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Written By Geovani Cruz
Cover Art by


Growing up as a queer Salvadoran in Los Angeles, Cruz portrays his memories of childhood in El Salvador and his experiences coming to the US at the age of five.

Editors’ Note

Topics: Art, LGBTQIA+

YOBA, is the name my mom calls me. Yoba is the nickname I have at home, a world so different from that of school. YOBA is a place of comfort, where at school, I was Geo, and I had to act differently; I didn’t know if people had different political views of me because no matter how much I hid, I knew my body and status were political.

I kept to myself for so much of my life, I had to — for safety. When I introduced myself to others, I was a citizen, a citizen of Los Angeles, California, where I grew up. But at home and my close friends, they knew I was undocumented. Even though I explicitly talked about being undocumented throughout high school but that would change coming to college, I knew I had to keep it a secret. I didn’t know anyone on the East Coast, but soon I would find a community that understood where I came from and welcomed me with open arms. 

In my paintings, I explore the in-betweens of my past and present and how these temporalities affect the future I want to create. I build this future in my art using symbols that I find in my memories.


My application of paint has changed throughout the years. I started with more expressive techniques, where I would swirl acrylic paint with different brushes. The clash of colors produced a sense of motion.

In I Gave my Rose to Gemini, the textural quality of the paint in the rapid brushstrokes allows the moon, sun, vines, roses, tunnels, and hourglass to intertwine with one another. To the right of the canvas, the birds are frozen in a moment just before contact with a swing and blooming roses. The application of the paint and the use of the brush becomes smoother, and the imagery more linear as the viewer looks towards this direction.

I Gave My Rose to Gemini, 96″x48″, Acrylic on Wood. 2017.

The symbols used, like the moon, vines, and flowers, center my story. They gave me a temporary place because they were around me. I focus on the memory, I write down what happened, what things I saw, how it made me feel, and what tangible objects I could paint. And from that, I started imagining a setting, a place where these symbols could live.

I wanted to create a world in my paintings where realism could co-exist with the emotions I put into my symbolic objects. This incentivized me to include realism alongside expressive brush strokes in my technique and is what I started exploring in my following work.

In 18 Cents, viewers see a telephone stand surrounded by heavy brush strokes. The painting uses color to emphasize a sense of reflection and abstracted form existing together with a real object.

18 cents, 18″x24″, Acrylic on Canvas. 2018.

Every object I depict in my paintings holds my memories and lived experiences. Growing up as an undocumented migrant, these objects contained my future as well. I use these symbols to tell my stories, stories that I didn’t see growing up. 

Deconstruction of My Salvadoran Identity, 4’x6′, Ink Print, BFK paper, modge podge, fibers, silver sheet. 2021.

In Deconstruction of My Salvadoran Identity, I build on the rearrangement of the Salvadoran flag through various symbols and techniques related to my own experiences. Growing up, I could never represent my flag pridefully, hiding my identity to protect myself from people knowing I was undocumented. As a result, I had to navigate my identities in private, only disclosing when it was safe for me to do so. Although coming to college, I couldn’t explicitly speak publicly due to a fear that I had lived. 

The deconstruction and repetitive usage of colors from the coat of arms in the Salvadoran flag allowed me to rearrange the symbols and envision a future where documentation is not needed for my existence to be valid—bridging where I was born and where I grew up, always living in between.

I explore these uncertainties in the smaller series of flags that break from the rectangular format into smaller rectangular pieces connecting with one another. They coexist with the larger inkjet print—mediums in collage, seeing how my past intertwines with my present. Though my status changed in 2021, my future is uncertain — but I will forever be a dreamer, creating and living

Any stories that I did see in the media focused on the trauma of crossing the border, but not our dreams. With art, I could focus on certain aspects of my migration, the overlooked stories that only those who have undergone my experiences can see themselves in. That is how I could control the narrative and how I would tell these stories. 



