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Mamaroneck Artist Recalls Immigration Struggle, Supports Hispanic Resource Center

Mamaroneck artist Piero Manrique will hold a fundraiser tonight at Roasted Peppers from 6:30-9:30 p.m. to benefit the Hispanic Resource Center.

Although many of Mamaroneck artist touch on themes of renewal, energy and life, the symbolism of his work acquires a greater poignancy when it’s put in the context of his experience as a new immigrant to the U.S. in his early teens.

Manrique, who arrived in Mamaroneck as an undocumented immigrant at age 13 from Peru not speaking a word of English, described his experience as a new immigrant as both humbling and isolating, his communication with others limited by his early struggles to learn a foreign language.

“When you come to the U.S. and you don’t know the language, it’s very intimidating,” he said.

The medium of art, however, helped Manrique “break through barriers” in communication and eventually landed him at Purchase College and then Parsons School of Design as an architecture student.  Currently, Manrique is a painter who exhibits his work in the U.S. and Europe.

So, it was only last year that Manrique was introduced to the —a Mamaroneck community-based organization that assists recent immigrants with housing, health, employment and education—a place that didn’t yet exist when Manrique came to the U.S. 

“It’s a way for the community with no resources—especially the Hispanic community—to get information,” he said.

According to Zoe Colon, executive director of the HRC, isolation is a profound issue for many immigrants who leave behind friends and family in a familiar place and find themselves without a safety net in a new country.

“This isolation is pronounced in a suburban community where there is often glaring income disparity and transportation barriers.  Also, the types of jobs that are available to new immigrant low-wage workers are often isolated, such as domestic work.  HRC provides a safe and dignified space to connect immigrants to the larger community through our services and programs,” she said.

The HRC has served the area since 1998 and, blow when flooding from Tropical Storm Irene destroyed much of their facility, forcing the organization to relocate for three months.  Adding insult to injury, the center was also unable to hold their annual Fiesta fundraiser, which cost them $100K in donations.

“We did have a direct mail appeal that brought in 60 percent of what we usually raise to help us through this year,” said Colon, continuing, “We were not approved for FEMA assistance, unfortunately.  We had to absorb the majority of flood- related expenses.”

Donations from Harrison-based Maxx Properties and the proceeds from a event held at S helped to defray replacement costs for furniture and other items destroyed in the flood. The HRC plans to hold another fundraiser this October.

But some in the community wanted to do more.

Meg Sommers, the owner of Mamaroneck’s , approached Colon about teaming up with Manrique—who uses the studio to choreograph salsa dances—and New Rochelle resident/pop singer Alex Berne for a fundraiser to benefit the HRC. 

“It was a perfect fit. Piero’s trajectory is a success story and exactly what we want the larger community to see—that against all odds, the new immigrant community is hardworking and ambitious and makes significant cultural and economic contributions to society,” said Colon about the partnership.

Some of Manrique's paintings on display will honor his South American culture including "Runa," described by the artist as "an elaborate jungle of geometry" named after a Peruvian Indian tribe and "El Inca," a somber portrayal of a Peruvian tumi, or ceremonial knife, in the midst of dense geometric form.

Tonight, from 6:30-9:30 p.m., in Mamaroneck will host the HRC fundraiser, with paintings from Manrique on display and performances from Berne, a Haitian/Dominican pop singer who sings and plays guitar; more information can be found on his website here. Restaurant owners Juan Lepe and Darrell Belcher have donated the space and appetizers for the event. Admission to the event will be a $25, $50 or $100 tax-deductible donation paid at the door. Those donating $100 or more will receive a signed Manrique print.

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