MILWAUKEE — In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re dedicated to highlighting the stories and contributions made by our Latino neighbors. This is the story behind a new exhibit that addresses a growing problem within the Latino community through an artistic lens and a family finding hope through illness.
Angela Rivas Perez has dealt with the effects of Alzheimer's for the last five years. Her son, Jose Hernandez, says he could see her slowly changing. She would get irritable and aggressive, forgetting where she went and where she would place things - eventually becoming someone he didn’t recognize.
"A lot of times, she’ll speak with someone in the best way. She seems normal. In many occasions, she seems like an incredibly normal person, but in reality, she’s not that normal. She has really serious problems," said Hernandez.
The Alzheimer's Association says Latinos are one and a half times more likely to get Alzheimer's disease and dementia than whites, and almost 9 out of 10 Latinos polled by the organization say it’s important for Alzheimer's and dementia care providers to understand and recognize their ethnic or racial background and experiences when considering options for treatment. Hernandez says that was at the top of his mind when it came to his mother, and wanted her to go to a place that truly understood her. Having lived in Milwaukee for nearly 20 years, the United Community Center felt like his second home, and once he found out about the adult day center, he says he just knew he found the perfect place.
"It’s very difficult to deal with someone with Alzheimer's, especially when the disease is in an advanced stage. When it gets there, a regular person can’t deal with it on their own. They’re just not equipped to handle it. That’s when you have to get help," said Hernandez.
Tucked away just steps from where Hernandez’s mom spends her days at Latino Arts, Inc. is a new exhibit inspired by the impact Alzheimer's and dementia have on the mind.
“The Effects of Time on Memory” looks at how the disease affects the passing of stories and shared history through an artistic lens. Artist Richie Morales says he used the work as a way to process his grandfather’s decline with the illness, as the pain made its way onto the canvas.
“It affected me in such a way that it changed the way that I began to look and really visualize life and its true meaning. It also pushed me to really look at what memories truly mean and what they represent," said Morales.
Morales says his work is a true representation of the love he had and continues to have for his late grandfather. The images he created, he says, are as vibrant as the stories he remembers hearing as a little boy and he hopes others going through similar experiences can find hope and strength to push forward.
"That’s the message. We have to push ourselves and involve ourselves to try to break through that stigma. We have to start seeing ourselves as one in the same, a true human family," said Morales.
The exhibit runs through early October. For more information, head to their website.