And I was just thinking like in reality nobody wants to leave their home. It’s just that… Corruption. Education. Family, even, that makes you want to go somewhere else. It’s not that we want to come, you know. It’s because we have to. A lot of people have to. So, I think it’s just difficult for them.
Jesús (Lorena) He says, can you just imagine how many people have died on the way to coming here. It’s thousands of people. He says that nobody looks for their bodies. They just left… they just leave them there. And that the government from Mexico doesn’t try to look for the bodies either. They just leave them there. He says nobody tries to look for the bodies. He says that if you pay the Mexican government or the Mexican police to look for bodies that are left in the desert they’ll go back. But only if you pay.
philip Yeah I hadn’t even thought about that. That reality.
Lorena Yeah. My dad always tells me… how when he first… His story is really interesting. He says that he was really scared. Because the first night…You have to close to the, you have to get close to the border, first off. So if you live down in Mexico you have to get close to the border. So you get close to the border and they keep you in a little house. He’s at a little house and there’s this man who ran up the hill and he was crying for help because he says his dad had just passed. Up in the mountains and that he couldn’t take him down because he was too heavy. He needed help. And nobody wanted to help him.
Jesús (Lorena) (Speaking again for Jesús) He says that you see that all the time. He says nobody helps nobody. He says unless it’s really close friends, maybe then. But if you ask the police they won’t. He says the first they thing they will tell you is nobody told you to go cross the border. He says that when you’re trying to cross they take all your money… so… Once you don’t have any more money and you’re asking for help they’re not going to help you. He says the only way that they will help youn is if you tell them that the person who got lost or died has a lot of money and will pay you something. They don’t… they won’t help you. He says, they only help if you have money and if you don’t they don’t care. He says nobody does anything for free.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he doesn’t say that he’s proud of his government. He says that he’d rather be alone here.
philip That’s a big statement. Which brings us back to this (his drawings), because he’s alone so much that he…
Lorena …draws a lot…
philip …draws a lot.
Jesús (Lorena) He says now he wants to draw all the Mexican police officers stealing from people.
Lorena I’m telling him that he should do it and he should post it. So it can go viral.
philip So… so we just saw the birth of a new drawing.
Jesús (Lorena) He is saying that if he could, that if he knew how to use a phone he would take a picture and post it. So people can see the reality.
Jesús (Lorena) Hays that when he used to live in a trailer down here that there was a guy who had a lot of, like, problems and he would drink and smoke a lot. He says that he was bringing too many problems to the house and for him. And he says that he called the police and he gave them a drawing of how he looked, so they could find him. He says they were looking at it. And they took him, they took him a couple of days after… when they found him they took him.
philip So you do have a great memory?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that it was just so many problems that he… He said that there were so many problems that kept happening that he just kept remembering and remembering and it’s just in his head. He eays that you will remember a person when they cause you so much trauma. He says that one day he is gonna to look for it and show you… for the drawing.
philip So… what do you do with your drawings?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he’ll gift it to people or he’ll just keep them.
philip How many people have seen them? And how many do you have?
Jesús (Lorena) He says are not a lot of people have seen them at all because sometimes they get too heavy to carry. But that, uhm, he will gift a little bit of them. He says, it’s too heavy to carry all of them every day. He says that some of these are very old. He says that he would love to have different… other, other colors but he hasn’t looked for any. That he just uses [these crayons and markers].
Jesús (Lorena) (flipping through more drawings) He says these are old. He likes nature.
philip I can see. And there’s… I’m recognizing themes of… hunting, preying, battling… you know… the…
Lorena (New drawing) Oh we’re looking at it backwards (laughing). Oh, he says the spiders are here, he drew them because of the mailbox.
philip Pero? Dog? I can’t roll my Rs. (laughing)
Lorena We go to teach you that (laughing).
Jesús (Lorena) He says that you’ll learn.
philip It’s difficult. I have… I don’t know why but in, in where I just was… uhm, there in the country of Georgia… It’s… former Soviet Union, Russia. And they… their language, they roll their Rs and… I was trying to learn some basic words and they were making fun of me because I couldn’t roll my Rs.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he doesn’t know how many, how many drawings he has.
philip Well if he’s been doing it since he was middle school age… So over 50 years.
