DURHAM, N.C. — One of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is more people struggling with their mental health. A CDC survey from the beginning of the pandemic said Hispanic adults faced more symptoms of stress more than any other racial or ethnic group.

What You Need To Know

  • Hispanics faced more symptoms of stress than any other racial group during the height of COVID, according to the CDC

  • Antonio Alanis teaches free art classes to Latinos who want to find a healthy outlet for anxiety

  • Alanis also uses painting as a way to express himself about topics like immigration

Antonio Alanis, an artist who has been painting for more than 20 years, knew he wanted to find a way to give back to the Latino community. He partnered with the Durham Arts Council to offer free bilingual art classes to Latino kids and adults as part of his Xochipilli Painting Project.

The initiative promotes bringing the arts into communities that may not be able to afford art classes.

“I knew that isolation and not being able to go outside as much as before was going to really be impacting my community,” Alanis said. “So I decided to use art as a way of keeping connected virtually and continue to bring a sense of hope through the arts.”

The latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that serious mental illness is increasing among Hispanic adults.

For those facing financial hardship, seeking mental health counseling may not be an option. Alanis wants to give Latinos a healthy outlet for anxiety.

“I am by no means a therapist, but I am a huge believer that art can create an ability of feeling safer, ability of making sense of what is happening and again centering ourselves through what this new reality has brought to us,” he said.

Expressing himself on canvas is a form of therapy, but it also helps him stay connected to his roots as an immigrant from Mexico who lives in the South.

“Artwork has given me so many benefits, including understanding the new reality, growing up, figuring out my identity, in terms of growing up in the U.S. from a working class family,” Alanis said. “And making sense of what it has been specifically around struggles, around the Latinx community.”

His paintings reflect deeper societal problems impacting the Latino community. In fact, he calls himself an “artivist,” or someone who uses art to bring awareness to social and political issues.

“I always turned into art to make sense of what is happening specifically around immigration, around family separation, these are very important topics I like to touch on,” Alanis said. “My take on art is to create dialogues that really center our stories and help us understand what it means to be a Latino or Latinx individual.”

Alanis finds peace in the studio, which is a safe space for him to make sense of his emotions.

“I also turn to art to give a space for myself to think, to process, to make sense of what is it that is either bothering me or what is it that I am happy about,” Alanis said. “I turn to art as a solution to what I am going through.”

His work through the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists Grant ends this month, after which he hopes to partner with local nonprofit organizations who want to use the arts to bring community members together.