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Forest Grove High School students started the hashtag StandUpFG to organize a walkout in 2016.

COURTESY PHOTO: KAADISH OAXACA NÁJERA - Kaadish Oaxaca Najera's collage tells the story of her immigrant family.A student protest by Washington County youth has evolved into an art exhibit hosted by the Five Oaks Museum, formerly the Washington County Museum.

Students at Forest Grove High School started the hashtag #StandUpFG to organize a walkout in May 2016, the day after a banner reading "Build A Wall" was briefly on display on a wall in the cafeteria. Through social media, the protest spread to schools in Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tigard and Tualatin, and beyond.

Five years later, "#StandUpFg: Latinx Youth Activism in the Willamette" combines the work of local and national artists to examine the tides and roots of activism.

"Art has an immense amount of power when it comes to social justice," said Kaadish Oaxaca Nájera, a Portland Community College student from Beaverton. "I made sure my artwork is a voice for people who don't have one. Both my parents are immigrants and both my siblings are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

"I'm privileged to be a U.S. citizen. I can vote. My family members can't. This whole project speaks for them."

Oaxaca Nájera's contribution to the project is a collage of family photographs entitled "Familia Para Siempre" (Family Forever).

The work tells a story of an immigrant family and what they left behind in Mexico to start lives in Oregon. Her dad is from Chihuahua and her mom is from Coahuila.

"The collage shows how many sacrifices my parents made to give us a better life. These are pictures of family in Mexico my parents haven't been able to see for the last 20 years," Oaxaca Nájera said. "I want to make people understand this is who we are, this is what we bring and this is what we left behind."

The exhibit was curated by Portland Community College history professor Israel Pastrana, who first met Oaxaca Nájera in his Mexican history class at the college. 

Oaxaca Nájera, a graduate of the International School of Beaverton, added she did not hear about the protest at the time and did not have any Latino teachers in high school.

"Growing up, I didn't see the representation I wanted at my school. We didn't have Hispanic or Latino teachers," said Oaxaca Nájera, who is studying to be a nurse. "Being part of this project made me realize I wanted to show others you're not alone in this. You can bring in the beauty of your culture and show immigrants aren't what is being portrayed in the media."

According to Oregon Department of Education data, 56% of students in the Forest Grove School District are Hispanic or Latino, compared to 18% of teachers. In the Beaverton School District, 26% of students are Hispanic or Latino, compared to 7% of teachers. In Hillsboro, 40% of students are Hispanic or Latino, compared to 11% of teachers.

The digital exhibit combines the work of 10 artist and includes paintings, sketches, collages and music.

Christina Carr, also a student at PCC, contributed a digital illustration of Coatl, a feathered serpent and ancient Mexican deity. Luis Tapia, an artist from Chicago, made "Pandora's Box," a wood carving of a skeleton modeled after former President Donald Trump holding signs that read "racism" and "hate." Each work includes information on the artists and a comment on the context and inspiration for the art.

"As a teacher, it's inspiring. It gives you hope for the future. Youth are leading the path forward," Pastrana said. "You can draw connections between activism of 50 years ago and what is happening today. It is part of a long legacy of youth activism."

To view the online exhibit, visit FiveOaksMuseum.org.


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