Meet Jose Alvarez. Or as he’ll tell you when you’re introduced:
“My name is Jose Alvarez, D.O.P.A.”
D.O.P.A. isn’t a fancy degree. It stands for his real name: David Orangel Peña Arteaga. This is about Alvarez’s art. But it’s mostly about how that art has humanized undocumented immigrants at the Krome Detention Center, at a time when immigrants are being politically demonized.
In 1984, Peña was a young gay man living in Caracas, Venezuela — facing constant homophobic harassment from police. One night they threatened to jail him. Or worse.
“They had the guns pointed at my forehead,” he recalls. “And the guy said, ‘You must be practicing homosexuality.’ I was just frantic, and I said, ‘I must leave. I really must leave.’ ”
Peña left for Fort Lauderdale on a student visa and enrolled in art school. Then the visa expired.
“I was really terrified of going back,” he says.
Someone offered him false U.S. identity papers — with the name Jose Alvarez — so he could stay.
“Finally, I decided to do it,” he says, “as what I thought was a temporary situation.”
It turned out to be permanent. The artist who was now Jose Alvarez made a name for himself in galleries from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach — and a life for himself here with his partner, Randi.
That is, until U.S. immigration agents discovered his true identity in 2011 — and showed up at his door in Plantation. Alvarez was locked up in the Krome Detention Center on Miami’s western outskirts. He curled up in a fetal position and hoped his lawyer would get him out pronto.
Something else more important happened.
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Tim Padgett is WLRN’S Americas editor.