Jesús (Lorena) (New drawing) Alligator.
Jesús (Lorena) I’m asking him if he draws people. He says not really just the cop and that guy that caused him lots of trouble.
philip The cop and the criminal (laughing).
Lorena The cop and the criminal.
philip (New drawing) Yeah, he saw the helicopter?
Jesús (Lorena) Yes. He says that it comes by a lot and he always looks at the colors of the helicopter.
philip And do you take the drawings with you… just have them with you? Or are you afraid somebody’s going to steal them. Or…
Jesús (Lorena) He says he’s not scared of anybody stealing them [at his work] so he’ll take them with him. He says he’ll keep them close by to him. He says they’re safe because they have cameras (laughter). He says if an employee steels them he’ll know, ’cause he can look at the cameras.
philip Are you a supervisor at the carwash?
Jesús (Lorena) No. He says no. He says because he doesn’t know English he doesn’t… he wouldn’t be a supervisor.
philip (New drawing) It’s very colorful.
Jesús (Lorena) He says it is with crayons. And marker. He, he says his favorite thing to do… to draw with is coloedr pencils. He says he likes… uh… paint but he doesn’t know how to mix it. He says that there’s some that are… oil, and that are water based… So he doesn’t know how to paint.
philip My, my favorite type of painting is watercolor. I can’t do it but I’m heavily influenced by watercolor painters. It’s so subtle and… you know, but it’s…
Jesús (Lorena) He wants to see that.
philip I like the way it blends. Watercolors–In so many other types of paints you can have very defined line–but watercolor you can’t because of its nature…it’s… It forces things to go together. I like that.
Jesús (Lorena) He says you can make paintings faster with water.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he’ll be walking around and it starts drizzling. He has no way to protect them. And then I asked him how often he draws. And he says that actually not that often. Only on his free time. He says work… if he gets there early he’ll start drawing. He says on his free time, the little time he has, that he has, he’ll start drawing. He says he just thinks in his head what it is that he wants to draw and he’ll start doing it.
philip (New drawing) Is the butterfly trapped?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah. He says he’s trapped in the… This one is trapped and this one flew away. This one is in the water. It’s trying to get it. He says he still has to color this in.
Lorena I like this.
Jesús (Lorena) He says, there’s a lot of these in the town where he’s from.
philip I love too that… he revisits..
Lorena …the same idea.
philip …same idea.
philip (New drawing but with similar characters as others) Is this a… leon? Lion? How do you say lion in Spanish?
Lorena Leon. But this is a leopard.
Jesús (Lorena) He’s scared (a small creature in front of the leopard).
philip He’s eating… I love it. There’s like… action.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that [the leopard] didn’t like that. That’s why he is spitting it out.
philip And it’s all, like, nature and flowers. Which seems to say something about his imagination. That, that’s where his mind goes. To this free, natural place.
philip (New drawing) Then birds and sharks.
Jesús (Lorena) That’s why they’ve turned… the lights are on. He says that they’ll go faster, the boat, when they see sharks.
philip The details…
Jesús (Lorena) He says it hungry. That’s why it’s eyes are like that.
philip Hunger. Fear. It’s really extraordinary. Uhm… let’s go through these. So, I would… I’m interested in, in getting to know him more and maybe… uhm…
Jesús (Lorena) (New drawing) He says this is a little type of bird that he sees a lot.
philip I want pet it. You can feel the texture in it.
Lorena …The bird and the feathers…
philip Beautiful. (Laughter) licks his lips.
philip (New drawing) Smith Brothers. Is that the name of this car wash? Is this a real bird or a hood ornament?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah. He says it’s a design [on] the car.
philip So even the cars that you design in your imagination have birds on them!
Jesús (Lorena) He says this is just from his imagination because he’s never seen a car like this.
philip I have (laughing). it looks like a Chinese… There’s a Chinese company and it looks, they look like that.
Jesús (Lorena) I’m asking him if he’s seen these people at the carwash. He said that he just imagines them.