Growing up Salvadoran and gay, there weren’t many people to whom I could reach out. It wasn’t until someone described me as his sunflower that I could see myself outside of my political body; many folks would think that I shouldn’t even be here in the US. It was a soft and gentle gesture of care, and I took this gesture and this sunflower and made it my symbol of hope, joy, love, and community. Sunflowers hold a special place in my art.  

Gansito, you made me realize that I’m not an alien, and for that, I became your sunflower. Thank you, for I have found my sun. 24″x30″, Acrylic on Wood. 2019.

My painting “Gansito, you made me realize that I’m not an alien, and for that, I became your sunflower. Thank you, for I have found my sun”  shows many of my life stories through symbols. I speak about migrating at the age of five with the phrase “No Soy Un Alien.” Below that, I wrote “5 y/o,” which speaks to how I continue incorporating little symbols and phrases into my paintings.


I’m invested in the connection of the body and nature and what this relationship means to create futures of belonging in my work. For me, Nature holds spaces for warmth and nurture. In Mangos Verdes con alguashte y marañones (Translation: Green mangos with ground pumpkin seeds and cashew apples), I captured a moment of longing, reflecting on a state of dreaming and how my memories of El Salvador have influenced those dreams. 

Mangos Verdes con alguashte y marañones. 5’x3′, Acrylic on Canvas. 2022.

Eating little green mangos with grounded pumpkin seeds and some marañones (cashew fruit), I look up at them as if they were just within reach, growing from the fruit trees I would eat them off from. They stay just out of my reach and serve as a reminder of how El Salvador is. 

How far and how long since I’ve tasted marañones, and what that feeling would be if today I had those fruits in my hand!

I continue this theme of the intertwining of body and nature in my painting El Salvador, te digo adios, por ahora, y Los Angeles, hola, por favor tratame bien (Translation: El Salvador, I say to you goodbye, for now, and Los Angeles, hi, please treat me well).

El Salvador, te digo adios, por ahora, y Los Angeles, hola, por favor tratame bien, 70″x50″, Acrylic on Canvas. 2023.

This painting lives in my past, at the moment I left El Salvador at the age of 5. I walked and ran through unknown lands, and now that journey seems so far from reach. 

In my art, I relive those memories. I feel my body travel through those same lands of Guatemala, Mexico, and California that once were unknown to me.

How I wish I could, for one last time, say goodbye to El Salvador, goodbye to my childhood friends and family. Those goodbyes are attached to me; I pull and pull, becoming one with the ground. The roots are deep. 

My mom tells me her stories, and I narrate the memories in these portraits and landscapes. These stories, and her, are what I have. I didn’t need to say goodbye to her. 

Los Angeles became a new home. At first, it wasn’t kind to me, but I learned to keep to myself and dream between my past and future. I knew I belonged somewhere in the in-betweens, never only in one place or the other. This diptych painting tells my story of El Salvador, where I was born. 

Having the possibility to say goodbye to my friends and family, but those goodbyes would have to wait for now. Reconnecting those ties and adapting to a California that didn’t want me and didn’t value my humanity, but I kept going. 

My paintings don’t always refer to my future. I create surreal states using lush and dense environments in my paintings. The space is activated by the in-between of past and present and the stories that go with them.

In “Scars on my Memories,” the body in the lower portion of the painting represents my queer and migrant body, intertwining with nature. Banana leaves and various plants reflect an environment of wonder, mystery, and self-reflection. These small moments are seamlessly integrated into the visual representation of those events by the different plants I saw in my neighborhood. The hand coming out of the plants captures a moment of intimacy with the banana plant and how nature can represent those feelings. 

Scars on my Memories. 7’x3′, Acrylic on stretched canvas. 2022.

As I keep developing my visual language, I purposely bring in elements of my previous paintings and techniques. Some of my current works in progress resonate with my earlier paintings. Texture can evoke a sense of memory, creating surfaces of emotions. By layering paint and creating thickness, I can change how clear and realistic I want a symbol to be. I think that is the beauty of art; you are able to control your narrative. I can continue on this journey, expanding on the world I create in my paintings, a future of wonder. 

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