At Cherry Street Pier, father of Parkland shooting victim uses art to urge fellow Latinos to speak out against gun violence

At the Cherry Street Pier, Manuel Oliver stood on a wooden stage in front of an audience of around 50 on Thursday evening. He came from Parkland, Florida, for the first time in nearly 10 years, to deliver a message sent by his son Joaquín. Captivated by the story he had to tell, the audience was absolutely silent as the Venezuelan artist painted graffiti on plywood.

Ten years ago, Oliver and his son traveled to Philadelphia to watch a Phillies game and experience the city. On an LED screen suspended from the ceiling, Oliver played a portable video recording of himself and Joaquín climbing the rocky steps of the art museum during their visit. It was the last time Joaquín visited the city. In 2018, Joaquín was one of 17 children murdered on Valentine’s Day in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland.

Using red, yellow and blue colors in the background, Oliver pasted an image of his son Joaquín, wearing Rocky Balboa’s signature boxing gloves and boxing briefs, onto the plywood while Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” was playing.

“We didn’t start this fight. We’re just fighting back,” Oliver said after removing a paper mask with Joaquín’s face on it he was wearing.

Oliver and his wife, Patricia, are the parents of Joaquín and the founders of Change reference, a civic engagement organization dedicated to activism that demands lawmakers address gun violence and promotes healing from the lifelong grief experienced by the families of mass shooting victims. The Olivers were invited to town for the “Culture love not violence” event organized by Casa de Venezuela and Fleisher Art Memorial, in partnership with CeaseFirePA, as part of a week-long series of events commemorating Venezuelan heritage. In the region.

Emilio Buitrago, a representative from Casa de Venezuela, said the goal of focusing on gun violence was to educate Latinos about the differences in gun culture in Latin America and the United States.

Latin Americans have been victims of gun violence in the course of criminal activity or when fighting against a dictatorship. But here we see social gun violence.

Emilio Buitrago

“People in Latin America have been victims of armed violence in criminal activities or when fighting against a dictatorship,” he said. “But here we see social gun violence, where people carry guns to protect themselves from their neighbours, and we wanted to draw their attention to that.”

The event, which was supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, brought the national art project of Change the Ref”Walls of demandin Philadelphia, a city where gun violence disproportionately impacts the lives of black and Latino men.

According to a Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions report which analyzed data recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total number of gun-related deaths rose 15% in 2020 to 45,222, the highest number ever recorded by the CDC since it began tracking gun deaths in 1968. According to 2021 data from the Office of the Municipal ComptrollerGun violence claimed the lives of 562 people in Philadelphia last year, a 13% increase in gun-related homicides from 2020.

At the event, Positive Movement kicked off the evening with a drum performance. The majority of participants were Venezuelan immigrants from the region. Belmary Lorca, from West Chester, said she had mixed feelings at the event.

“We come here to escape the violence [in Venezuela]looking for a better future for our families,” she said, “but when you see that’s our reality here, you wonder if you made the right decision in coming here.

The murals created for “Walls of Demand” are located in more than 50 cities across the country, including one on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border that reads, “On the other side they kill our people too. son”.

Asked about their accomplishments, Oliver said they produced successful awareness campaigns, fueling a more vocal movement around gun violence, mostly led by young adults. He added that his organization plans to track the death of every dual-citizen Latino who has been murdered by gun violence in the United States, and to hold politicians accountable here and in Latin America.

We do not deserve the gun violence inflicted on us.

Manuel Oliver

Oliver expressed concern that Latino communities, including Venezuelans, are forgetting to demand resources and solutions to the issues that affect them most as tax-paying and voting citizens in the United States. United. He said Latino sentiment for the country needed to shift from being grateful to being demanding.

“It is a mistake to remain silent and accept that this is our reality here simply because we are comparing it to what we had in [our] homeland,” he said. “We don’t deserve the gun violence inflicted on us. So you can’t wear an orange t-shirt once a year. No. We must speak frankly and make very informed decisions when we vote.


Work produced by The Inquirer’s Communities and Engagement office is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of project donors.

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