Hector Membreno-Canales: Veteran, Immigrant, and American

Hector Membreno-Canales, Instructor in Art, grew up in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The city, according to Membreno-Canales, is commonly known as “the murder capital of the world.”

On January 10, Membreno-Canales addressed similar misrepresentations of San Pedro Sula in his presentation, “Borders and Boundaries: A Personal Journey of Immigration and Art.” Membreno-Canales brought further attention to stereotypes of Latinx communities and how they develop.

The idea for the event was first born out of a conversation between Membreno-Canales and Maria Martinez, Instructor in Spanish. Martinez said the talk aimed to dispel negative misconceptions about San Pedro Sula by introducing the community to someone from the area.

“Giving you the opportunity to know somebody with this experience and being able to ask any question that you wanted, and about his story and his connection with San Pedro Sula, it’s a very important and complex place in the news, and just being able to put a face on somebody with this story,” said Martinez.

During his talk, Membreno-Canales highlighted negative media coverage on Latinx communities, including portrayals of migrant caravans, some of which originate in San Pedro Sula. Membreno-Canales explained how he felt a responsibility to have conversations about such current events in his class.

“The ongoing debate over Central Americans’ fleeing violence, nearly 7,000 Central Americans fleeing violence, began in my birthplace of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It’s been impossible to avoid in our classroom and in our lesson plans. The goal of tonight’s discussion is aimed at encouraging this dialogue, to increase visibility for Latinx experiences on this campus, and to develop an understanding with other thoughtful members of our community,” said Membreno-Canales in his talk.

Melina Powell ’20 explained how she appreciated the talk, specifically for opening up a conversation surrounding Latinx identity and struggles. Powell also said that she was interested in Membreno-Canales’s perception of Puerto Rican identity relative to other Latinx groups.

“I feel like there’s a lack of honest dialogue on this campus about immigration and Latinx identity and what it means to truly be an American. Where are we drawing those borders, obviously both with the border struggle at the South but also where are we drawing the borders of American identity?” said Powell.

Powell continued, “And he talked about Puerto Ricans, I’m Puerto Rican myself, and it was interesting to hear a different take on Puerto Rican identity. Puerto Ricans do, in a way, have more privilege than other Latinx groups, simply because Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, so it was interesting to hear another Latinx person’s take on the issues that affect the community.”

During his time before teaching at Andover, Membreno-Canales served in the United States Army for 12 years. After leaving the Army, Membreno-Canales attended art school, where he cultivated a love for photography that he applied as a professional artist and in his second enlistment in the army as an army photographer.

Post-service resources provided by the Army, such as the GI Bill, enabled Membreno-Canales to pursue his aspirations in an industry that he believes is sometimes exclusionary.

“For artists, the GI Bill provides the incredible opportunity where it provides you a stipend, pays your rent, your tuition, and that opened you up to professional development opportunities that you may not have been able to take advantage of if you were trying to make a living wage. It was a bit of an evening the playing fields, because the art world at times can feel at times like a place where you almost need a trust fund to participate in,” said Membreno-Canales in his talk.

Membreno-Canales also emphasized that the opportunity to work jointly with the Spanish department was significantly supported by the school, something that he thinks engages faculty and students alike to join in conversations such as the one he lead.

“Outside of classes, there’s a lot of opportunities for faculty members to hang out…The students are also interested. They often say, ‘Hey, this is [a] conversation that I’m having in this class and it’s also coming up in this other class, which may seem not to be related in any way, but it’s an opportunity to have more than one approach, or more than one set of eyes talking about the same thing.’” said Membreno-Canales.

Angelina Collado ’21 said she felt that Membreno-Canales’s experiences as an immigrant and in the army informed his work as an artist while resonating with his self-expression.

“I just feel generally, with the whole art and expression, he was able to find a way to express himself and share his views as an outsider, so I feel like that was one of the main points, but also his journey of being an immigrant and how that shaped his life and how that set the foundation for the rest of his life,” said Collado.

Membreno-Canales’ work as an artist also resonated with audience members such as Jeffrey Steele ’20. Steele explained how the themes of empathy touched upon in the discussion intersected with Membreno-Canales’s story of becoming an artist

“I asked, ‘By him being a photographer and looking through the lens of other people, how has the stories that he’s heard and seen affected him and transformed him as a person?’ And it was very interesting for him to reveal to us that his experience being a photographer did not make him any more moved, but it was rather the human aspect of it. Thus, restating the fact that we are all capable of being affected by the stories of other people, we just have to reach out and listen.” said Steele.

Martinez said that Membreno-Canales’s insight also reflects upon some of the communities within Andover. Martinez stressed the importance of representation of marginalized and minority groups on campus, especially that of positive representation.

“The story and the background of Hector, it represents the story of some of our students at [Andover] that sometimes don’t feel represented because it’s a small group, and they struggle, and we don’t see them. And there are many stories as Hector’s stories on campus, and we want them to feel included, represented, and find a path, [to] struggle, but a path to a good, excellent future and feeling a community since somebody like them is represented in a very big auditorium,” said Martinez.