Refugees share their stories as unaccompanied youth coming to U.S. through art

By: Bryce Airgood, Lansing State Journal



Edwin Rigoberto Hernández-Ventura, a refugee from Honduras, with a painting he and other immigrants created as part of The Samaritas Youth Refugee Art exhibit on display at Casa de Rosado in Lansing Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. Edwin, now 22, started his journey to the United States when he was 14 and now has a green card.


LANSING — Okemos resident Edwin Rigoberto Hernández-Ventura still has the scars.

When he lived in Honduras with his mother, her boyfriend at the time didn’t like the young man, who identifies himself as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

The boyfriend would hit the then 13-year-old and Hernández-Ventura recalled one incident where the man screamed at him while intoxicated.

“And then he takes out a revolver, tries to shoot me,” the 22-year-old said.

The boyfriend said he was going to kill the teen, but couldn’t make the gun work and left. Afterward, Hernández-Ventura’s mother told her son none of it would have happened if he had kept himself silent, he recalled. 

This domestic violence and personal reasons prompted Hernández-Ventura to leave Honduras and travel to the United States at 14 as an unaccompanied minor and refugee youth. He made it to the country in 2014, he said.

Hernández-Ventura shares his experience through his work as the Michigan delegate for Refugee Congress, a national organization that promotes the wellbeing and dignity of vulnerable migrants, and is participating in the Samaritas Youth Refugee Art exhibit at Casa de Rosado at 204 E. Mt. Hope Ave. in Lansing.

The Samaritas Youth Refugee Art exhibit on display at Casa de Rosado will be coming down soon but is available for viewing online through the gallery. Tuesday, Jan. 2022.


The exhibit

The exhibit, which can be viewed by one-on-one virtual tours until Sunday, converges multiple journeys as unaccompanied youth from homelands torn by violence and finding temporary refuge at Samaritas and envisioning new lives in the community.

"Casa de Rosado has always had a focus of social justice in the arts,” art gallery owner Theresa Rosado said. “And this just exemplifies the importance to have a voice, in that goal, and having a safe opportunity and place to share that story is what we seek to do here.”

Samaritas provides refugee services and resettles families from all over the world. The organization is based in Lansing but works around the state to connect unaccompanied refugee minors with foster care and more, Park said.

"What I want them (people) to know, how amazing these kids are, especially the kids who are coming here truly are fleeing danger," she said. "The one thing I want to press on people is that the kids who come here fleeing violence, fleeing gangs, that's because they're the kind of kids who do not want to be a part of that.”

Edwin Rigoberto Hernández-Ventura, a refugee from Honduras, talks openly about his immigrant journey to the United States Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at Casa de Rosado in Lansing.

Part of the community

Park said she has seen kids leave the Samaritas program who have started businesses, started families and have become incredible community members.

The Samaritas Youth Refugee Art exhibit helps connect people with refugee minors and unaccompanied children through their voices, their words, their dreams and expressions instead of just statistics people read in the news, she said.

As of Oct. 31, 2021, there were approximately 10,680 unaccompanied children in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services care. The Department of Homeland Security referred 15,381 unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2020 and in 2019 there were 69,488 unaccompanied children referred, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

It’s important to remember these youth are here, Park said.

"They're not just overseas in refugee camps,” she said. “They're not just in government shelters, they're here, a part of our community. And because they're here, we have the opportunity to step into their story.”

The Samaritas Youth Refugee Art exhibit on display at Casa de Rosado will be coming down soon but is available for viewing online through the gallery. Tuesday, Jan. 2022.

Making the connection

Those stories include Hernández-Ventura’s. Since moving to the Lansing area he's graduated from Charlotte High School, studied at Lansing Community College for two years and received his green card. He wants to study social work so he can help others, he said.

His piece in the art exhibit is “Follow Your Dreams” and shows a night scene with a road leading into the distance. The road can look empty, but you never know how it will clear for you later and he's following it, he said.

“Have empathy type of thing,” he said. “Like try to connect to them.”

The Samaritas Youth Refugee Art exhibit also will be available from 3 to 4 p.m. on Jan. 30 at Resurrection Parish at 48755 Warren Road in Canton Township.

People can support the Samaritas Refugee Foster Care program, unaccompanied refugee minors and other unaccompanied children in its care by purchasing from its online Youth Art Shop. For more information people can contact Park at People interested in learning more about the current exhibit can contact Casa de Rosado by messaging its Facebook page.

Contact Bryce Airgood at 517-267-0448 or Follow her on Twitter @bairgood123.

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