In this interview, we spoke to Luis Corpus, a local artist and art instructor who is depicting DACA recipients and other Rio Grande Valley residents in his latest project using materials from the Rio Grande River.

Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Luis Corpus. I am an Art Instructor.

Why did you start this project?
I began this project in search of my own core, in search of my own voice as I felt now was the proper time to allow one to emerge. What began a journey in search of my own core developed into an idea which encompassed many people, as I feel my identity is shared by many.

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Art by Luis Corpus

Tell us about some of the people you’ve drawn. Are they people who are close to you?
As a teacher in the Rio Grande Valley for eight years, I have come to know many young minds. The people depicted in the drawings are former students or people I have come to know through discussing this project with others.  I have often learned much from my students if nothing else sheer inspiration in their determination. This project did begin by focusing solely on DACA recipients but later branched out to others. The commonality is the Rio Grande.

What message do you hope to send through your art?
The message has progressed alluding to the commonality of man. I wish to capture the aesthetic appeal of the viewer, allowing a sense of humanity to dominate over preconceptions. After all, the bond that unifies us as a species is more prevalent than that which separates.

There is a seemingly dual nature concerning the people in this part of the country. The majority of people living along the Rio Grande are descendants from Mexico, but they are not Mexican. They are and want to be American, but are often stigmatized at home. And I think about what causes this separation, and I am reminded of the Rio Grande. The River both figuratively and literally separates, and its crossing has produced the people of the Valley. And so I took its branches, I took its water, and made this group of drawings. These drawings are literally the Rio Grande on paper and depict the people who originate from its waters.

I sought to create a dialogue concerning the identity of people along the Rio Grande. The portraits show a people who are engaging the viewer. The sunlight has cast upon their eyes, but they have not dared to shy away. There are poise and an apparent sense of confidence. They belong among us because they have shown their worth if for no other reason than having reminded us of ourselves.  

I have thought for far too long about the material. Its application at times seems ritualistic. Its chemistry shares that of you and I, an abundance of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. And I pause at a realization. If modern theories in physics hold true, we were all once part of a singularity. Every single atom and molecule originated from a single point in space-time, beginning with an abundance of hydrogen and helium which developed into every element known to man. The carbon I am using to make these drawings is the same carbon you and I will leave behind, holding no precedence from the perspective of the universe.

I do not wish to make this point as a memento mori. To the contrary, I wish to highlight the absolutely improbable and amazing endeavor we are experiencing together, consciousness, life. 

My message is simple. In searching for myself, and my identity, I have found that there is far more that binds us than separates. And as we traverse space and time quietly across the cosmic expanse, the people along the Rio Grande and elsewhere should probably be a little kinder to one another, because we’re really all we’ve got.