Jesús (Lorena) (New drawing) He says he likes to draw old cars.
philip Yeah, this feels like an old Model T or something.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he (the driver of the car in the drawing) ran out of gas… in the desert.
philip It’s raining. Raining in the desert!
philip It’s brilliant.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he ha no more gas and he has to stay there. And he doesn’t have an umbrella so he’s using his coat.
philip (New drawing) Do you know the the author Jack London?
philip His most famous book was probably [Call of the Wild] or White Fang. But he writes of… stories of, you know, people against nature and… It’s a… lion, leon? What’s happening?
Jesús (Lorena) He’s eating the jacket of that person.
philip Why? Por que?
Jesús (Lorena) (Laughter) There’s this type of, like, beer in Mexico that’s called gawama.
Jesús (Lorena) And it’s in thes huge, like… It’s exactly, looks just like that. They’re brown and they’re really big. And they’re very popular because it’s kind of like the peasant drink. It’s kind of like…
philip And that’s what he’s drinking?
Jesús (Lorena) That’s what he’s drinking. And he’s taking… and he’s eating his jacket. He says that he hasn’t noticed that the lion is eating his jacket.
philip Like, these little touches. I mean, the insect landing on the rabbit’s forehead.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he does that because a lot of bugs always land on people.
philip I mean, it really is a commentary on life. He’s really a… he’s got a gift… a great gift. And not just the drawing but the perception. How he..
philip (New drawing) Oh man this is great. What’s the story here?
Jesús (Lorena) He says that he’s going to lock the elephant up. That’s why he’s taking him…
philip That’s terrible (laughing).
Jesús (Lorena) He says he’s going to lock him up and he’s going to keep it at home.
philip Maybe not so terrible (laughing). At least he’s not puttin’ him in a circus.
Jesús (Lorena) No. He says, not to the circus. He (the character in the drawing) wants to have an elephant.
philip (New drawing) This is like a children’s book author waiting to happen.
Jesús (Lorena) Ok (laughing). He wants to eat this, not the kid. Oh, OK. The kid is buying this for him. He said, to buy for him so he can know what it tastes like. He says, this is the one that comes by every day.
philip (New drawing) Is this Nashville?
Jesús (Lorena) Yes.
philip The US Army.
Lorena He likes the U.S. Army.
philip I like why he likes it. That it’s… Not rah rah patriotism, it’s…
Lorena It’s their discipline and…
Lorena …they’re law enforcement..
philip (New drawing) Dog? Pero?
Jesús (Lorena) Oh, he says that, that these are like this because some people cut them off (dogs with short tails). He says he’s not done with this one. It still needs more [work]. (Laughing) He (character in the drawing trying to taste a stick) thinks it’s cinnamon.
philip The detail is just amazing. Is there cinnamon grown in your part of the country… where you’re from?
Jesús (Lorena) No. It’s just the cinnamon sticks, he says, resemble [this]. He (another character) wants a bite too. Oh, he says, he’s disturbing him, he doesn’t want to [give it]. He says, he is being greedy. He doesn’t want to give him any.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he’s just very imaginative.
philip I, I agree. You are. You have, you have a gift of imagination.
Jesús (Lorena) (Opening a new plastic folder of large drawings) He says he doesn’t bring these every day. They are just way too heavy. He says he, he appreciates and loves these more than these. So he cares if these get wet.
Jesús (Lorena) I’m asking him what he plans to do with all these drawings and he says he doesn’t know.
philip Would, would you be willing to do an exhibition?
Jesús (Lorena) Yeah. He says, yes so that people can enjoy them.
philip I think, I think it would be interesting if… To… to do an exhibition. And write up a bit of…
philip …the story. And have it in, in Spanish and in English.
Jesús (Lorena) He says that if…. if…
Lorena It would be interesting if, uh… If, if you can, if you can do this exhibition. That’s what you want me to tell him him?
Jesús (Lorena) Yes. He says he would like that. He said he wants kids to see it. To see the drawings. And to know what’s happening in each drawing. And what each drawing means.
philip (New drawing) Oh, wow.
Lorena It’s like a book.
Jesús (Lorena) He says he wants people to see what each drawing means.
