Pescadero women find kinship in art

Visitors to the Aug. 16-17 Pescadero Arts and Fun Festival art show noticed a 4-by-16-foot mural covered with icons and symbols, but may not have been aware of the stories behind the art.

Those colorful symbols represented past traumas and a reawakening of self and potential for the handful of Pescadero and South Coast women who created it.

For those women, bewildering and sad experiences of depression faded before new experiences of creating and showing art together. The art captured experiences of pain and isolation, traumas of acculturation, and personal pains of postpartum depression. Other symbols, such as a soaring falcon, spoke of return to health and hope.

“You can tell where it’s coming from — trauma, abuse, coming to Pescadero and isolation … hopeful when they meet each other, to the future of what they want to be like … education, housing, being a family together because they come from a generation left behind,” mused therapist July Ugas.

She is a San Francisco resident who works with San Mateo County and with the Puente Resource Center, formerly Puente de la Costa Sur. She worked with the women throughout the project.

It all grew out of a $40,000 grant to Puente from the Bella Vista Foundation, for the Mothers (Madres) Project. It aimed to reduce maternal depression in Latina women through education, shared culture, peer socialization, group interaction and one-on-one interventions.

It started a year ago as a means to allow participants to explore troubling feelings like postpartum depression, and became a saga of recovery, discovery of artistic and personal potential, and kinship.

One woman, Ugas said, confessed that “I didn’t realize that this is called depression.”

Sixteen women from mid-20s to mid-40s began the program and 10 finished, said Ugas.

Working with her were musician and muralist Ellen Silva, and child and family therapist Belinda Arriaga. Other helpers included Pescadero High School students Gabriela Flores, Cristina Salgado, Ricardo Cabrera and Chloe Talbot, and adult liaison Rita Mancera.

Two of the participants had infants, and others had children age 3 to 12, said Ugas. With help from preschool teacher Norka Bayley and children’s program staff member Norma Zavala and Dinora Gudino, the children created a mural of their own.

The women began by making sketches with pencil and paper, transferring those to templates and coloring them, then sketching them onto the actual mural and painting them with tempera.

The images ranged from cloudy skies and families left behind, bridges and the falcon representing the journey to a new life, or closed buds to blooming flowers.

For many of the participants, said Ugas, this was the first time they had experienced making or showing art.

One, said Ugas, told her that “I never thought that I would do something like this. I was given an opportunity to believe in myself.”

Others expressed to her that “I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who (feels) this.”

It was also a lifeline, said Ugas. “They were creating a sense of community for themselves.”

She said the mural, which was displayed throughout the Pescadero festival, may be permanently displayed at Puente.

And she added that consideration is being given to a corresponding project for men.

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