Drawing depicts the Greensboro Four during the famous 1960s sit-in that took place in Greensboro, NC. (Drawing by Luis Paredes)

Art takes Latino child beyond autism

For anyone who has ever seen it, 11-year-old Luis Gerardo Paredes’s art can only be described as powerful. It’s no surprise that one of his pieces would beat out a little over 3,000 nationwide submissions to land one of the 102 spots for exhibition in the 2012 All Kids Can CREATE art contest. But unlike his fellow junior artists, Paredes is autistic.

“He has a talent, it was evident then and an inquisitiveness and an awareness, an eagerness to recreate,” said his art teacher, Tany’a Wells-Vasquez, who first taught Paredes when he was only 5 years old. “He was such a good boy. He was a good boy then and he’s a good boy now.”

Also chosen as one of two to represent his home state of New York, his work is currently being showcased at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. through August 26. The contest, sponsored by the International Organization on Arts and Disability and CVS Caremark, accepted student artwork submissions under the theme “What Inspires Me” through the end of April.

“I wanted them to know that there was this greatness that lies in all of them and I wanted them to understand that Dr. King didn’t do it alone; that it took many people and even students to bring about change,” Wells-Vasquez said about the lesson intended for her students through this assignment, and referring to the Civil Rights movement. “Luis then studied their faces and created a story with his art.”

A native of  New York City, Paredes was diagnosed with Autism at the tender age of two but is high functional. Art is his passion.

His father, Luis Fernando Paredes of Trujillo, Peru, said that ever since little Luis’s diagnosis, his recovery and well-being has been a family affair.

Oftentimes, he and his wife Maria take shifts to make sure Luchito —  as his family calls him — doesn’t miss a therapy. Mr. Trujillo works the night shift as cleaning staff for high rises in New York City to support his family, his wife is currently without a job.

Luchito’s biggest hurdle right now is reading comprehension, according to Paredes, so he and his wife try to read to him and are actively seeking tutoring to help bring little Luis up-to-speed.

“There are no words to express how it feels. Sometimes it’s difficult but I am so happy and proud of Luis,” said Mr. Paredes.

Last week, the family was invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the exhibit — which little Luis calls a proud moment.

“We just went there and my daddy took a lot of pictures and I took pictures with my grandma,” Paredes said. “All the kids were happy, they were proud. I was proud.”

Paredes’s art teacher, Ms. Tany’a Wells-Vasquez, is the person responsible for getting Paredes’s work submitted into the contest. Wells-Vasquez got word of the opportunity through her involvement with Artsonia.com, the world’s largest virtual children’s art museum.

Ms. Wells-Vasquez then chose the Greensboro Four as the topic for her class and asked her students to draw based on what they felt.

The topic intrigued Paredes and captured his imagination, Wells-Vasquez recalls.And what resulted from a brief conversation suddenly astounded the art teacher.

Initially a class project meant to be a mural collectively put together by the entire class, the art teacher says after seeing Paredes’ sketch, it became evident that the assignment needed to be his alone.

“I get emotional about it. He takes step by step every day and this is what comes to fruition,” Wells-Vasquez said. “It really gets you choked up.”

And the story left Luchito captivated, as well.

“Oh yeah, the Greensboro Four, the four students that were waiting for coffee but only white people could get served. It started in the 1960s,” Parades told NBC Latino about what he had learned. “And then the four people were sitting down. People would ruin things a long time ago but now today is a wonderful day.”

Mr. Paredes recalls his son’s early interest in the arts starting when he was just a toddler.  Back then, and especially during the family’s summer vacations in Peru, Luchito would want to stay up nights working on his sketches. He constantly asked his dad to buy him drawing paper and with his Crayola crayons, Paredes says Luis was insatiable, sometimes drawing into the wee hours of the night.

“I would tell him: ‘Luchito, come to bed. It’s late,’ and he would respond: ‘Please wait, daddy. Please wait and let me finish,” the proud father recalls. “I’m pretty convinced of his gifts and his talent at this point.”

Paredes’ father added that he’s grateful to Wells for her involvement and encouragement in developing his son’s love for art and his talent.

“My son has taught me so much about humanity and being affectionate. The hard work has certainly paid off but he can’t do it alone. No one can.”

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