Santiago López

I’m a 22 year old artist, illustrator and storyteller with autism. I grew up drawing on everything, shopping lists and even the white couch in our living room. I always wired the mouths of people and animals shut. At age three, my drawings helped my parents understand I couldn’t find my words which led to my autism diagnosis. My family mainstreamed me in public school where I had an amazing art teacher. I drew to get past sensory issues, transitions and frustrations, finding escape through my vivid imagination. Summer breaks were often spent with my grandmother in Mexico who greeted me with drawing pads and brightly colored markers. I learned to speak Spanish in a small town with cobblestone streets and no stop signs. Despite challenges, drawing connected me to the world. In high school there was no art class. I lost focus and direction, struggling to make friends and connect to others.

Pressured to pursue careers and colleges outside my dreams, I decided to volunteer as an art teacher’s intern at a public elementary school. I began joining other artists to paint community murals and worked to find a way to include art in all my homework. In my senior year, I convinced our class to be part of the global climate strike organizing the painting of signs and banners. Classmates chose my illustration for the cover of our yearbook as the pandemic pushed all our classes online. Throughout my journey, art helped me express emotions, build bridges and gave me a voice.

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