Claudio Talavera Ballon — a painter whose work attempts to focus on the humanity of immigrants and the impoverished — found himself drawn to a group of women who help immigrants reach their destination in Mexico or the United States. The women are known as Las Patronas.
Las Patronas work from a small village outside the Mexican town of Córdoba, in the state of Veracruz, giving supplies to immigrants making the dangerous trek north across the United States border.
The women begin every day early, assembling small meals and filling plastic water bottles, then packing them in plastic bags.
They then walk out to the train tracks that pass through the village and wait – and when a freight train known as la bestia passes through, they frantically toss and hand off as many bags of food as possible. On top of the train ride hundreds of migrants desperate for a new life, who often go 24 hours without food or water.
Talavera Ballón, a Mission-based Peruvian artist, visited the village twice to capture the work of Las Patronas.
“Everything is connected, because some of the migrants that I was painting maybe are here because of Las Patronas. I think a lot of people travel in that train and have made the journey to the U.S.,” Talavera Ballón said. “I feel the work that Las Patronas make in that area, and I see the need of the migrants. In that moment, I feel very touched about the work of Las Patronas.”
The painter learned about the women from a documentary by Mexican filmmaker Arturo Gonzalez Villaseñor entitled Llévate Mis Amores that explores their work and lives in depth. Upon seeing his film, Talavera Ballon decided to see for himself what he could do to advance the women’s cause, and take part in their work.
“It’s something that you can never forget. That moment and that voice and when you turn to see the people who [told] you ‘Thank you,’ you can’t see these people, because their train is running away,” Talavera Ballón recalled tearfully. “The train is gone. All you see is a hand waving goodbye and that’s it.”
He was moved by their dedication to feeding those with no means – the migrants often travel with nothing but the clothes on their back, either because they fled violence at a moment’s notice or stave off predators who rob and extort migrants. Some of them stay in the village to help Las Patronas with their work.
“These people are very poor. These people give the migrants what they have. They share their food, and they share everything,” Talavera Ballón said.
The same can be said of the migrants, according to his wife, local teacher Mariela Talavera Ballón, who accompanied him.
“It’s very sad to see the situation these people are going through but at the same time you learn so much from them,” she said. “And you feel so you want to help everyone but it’s so hard to help.”
Talavera Ballón will hold an open studio event on Saturday and Sunday, April 16th and 17th, from noon to 6 p.m. at his studio on 25th Street at Guerrero street. He will also screen a trailer of Villaseñor’s documentary so that visitors have a fuller context for the paintings.