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Mexican Artist Finds Community in Lincoln

David Manzanares
Mural and Sculpture Artist

In 2017, David Manzanares moved to Lincoln with his Nebraskan-born wife and two sons, then ages 3 and 1. Manzanares is a mural and sculpture artist whose work often revolves around his Oaxacan heritage. He hoped America would help expand his audience and provide more job opportunities.

But Manzanares found it difficult to navigate the bureaucracy of the immigration process. “Many people don’t realize how long it takes,” he says. “It was a stressful time.” While waiting for his work permit and green card, he wasn’t allowed to earn a paycheck or get a driver’s license. That essentially stranded him at home and put the burden of supporting the family on his wife, a geologist. He also struggled to find his footing as an artist. Back home in Mexico, he was well established. In Lincoln, curators and museums seemed unwilling to give him a chance. 

Over time, he began doing public art installations and gained recognition. A recent mural reflects the disproportionate toll Covid has taken on communities of color and features portraits of pandemic victims, including Manzanares’ father. “It helped me cope with my grief,” he says.  He finished it a few days before Dia de Los Muertos when dozens of community members placed “ofrendas” or offerings in front of the mural to honor the dead. “Art is related to the community, and it’s important for me to address the things I want to see changed,” he says.

For instance, Manzanares believes there should be more teacher diversity at local public schools, given the large non-white student population. He has advocated for this, along with more ESL classes and services in Spanish at schools like Everett Elementary in South Lincoln, where he teaches art. “It’s important for students to see people in authority who look and talk like their parents,” he says.

One thing Lincoln has done well is My City Academy. Through the program, Manzanares has been able to advocate for his community: helping immigrants get driver’s licenses and requesting more Spanish signs and instructions around the city. “It’s an opportunity for city officials to look beyond their bubble,” he says.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…