When a 21-year-old punk from Mexico City known as Brujo made his way to West Philadelphia in 1998, he found a thriving creative community amid the DIY music venues and improvised artist studios, and a place to live in a once-abandoned house known as Squirrel Squat.
“I found a paradise in West Philly,” he said recently. “It was like 2 a.m., and people said, ‘Brujo, do you want pizza?’ I said, ‘Really? It’s 2 a.m.’ They said, ‘Yeah! Let’s go to the dumpster!’ ”
After living in poverty, he was dazzled by the city’s decadent abundance, which provided not only food when he was hungry, but also art supplies for his early work in the form of papier mache and “found objects,” items that in Mexico would never have been discarded. “Philadelphia,” he said, “gives you so many beautiful trash.”
In the 20 years since, Francisco Javier Hernandez Carbajal — who goes by his artistic name, Brujo de la Mancha — has become a pillar of this West Philadelphia community, known for his weekly radio show; his nonprofit, which teaches Mexican indigenous arts, including dance, instrument-making and cooking; and his work as an artist and teacher.
Now, he’s seeking to leave all that behind.
To Brujo, who is undocumented, life under current U.S. immigration policies is becoming increasingly untenable. Though he’s received Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grants, been invited to teach in Philadelphia schools, and even been included in an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he has no way to regularize his status. The only hope of doing so would be to apply from outside the country.
At the same time, policies seem to be growing more restrictive. He worries that the implementation of Real ID will make working in schools impossible.
“I don’t want to leave the country, but my worry is, what will I do? I’m getting older,” Brujo, 41, said on a recent afternoon, taking a break from making tamales ahead of one of the fund-raising events he’s been hosting to raise the money it would take to have a shot at immigrating to Canada. This one was at a West Philadelphia venue called the Mothership, accessed by climbing a steep flight of stairs and descending another to end up back at street level.