BY KARINA BLODNIEKS
Pushing her off-brand clear-rimmed glasses up her nose, Maurín Santos López just doesn’t look like a girl from the suburbs. Clad entirely in painted denim, she’s certainly easy to find in a crowd. But under the layers of literal hand-crafted art, Santos López tells the story of the quintessential American immigrant.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Santos López made the nearly 800 mile journey to Cooper City about seven months ago. She chose to immigrate and live with her aunt, leaving her family and friends behind in pursuit of a career in art and fashion.
“In the Dominican Republic, it’s really good if you have a lot of money or if you’re going to study to be a doctor or a lawyer,” Santos López said. “But if you’re going to study something with art, it’s really difficult. We only have one art school and it’s so expensive. Even if you have a scholarship, living in the place is just so expensive.”
Santos López says that Cooper City is like a whole different world, filled to the brim with opportunity.
“I love Cooper City,” Santos López said. “I think if you live in another country like the Dominican Republic where you have no opportunities for anything, you really appreciate what you have here. So the fact that I can have a fashion club or the art class that I didn’t have there, […] I’m so thankful for.”
After leaving her family in the Dominican Republic, Santos López admits that she expected to be overwhelmed with homesickness. However, since she’s found her niche in the CCHS art room, she hasn’t looked back.
“Moving here transformed me into this happy and positive person,” Santos López said. “A lot of good things are happening to me right now. Yes, I want to see [my family], but I don’t want to go back.”
Alongside her thoughts of her mother country, it’s the story of the American dream that’s motivated her. She says that living in a country with so much opportunity has allowed her to truly tap into her potential as an artist.
Despite her newfound hope, however, she doesn’t stay silent about the depth of culture living in the Dominican Republic has given her.
“I like drawing black people,” Santos López said. “My mom is black and my dad is white, even though they are both Dominicans. So I like drawing black people because I like the culture that they have.”
But living in the Dominican Republic as a black artist wasn’t always easy for her. A country with immense racial tensions, Santos López explains that she wasn’t always allowed to be herself unapologetically – especially, and perhaps unexpectedly, when it came to wearing her natural hair.
“I got expelled from my class for having curly hair,” Santos López said. “It’s something that actually makes you see the world in a different way.”
As is the case with many racially terse countries, the Dominican Republic holds a lot of prejudices against the black community. The question of wearing natural hair for black girls is often off-limits, as many white employers or teachers believe it’s unprofessional.
“In the Dominican Republic, we are black,” Santos López said. “It’s half black, half white, and people are so racist. They don’t like curly hair, they don’t like black people. If you’re black and you go to a place where it’s mostly white people, they look at you like you have no money or you’re going to steal something.”
In many ways, Santos López feels that moving to the United States has freed her.
“[It’s] opened her eyes to a whole new world of opportunities and freedom of expression that would not have been developed in our country of origin,” aunt Amanda López said.
And that’s why, on February 23, when Santos López stood before the entire student body to display her own fashion line, no one really expected that she had such a long journey to get there. She slid right into her place in the CCHS student body, and in a short seven months, has made a name for herself as Cooper City’s fledgling grunge artist.
“The fashion show was the best opportunity that I had ever in my life,” Santos López said. “I think [CCHS] allows you to do a lot of things that you want to express yourself. I think that’s amazing.”
CCHS seems to agree, as many students – some that Santos López has never met before – speak about her fashion line with enthusiasm.
“When I saw Maurín’s line in the show it was a moment that felt like she’s been here forever,” friend Kiara Bencosme said. “I think it’s because she found her place here in Cooper so quickly without even trying, she drew on a jacket and the next thing you know she ended up making a whole clothing collection.”
Nowadays, Santos López can be found in Mrs. Barr’s art studio, putting the final touches on her AP Studio Art: Drawing portfolio, which she’ll submit at the end of the year for evaluation by College Board.
With a story in mind and the means to tell it, she’s using her art as a platform for immigrant voices.
“Parts of my family tell me to stop drawing black people,” Santos López said. “They ask me why and I say, ‘I am black.’ Why would I deny something that I have in my blood?”
Despite what some may call a dark past, Santos Lopes’ art takes on an air of hope and passion. With bright watercolor marks and bold pen lines, she brings her papers to life through portraiture.
“I like painting people,” Santos López said. “You can feel people’s emotions by their faces, especially their eyes.”
As for her fashion line, her signature is fabric paint on denim. She covers her clothes with quotes and faces, all of which she feel tell a story.
Santos López plans to take a gap year after graduating to explore her options for higher education. She’s still unsure whether she’ll be pursuing studio art, acting or fashion, but no matter which path she chooses, one thing is clear: she’s really living the American dream.
“As an immigrant going to another place, people think you should stay in your country,” Santos López said. “But no, the reason is not because I want to steal something from you. It’s because I think I deserve opportunities just like you.”