The most powerful art is often a success born from a struggle.
That's the case for a group of Hmong Olivehurst students.
As part of a school project, they interviewed family members who survived the Mekong River crossing during the Vietnam War.
The result is an art installation titled "Mekong Faces" that will debut on Wednesday at Yuba Gardens School.
It features 40 12-inch by 12-inch acrylic-painted wood panels and fills a wall at the school library.
The student-painted panels, spaced a few inches apart, feature family members' faces amid a river landscape.
"Unanimously, my Hmong students told the same basic story of their parents and family members, who were very young at the time, assisting the United States fighting against the Viet Cong," said Yuba Gardens teacher Michael Zysk.
Stretching about 2,700 miles long, the Mekong River is the 12th longest river in the world.
Dodging Viet Cong bullets and currents, they fled their native Laos via the river en route to Thailand.
From Thailand, many were able to make it to the United States.
"That river is life or death. Over that river is your salvation, your freedom," said Lilly Lee, 16, a Lindhurst High sophomore who is part of the project.
Lee said many of her peers don't know how their families got here.
"The history of how our families came here is full of struggle, it wasn't pretty," said Lee, who is president of the Hmong Scholarship Club at her school.
Her mother, atop the shoulders of her uncle, crossed the Mekong during the war.
"She can still feel all the fear, the pain, she could feel it come back to her and she broke down," said Lee when she showed her mother a photo of project.
She said working on the project helped her gain a deeper appreciation for her family and its Hmong history.
"It moves me so much that we are surrounded by heroes in our community," said Zysk, who received a 2013 grant through the Brooklyn-based Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.
Zysk previously taught at Lindhurst and was able to connect those students with the Yuba Gardens students for the project.
"They came here under such duress and trauma, and when I see the resilience of their children, I'm all the more inspired by Hmong people," Zysk added.
Holly Xiong, 17, created four panels of her mother, father, grandmother and grandfather — all who crossed the Mekong.
"We got together as a class and felt this mural is going to be important — not just to us and our parents — but to the Hmong community," said Xiong, a Lindhurst senior.
In addition to the Mekong Faces, two quilts are part of the display.
"The paj ntaub (quilt) means a lot to me because my family went through so much during the war to get here," said Celeste Kong, 13, a seventh-grader at Yuba Gardens.