Arte Terapia, Healing Through Art

Posted by Mayfair in Blog on February 13, 2017

By Rosalinda Sanchez | Arts Education Specialist at the School of Arts and Culture @MHP, San Jose, Ca.

Mayfair-based Social Entrepreneur, Patricia “Paty” Tapia, engages in meaningful work at the School of Arts and Culture at MHP. Those of us who walk through the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose have a VIP pass to a world where artistry and social endeavors magically collide.  Paty came to the School of Arts and Culture through her work with Somos Mayfair. Somos Mayfair is a non-profit organization that aids families in the Mayfair neighborhood of San Jose by providing academic and emotional support to children and parents.  Although Paty considers the Mayfair to be her home now, she is not originally from San Jose.

Paty is originally from Texcoco, in the state of Mexico. In this historic city, as a young adult, she attended and graduated from el Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA).  INBA offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in graphic design, visual arts, music, theater and dance. After graduating from INBA in graphic design, Paty had a desire to learn English.

Paty decided to learn English in the United States. She made the journey from Texcoco to San Jose and settled in with family members.  She quickly realized that life in the U.S. was not what she imagined. Somehow she thought that life would be less complicated. While she had resolved continue her education, she also realized that she had to work in order to make ends meet.  

She found that working and going to school was difficult to balance, and she felt forced to choose between the two. She put school aside and worked at the Avisador in San Jose for some time.  Soon after, she started dating. Her relationship became more serious and eventually, she gave birth to her eldest son. Unfortunately, that relationship would end abruptly.  She kept herself productive and forging ahead at work until she met the father of her future sons.

The relationship lasted much longer. In time, she gave birth to two more boys. As the relationship progressed, “Before I knew it, I found myself a victim of domestic violence,” she shares sadly. What followed for Paty was an experience she could not imagine while growing up in Mexico.  “I started to feel ugly, useless and developed low self-esteem.”

“As the abusive relationship continued, I decided to attend meetings at AL-ANON (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous). The meetings helped me understand that I was the victim and not the cause of the abuse.”  The final time her partner hurt her, she had the courage to call the authorities. The authorities arrived, took him away and ultimately, deported him.  Paty found herself alone with three children and an uncertain future.

She reminisces, “I learned that even though times were difficult, the universe never abandons you.”  That was the moment she found Somos Mayfair.  Through Somos, she found a community that would support her emotionally during an incredibly tough rebuilding period.  Fast forward seven years.  Somos Mayfair provides Paty with a platform to effect change in the lives of women in similar circumstances. Upon expressing her desire to provide the women of her community with an art class where women could express their innermost and deepest emotions, Somos Mayfair hosted Paty’s first ArteTerapia class.

Upon completion of the first course, Paty received a grant from the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI). MALI is a recognized leadership development program for people of color housed at the  School of Arts and Culture.  The grant made it possible for Paty to reach a larger audience with her ArteTerapia course.  After designing a flyer and Facebook campaign to promote her offering, she welcomed 14 women to share their own stories at the School in October 2016. The students who attend her course represent different walks of life.  Paty instructs women who are immigrants from low income backgrounds, as well as  women with both emotional and challenging life circumstances.  “I feel that the course has helped women feel valuable. I see these courageous women evolve into a new mindset; they start to understand that they have much to give. This course also serves as an anti-stress tool.” Paty provides both financial aid, another benefit of the MALI grant, and child care.   

I observed a class meeting,and was so touched by what I witnessed. Despite a late start, women socialized and laughed together even as their children vied for their attention. As the class settled,  students sat in a circle and introduced themselves and shared experiences.  Some discussed the project they liked in the previous class. One mother spoke about the painted hand impressions on a large sheet of cloth.  She recalled something her grandmother told her about how each finger on one’s hand represents the uniqueness, but equal importance, of each son or daughter. Another mother expressed how the class helped her through the attempted suicide of her daughter; others overcame perfectionist tendencies and deep insecurities as they created. After sharing was completed, they followed up with the rules.

Paty expresses the utmost need for confidentiality, punctuality, communication and keeping criticisms constructive.  Soon after the sharing and formalities, the group participates in an activity that asks the women to express a phrase that makes them feel bad. Tossing around a plastic bottle, they each call out a phrase that has hurt them emotionally.  The women call out, “You are lazy!”, “You are ugly!”, “You are crazy!”, “You can’t make it on your own without me!” and the phrases that  elicit  the most pain are  “I’m going to kill you!”, “I’m going to rape you!” and “I can’t wait for you to die!” After what feels like therapeutic tears and emotional relief for the women, they went on to a stone painting activity.

Paty introduces several bright colors of paint and smooth stones, and invites the women paint the stones as they please. Immediately the women work, and the room is a  quiet, peaceful, and creative environment.    Once the stone art was completed, the women gathered to discuss each stone.  The stones ranged from the very colorful and hopeful to dark and painful.  One woman expressed that the white dot at the center of her stone symbolized a light of hope. A cancer survivor joyfully told the group that the multi-colored curls painted on her stone was a dream of dying her hair in the same way one day.  The last woman tearfully told a story of a flower gift that was destroyed by a hurtful mother. The half dead, half healthy flower on her stone represented her pain and the good that can come from bad experiences.  

As the women say their cheerful goodbyes, I think about my final conversation with Paty and her goals for the future of the art therapy course.  “Women free themselves after taking one of my courses.  I see that the women find a source of healing in the art projects they complete.” Thoughtfully she adds, “This journey helps me understand that my life couldn’t have gone any other way than it did. I wouldn’t change the past even if I could. I have benefitted the most from helping these women.  My kids see less conflict in our lives, they see a better example of productive living. My sons are independent and they see me as a super mom!” she laughs.

Paty hopes to expand this valuable community service to different communities and hopes to offer the class as long as she can.  In the end, she wants to employ women from her classes who will help her expand the organization. She sees ArteTerapia as a way of “paying it forward” to another woman in need.  Between you and me, I am rooting for her every step of the way.