Alumna Creates a Space to Celebrate Baltimore's Immigrant Community

For her senior thesis, Valeria Fuentes ’17 ’18 (Architectural Design B.F.A., Social Design M.F.A.) created a clothing line called Segunda Piel (Spanish for “Second Skin”), which used colorful abstract collages to depict Latin Americans’ thoughts on home and their identities. The project was a success, but soon after she finished, Fuentes said she wanted to do more to support local Latin American and immigrant artists.

“I was thinking about all the artisans and all the women who make crafts and things that are not considered traditional art,” she said. “They don’t have access to the grants or opportunities that I had because I went to MICA.” 

So in 2017, after receiving a Y.L. Hoi Memorial Award that supports MICA students as creative agents of change in Baltimore, Fuentes created the Somos LatinX Art and Culture Festival, which became the Roots & Raíces Festival in 2018. This year’s festival, held in April on North Avenue, included dozens of artists and drew more than 300 people.

“It’s a way to uplift and highlight immigrant communities in Baltimore through art and music,” Fuentes said. “What I really wanted to bring to Station North is the idea that immigrants are here but they’re not really seen. They’re in the corners of Baltimore, and they’re not in Station North. They don’t have the access to the resources they need to prosper in their artistic journeys."

Fuentes has also expanded the festival’s mission to include civic engagement. In partnership with CASA de Maryland, the festival sponsors monthly events to inform area residents about issues like the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) – a bill in Congress that would have granted legal status to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and went to school here.

“I’m looking forward to engaging more people in civic action... getting people to learn about immigrant rights and understanding and becoming aware about why it’s important,” Fuentes said.