THE CAGED BIRD

WRITTEN BY MIRIAM CORTEZ
Miriam Cortez-Cáceres is an artist from Los Angeles, CA. Born to undocumented immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador, Miriam explores the narratives of her parents upbringings and traumas by translating their experiences in her artwork. Creating surrealist paintings, drawings, and stop-motion animations, she deconstructs the the politics of her family's ancestry.

Miriam currently works for the nonprofit organization Peace4Kids, a program in Los Angeles serving youth in the foster care system ages 4-26. As an alumna of foster care, Miriam draws upon her personal experience to help advance an agenda of equity for youth impacted by trauma. An advocate for social change, she frequently facilitates Peace4Kids classes, utilizing art as a tool to assist youth in finding their voice.

Artist statement:

My brown skin is an allegory of all the womxn the sun loved before me, whose eerie hymns and torments, immortal wisdom and cries seeped into the deepest roots of my core, my ancestors liberated only when I use my voice.
Visual Art By Miriam Cortez
Miriam Cortez-Cáceres is an artist from Los Angeles, CA. Born to undocumented immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador, Miriam explores the narratives of her parents upbringings and traumas by translating their experiences in her artwork. Creating surrealist paintings, drawings, and stop-motion animations, she deconstructs the the politics of her family's ancestry.

Miriam currently works for the nonprofit organization Peace4Kids, a program in Los Angeles serving youth in the foster care system ages 4-26. As an alumna of foster care, Miriam draws upon her personal experience to help advance an agenda of equity for youth impacted by trauma. An advocate for social change, she frequently facilitates Peace4Kids classes, utilizing art as a tool to assist youth in finding their voice.

Artist statement:

My brown skin is an allegory of all the womxn the sun loved before me, whose eerie hymns and torments, immortal wisdom and cries seeped into the deepest roots of my core, my ancestors liberated only when I use my voice.
The Caged Bird

Below is a poem written by Miriam when she was 18, which inspired her to create the above animation years later.

“The Caged Bird”

You overtly sing melancholy tunes of grief,
desperately unveiling your stories of anguish to the world.
Deceived by your inherently beautiful nature,
you are obliviously disregarded.
And so you gradually decay
from the inside out,
your hardships
dwindling with your carcass.
Incarcerated and despondent,
you hopelessly seek freedom.
You desire a feeding hand
that won't hurt you.
Helpless and forsaken,
I will hear your cries, little bird.
I have ceaselessly mourned just as you have,
but I refuse to continue being reserved.
Together,
we will suffer,
we will plea,
and ultimately be free.

I am a caged bird.

...

The voice that can be heard in the animation is my father's. It's from a voicemail he left me a couple of years ago before he went missing. Here is the translation:

"In my mind it’s as if it were yesterday
As if time stopped in my head
and you’re still a little girl
It’s as if my mind doesn’t want to move past it.

I was also a father.
I also know what it’s like to be beautiful in this life.

And that’s why I thank god,
for giving me that privilege."

...

I experienced the loss of my father all throughout my life. When he’d go missing for days, weeks, months at a time. I blamed myself for his drug and alcohol addictions, for the times he’d come home and physically abuse my mother. My father was also my best friend, the kindest person I knew.  And I was just like him. An artist, a storyteller. I had his smile, told his jokes, carried all his gentle qualities.

I adored him. I wanted nothing more than my father, but he left me fatherless. My mother was always violent when he was gone. The physical abuse was cruel and detached. She carried the El Salvadoran civil war inside her, the intergenerational traumas, her painful upbringing, and the abandonment of her own father. I felt it when she’d pound my head against the cold tile floors, when I’d end up in the emergency rooms, when I had to lie about the injuries.

My parents were hurting. They were a combination of abuse and abandonment. I, their periled child, was determined to heal them. I made myself small for them, took accountability for their actions, and lost myself in this process.

...

I always felt connected to the caged birds I had growing up. I’d go to them when I felt alone and tell them my stories. I liked to hear them recite their own. I let them witness my anguish, confined and trapped in their cages. I was afraid to free them, to have nothing I could relate my life to.

I eventually found comfort in storytelling through my artwork. I portrayed myself as animals in immense pain. I captured the expressions I observed in my birds, told our stories through these complex narratives. I told the story of my estranged father, the story of my abusive mother, my difficult upbringing.

Every piece I create is a release, the way I take these traumas and dismantle them into tiny, innocuous fragments. They are revolutionary acts of self-love. The pieces validate my experiences and humanize my parents. They are the way I end the cycles of abuse that haunted my family since colonization, the way I hear my voice as a woman of color, the way I heal.

Moon Child
On love and healing intergenerational trauma
Directed By James Mills
Three generations of women tell the story of Vina Schmitt, self-proclaimed “Moon Child,” while exploring issues of addiction, trauma, mental health, love, and acceptance....
Moon Child
On love and healing intergenerational trauma
Directed By James Mills
Three generations of women tell the story of Vina Schmitt, self-proclaimed “Moon Child,” while exploring issues of addiction, trauma, mental health, love, and acceptance....