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‘Finding my home’: Mural features Beach High student’s poem about her move to Miami

Miami Beach Senior High School sophomore Valentina Mena came to Miami from Argentina about a year ago. A poem she wrote about her experience in her new home has inspired a massive new mural near her school.
Chantal Lawrie, Courtesy O, Miami
Miami Beach Senior High School sophomore Valentina Mena came to Miami from Argentina about a year ago. A poem she wrote about her experience in her new home has inspired a massive new mural near her school.

What does it mean to call a place a home, to grow roots in two countries and two languages?

What are the feelings, smells or sights one has to experience before they feel like they belong, whether in a place they’ve been their whole life or somewhere they’ve just arrived?

The questions and emotions are central to the poem written by Miami Beach Senior High School student Valentina Mena — one that details the 16-year-old sophomore’s experience of moving from Villa María, Argentina, to Miami last year and whose line is featured on a new mural outside the school.

“This is my first place in a new reality, where it received me but made me miss my old me,” the poem begins. “While time passes it feels alright. Afternoons are humid and sun hits my skin. Riding my bike, watching the green in the neighborhood…the blue reflected in the ocean.”

Valentina’s poem — the first she’s ever written — is at the core of a collaborative project between O, Miami, a non-profit organization that builds community through poetry, and Boa Mistura, a Madrid-based art collective that travels the world transforming blank walls and alleyways into art.

Stretched across the pair of 3 million-gallon water tanks overlooking Valentina’s high school is a single line from the poem written in both English and Spanish, her native language. One tank reads, “finding my home in every voice that I hear”, and the other “hay un hogar en cada voz que escucho.”

Students from Miami Beach Senior High School help paint a massive new mural on a pair of 3 million-gallon water tanks overlooking the school. The mural, titled "My Home, Mi Hogar" was designed by the artist collective Boa Mistura and inspired by a poem written by a Beach High student.
Alie Skowronski, Miami Herald
Students from Miami Beach Senior High School help paint a massive new mural on a pair of 3 million-gallon water tanks overlooking the school. The mural, titled "My Home, Mi Hogar" was designed by the artist collective Boa Mistura and inspired by a poem written by a Beach High student.

“This is like a miracle,” Valentina said of seeing her words on the mural. It’s like a “light in my path to know…what should I do in my future.”

The project, titled “My Home, Mi Hogar,” was unveiled Friday during a celebration that welcomed the O, Miami and Boa Mistura teams, along with elected officials and Miami Beach Senior High students.

Years in the making

The idea for the collaboration between O, Miami and Boa Mistura began years ago, Scott Cunningham said Friday. While visiting Madrid, the O, Miami founder and executive and artistic director saw a short poem stenciled on the street and soon learned the group behind the effort was Boa Mistura.

The group’s work “made space for people to be authors of their own public artwork,” he said. The mission resonated with O, Miami. So when the City of Miami Beach gave the non-profit the opportunity to work with the water tanks, “we immediately thought of Boa Mistura,” Cunningham said.

READ MORE: A story worth writing about: poet Luz Rossy on Miami, the struggle and her abuela

Once the collaboration was underway, O, Miami hosted a series of poetry workshops for students at the high school and encouraged them to describe what Miami meant to them. For Valentina, the words came naturally.

“I’m living the music of them, and recording moments so I won’t forget…but sometimes it’s hard to adapt,” the poem says. “But people here feels like a family’s part, finding home in every voice that I hear.”

Out of the more than 200 poems written by students, Boa Mistura chose Valentina’s. It was that one line — “finding my home in every voice that I hear” — that jumped out to the artists and inspired the mural.

The Spanish art collective Boa Mistura chose a line from a poem written by Beach High student Valentina Mena to be the inspiration for their latest public mural, "My Home, Mi Hogar". Artists Pablo Ferreiro, Juan Jaume and other members of Boa Mistura painted the massive piece alongside students from Beach High.
Chantal Lawrie, Courtesy O,Miami
The Spanish art collective Boa Mistura chose a line from a poem written by Beach High student Valentina Mena to be the inspiration for their latest public mural, "My Home, Mi Hogar". Artists Pablo Ferreiro, Juan Jaume and other members of Boa Mistura painted the massive piece alongside students from Beach High.

The designers behind the mural, Pablo Ferriero and Juan Jaume, said the poem is a celebration of the immigrant experience in Miami, or the “migrant essence of Miami.” As artists who spend much of the year traveling, the message of finding home wherever they go resonated.

“In the poem, she expresses with this delicate balance of melancholy but optimism at the same time, this sense of being new to a strange place [and] a place where you don’t naturally belong,” Ferriero said. “But you’re getting used to [living] in this new place, right?”

Hope for home

As with other projects, Boa Mistura invited Beach High students to participate in painting the mural. Last month, students from all grades contributed to the project’s final design by layering coat after coat of vibrant color — a highlight for Valentina.

Now, after about three weeks, the poem’s stanzas and swaths of purple, green, blue and red hues cover the two water tanks and overlook the school’s football field. The words, painted white, overlay fragments of letters from “home” and “hogar,” creating a seemingly abstract design.

For Valentina, though, perhaps the most important message from the poem is about hope, “hope for what I was not seeing but tried to,” she said. “Hope to heal with time [and] hope to find a community that understands me. Hope for home.”

That’s why, seeing both “home” and “hogar” in the same place, in both languages, is something she’ll never forget: “I will always keep that in my heart for the rest of my life.”

Editor's Note: This story was co-reported by WLRN Education Reporter Kate Payne and Miami Herald K-12 Education Reporter Sommer Brugal.

Beach High sophomore Valentina Mena paints a mural inspired by a poem she wrote. The finished mural towers over the school's football field, reading "finding a home in every voice that I hear" and "hay un hogar en cada voz que escucho".
Alie Skowronski, Miami Herald
Beach High sophomore Valentina Mena paints a mural inspired by a poem she wrote. The finished mural towers over the school's football field, reading "finding a home in every voice that I hear" and "hay un hogar en cada voz que escucho".

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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