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Artist colors Hollywood Hills with figures of overlooked immigrant workers

By Natalie Brunell, CNN
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Sat July 7, 2012
Artist Ramiro Gomez, 25, paints life-size figures of immigrant workers on cardboard boxes.
Artist Ramiro Gomez, 25, paints life-size figures of immigrant workers on cardboard boxes.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ramiro Gomez, 25, creates life-size figures of immigrant workers out of cardboard boxes
  • He places the artistic representations in the public spaces of Beverly Hills and Hollywood Hills
  • The startling sculptures are designed to draw attention to marginalized, underappreciated workers
  • He uses acrylics to paint nannies, gardeners and housekeepers

Los Angeles (CNN) -- His canvas: a cardboard box. His subject: the often-marginalized Latino immigrant worker of Los Angeles' richest neighborhoods.

For the past eight months, artist Ramiro Gomez has been creating figures from the discarded boxes of big-screen TVs, and he has been erecting the life-size depictions of nannies, housekeepers, gardeners and valets in the public spaces of Beverly Hills and Hollywood Hills.

The lifelike recreations are designed to startle: Out of nowhere, passers-by happen upon the hand-painted cutouts of the immigrant workers placed in near in-your-face positions on sidewalks and parks.

In a political climate where Latino workers face what some call racial profiling or draconian immigration laws such as in Arizona and Alabama, Gomez seeks to restore dignity and prominence to the honest laborer.

The full-length portraitures, colored with acrylic paint, freeze a fleeting moment in the upscale neighborhoods: The Latino workers arrive by bus or foot into the enclaves of the rich and famous by morning and then disappear by night.

But not with his cardboard characters -- who are stationed for hours in a public spot to garner as much attention as possible.

"Behind that lawn somebody was there spending their day in the hot sun working," Gomez, 25, told CNN. "It was my way of giving them recognition because they're probably never going to get an award for the work that they're doing."

Gomez, who lives in West Hollywood, was inspired to create the pieces while employed as a live-in nanny for a family in the Hollywood Hills, whose summits are better known as the home to the Hollywood sign.

The pieces of art are his monuments to how the immigrants are not throw-away workers -- but rather integral contributors to the well-being of homes and families in America's elite communities.

"Capturing the work that goes into life on the Westside (of Los Angeles) is my way of making sure that my work is documented and their work is documented and this isn't forgotten," he said.

Gomez developed his art during breaks from caring for 2-month-old twins. After he put them down for a nap, he returned to his room and drew pictures of counterpart workers such as Leticia, the family's housekeeper, who reminded him of his family in San Bernardino, California.

"When I left to pursue my own dreams, to come out here to L.A. to pursue art, it's one of those things where the reality is really different," Gomez said.

Growing up, he said he never imagined himself living in the Hollywood Hills. His mother is a custodian at a public elementary school in San Bernardino and his father works two jobs: a janitor by day and a truck driver for Costco from midnight to noon. His parents are Mexican immigrants who labored long days to provide a decent life for the family, Gomez said.

But unlike the twins in his care, he didn't grow up with myriad colorful toys and gadgets -- or even his own room.

"They worked hard to leave their country and come here for the opportunities that I'm so lucky to have," Gomez said of his parents. He attributes his work ethic to them, and he draws inspiration from his heritage.

Domestic workers often spend more time with their employers than they do with their own families, and the people for whom Gomez worked became like a surrogate family, he said.

"I treat them as if they were my kids because in this line of duty, you can't come in and say, all right, you're a job," Gomez said. "I'm here -- again -- not to work, but to take care of their kids."

So far the cardboard figures have been well-received, according to Gomez.

"People will pass by in their cars and there's people that take pictures," he said.

He leaves his creations in the public domain for anyone to take.

He assumes his hand-painted, cardboard figures found a home -- maybe in the same residences where the real-life workers spend their days.

CNN's Jaqueline Hurtado and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

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