Jupiter, Florida in northern Palm Beach County is home to a very large population of Guatemalan immigrants. In April 2015, Onesimo Lopez-Ramos, an 18-year-old member of that community, was murdered outside his home by a group of young men who later told police they were out “Guat’ hunting.” In response to this tragedy, El Sol, a local resource center for Guatemalan immigrants, Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, and the Lighthouse ArtCenter collaborated on a traveling exhibition, called “One Jupiter,” celebrating Mayan culture and the contributions of Guatemalans to life in Palm Beach County. It was designed to increase understanding of the rich heritage that the Guatemalans bring with them and provide an opportunity for healing and relationship building across cultures in the city. Presented in schools, libraries, community centers, and even Florida Atlantic University, it appears to have had a positive impact on the community. When El Sol opened in 2006 it was met with protests and angry residents complained about it at town council meetings. Today, in the words of a local reporter “the community’s tone has completely changed.” The public anger has evaporated.
The collaboration that sponsored the “One Jupiter” exhibition was not born as a result of Lopez-Ramos’ murder. The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the Lighthouse ArtCenter had worked with El Sol prior to that on programming for immigrant children and support for the Resource Center’s work. The tragedy certainly did galvanize the partners into action but it was not necessary to build trust from nothing at the time it occurred.
One of the most interesting things to me about this story is that the relationship among the institutions has continued and grown since the initial work in 2015. The partnering organizations remain in dialogue and assist each other in providing training and art classes for children and adults as well as summer camps designed in ways that encourage participation by Guatemalan young people. In June the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County hosted a portion of the “One Jupiter” exhibition and is sponsoring related panel discussions and presentations. (See article) Rather than being a “one off” collaboration, the members of the organizations have made a point of maintaining their connections, this is especially interesting since one of the principal leaders of the project has recently moved to Maine.
This story is inspiring on its own. We should never forget the role that art can play in cross-cultural understanding. But the “One Jupiter” story also demonstrates some critical principles of community engagement. The project would not have been nearly as successful if there had not already been a relationship among the participants, and certainly would not have happened so quickly. The exhibition first opened five months after the murder. Indeed, given the grief in the Guatemalan community it is likely that a project such as this would either have had to wait a long time–until trust was built–or would not have been possible at all. Relationship building is important foundational work even when we don’t know what projects will come out of it.
In addition, the collaboration did not simply stop when the first round of exhibition traveling ended. (Notably, the exhibition was also not the sole element of the partners’ joint projects.) They have continued to talk and work, all of which has resulted in drawing the awareness of the broader Palm Beach County community as demonstrated by the Cultural Council’s participation this summer. They have been successfully maintaining the relationships.
Even from a distance we can grieve with the city of Jupiter and particularly its Guatemalan community. The best hope going forward is that we can learn from this lessons about building bridges into the communities that surround us wherever we work.
Before I close, let me address my colleagues in academia. The people who have worked on the One Jupiter project are very anxious to get the word out about it. They would love someone to tell the story more broadly. I can imagine it being an excellent opportunity for a graduate student project. Get in touch if you’d like an introduction.