Jesús (Lorena) (New drawing) Grapes.
philip This is… that’s beautiful.
philip (New drawing) There we go again!
philip I love it! I love it that it’s repeated. And it comes back to the same storylines. (Laughing) And it’s dumping out the…
Jesús (Lorena) I asked him why does he go back and draw the same thing again. And he says because he kinda wants to continue the story. Like, just to go back and see what else can happen.
philip So, people who write novels and stories… They, they describe their fictional world as becoming real in their own mind. And they write because… for that very reason. They want to go see what’s going to happen in that world that they created. So they write for pleasure because it’s like going on an adventure. Like, like seeing a movie.
Jesús (Lorena) Yes. He’s saying that he thinks it’s interesting to see other artists like… that they’re doing that. And what they do, like, to impact their art. How it just alters the story. And then he’s saying how they, they actually make money off of it. And he thinks that’s interesting. He says, that’s good work that, that feeds you.
philip What a great statement. “I’t’s good work that feeds you.”
Jesús (Lorena) He says he likes to see how each drawing is step by step. And then how it turns out to [be] this big thing.
Jesús (Lorena) (Looking at new condo development across the street from where we stand) He says that he remembers when this was nothing. And now look, look how beautiful that is. He’s saying that he remembers when it was just the land and they were starting to construct everything and now it’s a big building. He says that he thinks it’s really interesting, or really fascinating how they imagine it and it just pops up. He said, you can just look around at something and then you turn back around and they’ve already made something new. He says he can’t believe how much it’s growing. He says, he says that he remembers that, he’s like, it was just nothing a while ago and now there’s so much. That’s why he gets so much imagination because he sees how something that was nothing is now something big. Something just sticks to his mind and he’ll just draw it. He says he remembers it and he just keeps drawing.
philip Well there are several of your paintings that I would definitely like to purchase. But what I’d rather do is wait… and I’d like to help him organize…. Or, I’d like to do it on his behalf, to organize an exhibition.
Lorena Have you ever been to Plaza Mariachi yet?
philip No. Wait! Yeah. The… that’s… on Nolansville Pike with all the different shops and everything?
Lorena Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Jesús (Lorena) They have an art gallery there and they let new artists have their exhibitions there. But I think you have to get with the office and ask them. Because sometimes they pick people out or they’ll take suggestions from other people.
Jesús (Lorena) You can kind of do like a folk, like a folk story… He says he can just gift them to you. You don’t have to buy them.
philip No, no. I think that an artist should be paid for their work. And I thank you for the gift that you gave me. But I, uh, I’m fascinated by dogs… I have a whole history with dogs. And, so, there are definitely a few of the dog paintings I’d like to buy. But I’d rather them be exhibited first and then I could purchase them at the exhibit.
philip I have something for you. One second. This is an American painter. His name is Andrew Wyeth. I’m sorry it’s in English but… He’s, his, uhm… He’s the most influential artist in my life. So I wanted to bring you this this old book of his. And… But you can see… So, he does a lot of watercolor and what’s called tempera painting. He actually made his own paint. He took egg–it’s called an egg tempera. And… What’s interesting about his paintings is that…They are very quiet. And. Yet, he said that his motivation for painting wasn’t quiet. That he had a lot of inner turmoil and struggles with the world. And he said he painted his rage, his problems into his… And I think… Let me see… One of the most famous… If it’s in here…. I’m not sure. But, anyway, you can see, like, for example this painting. This is a black and white version, but the painting was in response to his father dying in a tragic accident. But I want to give this to you. I think that… Some are in color but you can see sort of the progression of his paintings too. But I think you’ll like him. He’s an interesting painter. He paints a lot of buildings and nature. And, probably the most fascinating thing about Andrew Wyeth is he never traveled. He lived in a little farm in Pennsylvania. And then he would go to an island in Maine. And he, he said he never needed to travel because there was so much to see right around him that he could never paint it all.
Jesús For me?
Jesús (Lorena) So let this be a beginning. I, uhm. Again, part of the way I do my work is I, uh, I sort of get a gut feeling about a person and then I just kind of stay with them. And I just, I knew from the moment I saw your paintings and met you–and the same with you. Like, I haven’t got to know you yet, but I just know that there is a… I’m going to learn something of myself. And that’s what makes my journalism strong. It is that I’m looking for something and I learn something. So I’d like to follow up with you and first I’d like to organize an exhibit.