Art that Ignites / Heldáy de la Cruz
More than simply providing aesthetic pleasure, art has the ability to stoke our deepest fires. Heldáy de la Cruz’s illustration fans those innermost flames. The beauty of de la Cruz’s work is sharpened by its exploration of complex themes and portrayal of personal vulnerability. They are lovely visions of inspired by tumultuous times, a blend of art and activism sparked by de la Cruz’s time at Standing Rock:
I felt the need to go and put my body to use in the Oceti Sakowin camp. No questions, no expectations, just helping. I was blown away by the level of organization there, and inspired by the Native folks who continue to stand tall generations later, five hundreds years after colonization. I wanted to bring back that same fire to my city, to spark more interest in community organization and dismantle the patriarchy, white supremacy, and uplift black and brown voices.
And bring the fire he did. A year later in Portland Oregon, de la Cruz hosted a show called We the Dreamers featuring hand-drawn portraits of DACA recipients alongside their stories. De la Cruz stresses the importance of providing a platform for DACA recipients, explaining that “the undocumented narrative is vast, touching on fear, anger, mental health, personal successes, decolonization, compassion, and social justice.” His goal was to “elevate and humanize these voices.” Portlanders came out in droves to show their support. The show quickly sold out and de la Cruz raised over $16,000 for United We Dream, Pueblo Unido, and Oregon DACA Coalition, all of which are all fighting to defend DACA.
Heldáy’s work has always focused on hand-drawn portraits like the ones he created for the show, but recently he’s shifted his focus to emphasize the “issues that matter most to me. A lot of times come from my own intersectionalities as a queer, brown, undocumented person.”
Despite the fact that de la Cruz has plenty on his plate working as a graphic designer and freelance artist, We the Dreamers is the kind of “important work that needs to be done regardless of the stress.” He’s propelled forward by his community, “folks who continue to put in work, 110%, no expectations for rewards, just a drive to make things right.” They continue to show up, and inspire him to continue carrying the torch. “These people are all around me. My partner, my friends, my family. I’m also inspired by the folks who paved the way for me decades ago to do this kind of work. The folks who put themselves in the front lines, who rallied, who didn’t settle.”