Destiny's Children: A Legacy of War and Gangs

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Carlos’s Story: epilogue

Last summer, in June 2009, I travelled to Vienna Austria to be present as Carlos realized the fulfillment of a great dream and long personal journey. Although his mother Carmen could not be physically present at his graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria,  her presence was felt not only in the subject matter of Carlos’ thesis exhibition. The dedication  he wrote to accompany the piece — a giant triptych entitled “La Mama Grande / The Great Mother” — referred to the central role Carmen played in his struggle to become an artist. 

Carmen was not just the emotional center of the Perez family but was also the main provider.  After his mother’s death at the end of 2002, Carlos and the family faced a crisis.  Fortunately, a chain of events and opportunities sparked by my publication of a story about Carlos in the Sunday supplement of the Guatemalan newspaper Siglo XXI fortified her conviction that her son’s talents would be developed and serve as a bridge to a better life.  

In the months after her death, the encouragement of his teachers and the desire to fulfill the promise he made to his mother kept Carlos determined to stay in school in order to earn his Guatemalan high school diploma. But it was getting a competitive contract to illustrate children’s textbook sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP)–which made this economically possible. 

I stayed in touch with Carlos via email over the next years.  His work for the UNDP project took him to villages in the Mayan highlands and Carlos began deepening his interest in his Mayan past.  During one of those trips Carlos met and befriended a group of young people from Austria.  And he began looking for ways to be able to travel and explore the world beyond Guatemala. 

When Carlos wrote to me at the end of 2003 that he was going to go to Vienna to study art I had mixed feelings.  Through years of friendship I had also become a trusted mentor. In Carmen’s absence I felt a responsibility to raise the kinds of questions she would have  raised.  He wanted to study art in Europe but his plan of going on a tourist visa and then seeing what happened was not only vague, but seemed fraught with potential disaster.  As someone who knew the difficulties that Latino immigrants from all class and racial backgrounds face in the US and in Europe, I  also felt a responsibility to let Carlos know that there would be many barriers including language to realizing his dream. It seemed to me that Mexico or Spain might be an easier stepping stone to that larger world. 

But Carlos was insistent.  Despite deep misgivings I let Carlos know that I also share his conviction that it is better to endure frustrating moments in the pursuit of your dreams than to live disappointed because you are afraid to try.

Carlos continues to live in Austria working as an artist and teaching art to young people. My images of Carlos  lead to publication of his story in the February 2010 issue of Smithsonian magazine.  

To contact Carlos directly about his projects please write to him in Spanish or German at  

Or to see examples of Carlos’ work visit his blog (for the moment only in German)