This article originally appeared in the Friday May 24, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
An Austin-based competition that recognizes students who best visualized the experience of genocide survivors named three local teens as winners in their respective categories.
The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission named Sharyland High School’s Miguel Hernandez, Jimmy Carter Early College High School’s Leann Lopez and Maya Carrizalez winners in the categories of best genocide poetry, best Holocaust poetry and best genocide visual arts.
According to a press release from the commission, the three were one of four high school students across the state who won the award in the competition that was open to middle school and high school students. Each of the four winners won $500 as part of the prize.
According to its website, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is a state agency that was established to bring awareness of the Holocaust and other genocides to Texas students, educators, and the general public to inspire them in the prevention of future atrocities.
This year’s theme of the student contest was “Texas Survivors” and had students research survivors to create their project on.
Lopez did not respond to a request to be interviewed.
Hernandez was encouraged to participate by history teacher Robert Barbosa, Hernandez said. His poem, titled “Rwandan Genocide,” was based on the 1994 mass slaughter of the Tutsi and Hutu people in the country of Rwanda that killed 1 million people.
For his project, Hernandez researched Gilbert Tuhabonye, who was the only member of his family who survived the genocide.
“Most of the people participating in class were focusing on the Holocaust and the event itself, but I was curious about the aftermath of a genocide,” Hernandez explained. “I like writing and I wanted to use that to ask how it felt to be the only one left. It’s like the soldiers coming back home who become traumatized with what they went through.”
He admitted to being surprised at his award, explaining that he submitted his poem last February and winners were notified earlier this month.
“So by the time I heard that I won, I forgot I had participated” Hernandez said.
For her artwork titled “Into the Slaughter,” Carrizalez researched Mirzeta Colic, who survived genocide in Bosnia and came to the United States in 1998.
As part of her research into Colic, Carrizalez was shocked by a story Colic told in interviews of her pregnant, Muslim sister giving birth in a Syrian hospital only for the baby to be executed by soldiers shortly after its birth.
“I have a cousin around the same age as Colic’s sister who is also pregnant, so I was scared when I realized this could’ve been her story,” Carrizalez explained. “I wanted to capture that pain and horror through art since I draw all the time.”
Carrizalez’s drawing depicts Colic’s sister giving birth while a group of armed soldiers wait in the nursery.
Carrizalez credited the organization for giving her a chance to learn about other genocides in detail.
“I’m aware of the Holocaust but it feels like that’s the only act of genocide being taught in detail,” Carrizalez said. “There’s so many others in history.”