I moved to Miami in 2011 in search of “The American Dream,” and to build a better future for myself. In my suitcase, I brought some clothes, family photos, personal documents and a few art books. Being an immigrant is anything but simple; at first, friends gave me lodging while I found a place to live and I spent part of my savings on hiring an immigration paralegal and buying a small car to get around. I looked for a job, but I couldn’t speak a single word of English. I discovered very quickly it was a problem, so I enrolled in free English classes at Coral Gables Senior High School.

After a few months, I looked for the most economical accommodations I could find, a small room in between Little River and Little Haiti. This “efficiency” was depressing because it was dirty, small, and the area was a bit dangerous. It was rough living in such a small place with dirt floors for the entrance, and in between stray chickens, cats and dogs. After paying the required three months’ rent and buying a few necessities at the Little River’s Family Dollar store, I had $25 left in my wallet.

I’ll never forget when I went to my first formal job interview, at the 111 building in Brickell. To all the questions they asked me, I replied using the only word I knew by then which was “Yes,” and I filled out the applications using my cell phone to translate. As I left the building to get my car in the parking lot, the attendant in the parking lot said to me: “Mijo, it is $25.” Then with tears in my eyes, I replied (in Spanish): “It cannot be possible, please check my ticket, it was only an hour or less.” But the attendant made it clear to me that it was a flat fee of $25. So I gave her the last $25 I had in my possession.

I returned to my efficiency with my head down, watching the animal tracks through the sand corridor, and I found pieces of old wood, paint, used brushes, and the remains of curtains; that is when I told myself that the art would save me! I borrowed some tools from the landlord, and I started putting together my canvases. Once the art pieces were ready, I put them in my car, and I went to homes and workplaces of every person I knew to offer my artwork for sale. I sold them all.

I remember when there was no Wynwood design district or Micro-Theater, but I made my way into the visual arts by having my first exhibition in the Coral Gables High School library, then in restaurants and art-walks in Brickell. Those were my beginnings. I am proud to be part of the cultural growth of this city, where I have already exhibited in galleries in Wynwood, such as the Curator Art Project and Spectrum Art Fair.

Alongside my artwork, I needed a full-time job where I could practice my English, because as we all know in Miami, a lot of people speak Spanish. At that time, one of the persons who bought an art piece offered me an opportunity to work as a server at the Vizcaya Museum. When I went and saw the majesty of that building, I fell in love with Miami.

Being a server wasn’t my ultimate goal, but that I knew that it was the way many immigrants start their journey when they move here, and I wanted to be the best of the team. Then, fate played its part; when I was accompanying a coworker to deliver an art piece, I met Gio Alma, the photographer of the stars, and my creative professional journey in Miami began.

With him, I did the art direction and photography production for personalities like Cristina Saralegui, Irma Martinez, and companies such as Miami City Ballet and Digicel. Also, on the side, I had the opportunity to be an actor for the Sociedad Hispanoamericana de Teatro with the play “Cleopatra,” and I became president of the professional association for design, AIGA, Miami Chapter.

Nevertheless, I still felt that I could not express myself professionally as easy as I did in Spanish, so I decided to apply to Miami International University of Art & Design to earn a master’s degree. It wasn’t easy since I was working full time, and several times I contemplated quitting, but I persevered and completed it with honors. After my master’s, I became a creative director, and recently I had the opportunity the work alongside Lenny Kravitz.

I still have a lot to do because I think that the sky is the limit. In the process of continuing to foster my art, I have a 360 solo exhibition from April 19 -30. “Sense, Feeling it or Not” at Art & Design Gallery, on Biscayne Boulevard and 86th Street, where I will display more than 50 paintings, art installations, sculptures, and a dramatized reading of the play “Sala Marco Caridad,” and its English version, “Marco Caridad’s Room.”

Different venues already did something like this in New York with the artist Rothko. For me, it is an honor to do the play in Miami inspired by my art pieces. The most important part is that, unlike Rothko, I am one of the actors in the play, and I will be starring along with Mel Gorham, the Hollywood actress who starred in Wayne Wang’s film, “Smoke and Blue in the Face.”

The Venezuelan playwright Yonyi Gutiérrez wrote the play. The performance will be inside the main room of the exhibition, and the actors will act on top of a 12-foot-long by 6-foot-wide table. The audience will be around them. We performed it in Kendall at Artefactus Project during two weekends in 2016. The audience was moved; several attendees came out with tears in their eyes.

Today, I am happily married and living in Miami Shores.