Let Me Tell You an Immigrant’s Story

Allison Inge Bernstein
May 20 · 3 min read

Week 2 Blog Post by Kathy of Team RAIK

In business school, we are often given frameworks and guidelines for how communicate effectively. We practice our responses to interview questions over and over again, until we get the narrative just right. We agonize about the word-to-image ratio of our powerpoint slides right up until the deadline. For many of us, storytelling has become almost formulaic. This is certainly not how Rosalia Torres-Weiner, or the broader art industry, approaches communication. Rosalia is the founder and lifeblood of Red Calaca Studio, a Charlotte-based art studio through which Rosalia communicates stories of immigration, deportation, family separation, and more.

Team RAIK with ARTivist Rosalia Torres-Weiner in front of her mural at Camp North End

Upon seeing Rosalia for the first time, we knew that we were meeting a strong, vibrant woman. Within minutes of introducing ourselves, Rosalia launched into stories of her turbulent and trying experience as a Mexican immigrant and the stories of Latinx immigrants she has met in Charlotte. She also tells us about the Papalote Project, an initiative that Rosalia initiated to give children affected by deportation a voice to express their stories through the arts the craft of making a Papalote (kite). These stories reduce her to tears, and she explains to us that this is why she has shifted from thinking about art as a commercial vehicle to becoming an “ARTivist.” Here is the thing about the art industry…there are no hard and fast rules about how to make money. Sometimes, being more focused on the message of your art can be more lucrative than constantly thinking about commercialization.

Papalote Project mural painted by Rosalia in 2013

Throughout the week, we heard from other artists that there are many channels through which an artist can make a living (Instagram, e-commerce, auctions, galleries, private commissions, studio sales, the possibilities are endless), but as artists gain more notoriety in the art world, particularly those with social justice messages, state and federal level grants become more important. In order to successfully navigate all these channels, an artist needs to be business-savvy, tech-savvy, proficient with grant-making systems, and well networked, all while maintaining a prolific and creative portfolio. Phew.

Kathy Tian standing next to Rosalia’s art pieces at the Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art

Now imagine that the artist did not grow up in this country and English is not her first language. This is the position that Rosalia finds herself in each day. She has enlisted her husband, Ben Weiner, who works a fulltime job elsewhere, as her unofficial “business manager.” Ben expresses that even for him, a native English speaker, applying for grants is an ambiguous and confusing process. As a team, we set out to help Rosalia and Red Calaca Studio strategize on which sales channels to focus on and best practices for those channels. To do this, we advised on a short-term “always-on” sales strategy, as well as a longer term vision of how she can carry her message to a national audience. We also walked her through a list of actionable branding advice to increase cohesion of all her messaging platforms.

Ivy Wei presenting findings to Rosalia at the end of the week

I reflect on this week in awe of the strength and creativity that immigrants like Rosalia and my own parents bring to this country. There are hidden barriers, such as navigating a grant-making system, or staying abreast of the evolving US art market, that can prevent an immigrant from thriving in this business. However, I am encouraged by the allies and support networks that immigrants find in partners, community members, coworkers, and beyond. We wish all the success for Red Calaca Studio, and we can’t wait to see Rosalia’s powerful artwork spread across the nation.

Open Road @ Ross

Open Road @ Ross is an established action-based social entrepreneurship program developed by Ross students and financially supported by the Ford Motor Company

Allison Inge Bernstein

Written by

Open Road @ Ross

Open Road @ Ross is an established action-based social entrepreneurship program developed by Ross students and financially supported by the Ford Motor Company