Skip to main content

CNN - August 15, 2019

Española, New Mexico (CNN)Growing up, Aaron Martinez watched both of his parents struggle with addictions. Ultimately, his older sister died from a heroin overdose and his father overdosed from prescription painkillers.

At times, it was hard for Martinez to imagine another future."People would tell me, 'You're going to be a drug addict, you're going to be a tecato (heroin addict), you're going to be worthless,'" said Martinez, now 22. "For the longest time, I believed them just because of what I was seeing in my life."In northern New Mexico's Rio Arriba County, stories like these aren't unusual. As a center of the opioid epidemic, it has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country -- almost four times higher than the national average. Just last week, the county received a $2 million grant to combat the problem. Yet addiction is just one of the challenges in this region, where nearly 30% of the population lives below the poverty line.

But artist Roger Montoya is making sure young people like Martinez can find a different path through his nonprofit, Moving Arts Española. Since 2008, his community arts center has provided arts classes, free meals, tutoring and support to more than 5,000 children and youth.

It's not the path Montoya originally envisioned. He'd been a professional dancer in New York, but by the late 1980s, he was HIV-positive and had lost his partner and many friends to AIDS. Returning to New Mexico, he felt like he was coming home to die.
"My soul was really aching with such loss and grief," said Montoya, 58. "It seemed inevitable that I would be on that same track."
Immersing himself in painting, a lifelong passion, helped restore his health.
"Coming home, with my family, my art, really set the tone for me to begin to heal," he said. "Art is medicine."
Now, Montoya brings the healing power of the arts to local children five days a week. Several hundred students each year take part in classes ranging from gymnastics and circus arts to fashion design and musical arts like singing, violin, ballet and hip hop. The group also celebrates local culture by teaching traditional Mexican dancing, known as folklorico, as well as Spanish flamenco dancing and guitar. ...
Read full article and interview at CNN