By the end of 2014, the U.S. had apprehended over 68,000 unaccompanied migrant children at the border, resulting in a media and political storm. Overall, HYPERLINK "https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/us-plans-raids-to-deport-families-who-surged-across-border/2015/12/23/034fc954-a9bd-11e5-8058-480b572b4aae_story.html"roughly 100,000 family members have arrived from Central America over the past two years—primarily mothers with children, many of them seeking asylum—along with some HYPERLINK "https://supportkind.org/resources/2015-a-year-of-expanding-help-and-hope-to-children-alone/"100,000 unaccompanied migrant and refugee children.
The root causes of their flight remain largely unchanged. El Salvador is experiencing violence not seen since the civil war in the 1980s and is on track to unseat Honduras as the murder capital of the world. Children continue to be targeted in Honduras, and Guatemala remains close behind both countries as among the most violent countries. It is well understood by leading international human rights organizations that the majority of those seeking asylum in the United States would qualify under international humanitarian law.
At the end of 2015, the U.S. Border Patrol reported a 51% drop since the previous year of unaccompanied migrant children. This may suggest that the immigrant crisis has ended, but it has not; it merely shifted south to the Guatemala/Mexico border where children and adults continue to be detained and deported at an alarming rate. Mexico implemented Plan Frontera Sur, a strategy to increase border security in Mexico’s southern states with the support of millions of dollars from the US. As a result, Plan Frontera Sur is pushing Central Americans further into Mexico’s harsher terrains making “Mexico a clandestine immigrant Cemetery” says Franciscan friars Tomas Gonzalez, a leading immigrant activist and founder of immigrant safe house “La 72”. In the beginning of this year, a dangerous and speedy process is sending children and their parents seeking sanctuary back to Central America. HYPERLINK "http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/12/obama-immigration-deportations-central-america"Many who are returned to their home countries face immense danger, with many being violently murdered shortly after deportation.
OAKLAND UNACOMPANIED IMMIGRANT MINORS
From February through April of 2016, with the support from the Doris Duke Charitable foundation, La Pena Cultural Center, Oakland Youth Alliance, and the Oakland School District, I will be working with over forty undocumented minor youth currently placed in foster care in Oakland California while they wait for legal proceedings. I will be establishing an artist-working studio for undocumented minor youth that can potentially be deported in 2016. HYPERLINK "http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/mwc/"According to the research group TRAC; of 64,500 family migration cases that have filtered through the courts as of late 2015, fewer than 40 percent had legal representation. Among those, fewer than 700 were granted relief. And for those cases without counsel, only 38 were granted relief, resulting in more than 15,300 ordered deported. Over 400 unaccompanied minors are currently enrolled in the Oakland School district with very little legal, psychological, and/or cultural services and are most likely to be destined to an underground existence and or to be deported back to their original countries.
We will meet two days a week for three months and through sculptural workshops, film screenings, lively discussions and oral history exercises we will revisit their lived experiences and examine the current immigration crisis while mapping out individual migration routs. We will investigate intersectionality and global migration. We will be creating large-scale collective sculptures that represent invisibility, movement, or a need to be seen, all in which will be determined by the students during workshops sessions. We will install our sculptural objects on the roof of La Pena Cultural Center and create situations for public interventions as poetic disturbances for greater visibility. This will lead to a final exhibition, presentation, and publication at the end of 2016 and will inform a general public about the realities that refugee children are experiencing.
By working with communities in movement, materials and subject matter used to encourage individual expression are materials and symbols readily available within that particular community. Visual language, through theatrical performance, construction/farming materials, and mural painting are introduced through a lens of familiarity. Through this approach, art takes the invaluable role of demonstrating the depths of human expression while avoiding the dangers of imposing techniques and aesthetics not familiar to this particular community. My personal experience as a Mexican Immigrant has lead me to create art on the issues of human migration and social mobility with communities in Honduras, California and through out Mexico. I have developed sensitivity to a certain artistic language that reflects a loss of cultural memory, due to evangelical movements, migration, civil war and the homogenization of an entire region.
We will first establish workshops on mural painting and sculptural performance. Through mural painting we establish a working relationship and create an atmosphere of co-authorship and enthusiasm while transforming the architectural environment. Mural workshops provide access for visual literacy and encourage greater participation regardless of artistic capabilities. Sculptural performances allows for us to use objects of familiarity, of travel, of home, and to revisit the ritualistic aspects of migration in a theatrical form. Familiarity to material such as construction materials; cement, plaster, wood, clay, dirt, as well as water bottles, shovels, and/or shoes, are examples used as a vehicle for a magical realism to take place.
As a facilitating artist, I have a specific line of aesthetic values that I gravitate towards. And through workshops, interviews and intimate conversations we collectively navigate towards a visual language that makes sense to us all. It is bold, unapologetic, sight specific and surreal in the Latin American tradition that it injects magic into a not so logical moment of violence and uncertainty. Here, art does not sensationalize, romanticize, or simply illustrate the suffering of people, but art, created by people, demonstrates the extraordinary qualities humans’ posses. If indeed art can create real social change, it is precisely when it demonstrates the ability for human beings to feel. By exposing not just the fragility and endurance of human migration, but also the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable amongst us, we can then open up the space for the possibilities for change by enacting a dignified rage and a level of empathy not vissible until the arts participate.
Art cannot possibly pretend to change capitalistic economic powers and its displacement of people, but art can challenge the effects of colonialism and the demands of a global market by allowing us to become actors of our own realities. Public and intimate performance, along side the creation of sculptural objects through resulting anecdotes and contemplative interactions, is vital to understanding the constructs within which we live. Creative action with rich shared narrative is a means to recovering our humanity in the face of such violence, uncertainty, and life threatening circumstances.