February 27, 2013

Will Travel for Love

by Evangeline Politis (MA 2013)

It was love at first sight for Yarima Ariza (BFA 1997) and Hugo Michel Hernandez (BFA 1997). The two serendipitously met during the last few months of their time as BFA students at SAIC in 1997. They first ran across each other while preparing for their thesis show—Ariza was setting up her installation on the third floor of the Randolph Street Gallery and Hernandez was hanging his paintings on the tenth floor.

"I asked her to marry me the day after I met her,” Hernandez remembers.

And Ariza accepted his proposal. "We got married less than a month after we met,” she describes. "My wedding dress cost less than $12 at a thrift shop on Belmont and we ate Popeyes for lunch after getting married.”

Sixteen years later, they are still happily married with two children—Penelope, 11 and Lucas, 8. Their love for one another has remained constant as they’ve moved several times around the nation since their studies at SAIC. Their careers have been filled with much success and many different opportunities, which has temporarily settled them in two different cities. Ariza is now living in Boston and Hernandez is in Miami with the children.

After getting married, they both pursued master’s degrees at Columbia College Chicago in Interdisciplinary Arts. It was during that time that they were presented opportunities that would place them on a track toward their current careers in education.

Ariza took on a position as a teaching assistant at Gallery 37, a job-training program that was created by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs where artistically inclined city youth could apprentice with artists at the then-vacant downtown lot Block 37 (now occupied by CBS 2’s studios and a shopping mall). "I first thought, ‘I could never be a teaching assistant. Both of my parents are educators and I promised that was something I’d never do. I don’t want to be grading papers all night,’” she recalls. "But I really loved it.”

She then worked as a full-time teacher at Latino Youth Alternative High School for four years and taught for another four years at Young Women’s Leadership Charter High School, the only all-girls public school in Chicago. While there, she and two other SAIC alumnae working in CPS worked toward becoming national board-certified teachers.

Hernandez also worked in education. He joined his wife at Latino Youth Alternative High School teaching art history and fine arts. He then taught in higher education—the area where he has remained since.

"I want to be a part of a community of educators who are fairly serious about the arts,” he describes. "I want to be with professionals or those seeking a profession in the arts... It’s a space for me to talk about my work as well, so it’s not just a job. It’s like going into a studio and discussing your work and other people’s work.”

After their children were born, they decided to move south to Florida. Then, after more than a decade dedicated to art and secondary education, Ariza decided it was time to return to school and applied to Harvard University’s Master of Education program Arts in Education.

She was accepted. Hernandez stayed in Miami working as a professor at Miami-Dade College while his wife pursued her third degree. She graduated last May with the Education Pioneers Scholarship, a 10-week-long fellowship in the public education sector. She worked in the Boston Public School’s district office developing a tool to assist principals in assessing cultural proficiency at schools.

She planned to return to Florida after completing the fellowship, but another extraordinary opportunity came her way: a position at Boston’s Mario Umana Academy to lead all the elective coursework. She took on the job with the plan that the family would eventually move up north to join her this summer.

"I am trying to do as much as I can with the leadership positions that I have acquired to make changes and create more awareness about the importance of the arts in our lives,” she explains.

Both of them hope one day to return to Chicago. Ariza misses the great cultural events at the Cultural Center, the beautiful lakefront, and her wonderful friends. Hernandez says if he were to get a job here, he’d take it in a second. "I love the arts [in Chicago]. I love the food there. That was my city for almost 14 years—that was my home,” he remembers. "All of my professional education was there. I got married there. We had our kids there. Everything was there.”