Carving Through Borders Exhibit is an Homage to the Migrant Spirit and Struggle

Originally published on Remezcla.  

As a thoughtful way to conclude your travels through the Young Lords, contemporary collage, and Rodriguez Calero exhibits at Museo del Barrio, stop by the last stretch of the museum, which holds a mini exhibit of migrant-themed block prints by  artists. The prints elucidate various aspects of the migrant experience, including labor, border mentalities, the building of communities, and the migrant’s persevering spirit.

The messages of migrant empowerment embedded in the works come amid a political climate where immigration activists are spit upon, pulled by their hair, and violently assaulted at Trump political rallies. While the orange-faced billionaire vilifies undocumented immigrants and threatens mass deportations if elected, mainstream media plays along. They help spread the xenophobia with disrespectful language– like calling people “illegals” – and targeted story choices about immigrant crime. CultureStrike’s works are an antidote and a rebuttal to politicians who blame the undocumented for many of the nation’s economic woes, claiming they don’t pay taxes, siphon resources like education and healthcare, and ”steal” jobs from “real” Americans.

Consider Oree Originol’s piece, depicting a fruit picker and a student or possible community organizer work side by side. The words ‘Mi Labor Sostiene a la Comunidad’ float across the image. The words are an assertion: my labor, my sweat, my hands nourish and sustain the community. Even though the United States is powered by and relies on migrant labor, migrants are one of the least respected labor groups, working for minimal wages with little protection from exploitative employers. The apple is also a choice inclusion – a reminder that every time you sit in front of a salad, you are enjoying a plate delivered to you by migrant labor.

The idea that a border wall will keep people from migrating is a conservative pipe dream. You can’t kill an ancient human instinct.

The apples in Oree’s print can also be interpreted as an allusion to Apple the brand. In this reading, the work points out that migrant workers not only do back-breaking work like harvest fruit and vegetables, they are also intellectuals, thinkers, and academics. There’s a message in this piece that it’s time to create more nuanced, complex depictions of migrants; to give them voice without singularizing their experience.

Other concepts in the works are freedom beyond borders. Erin Yoshi’s piece features birds that pierce the ropes that bind someone’s hands. The caption is ‘No Borders Fly Free,’ a similar sentiment to ‘Move Freely’ in DJ Agana’s print, where a woman doubly rendered as the Virgen of Guadalupe and the Statue of Liberty wears guaraches as she walks over rain clouds and holds a torch made of corn. She’s encircled by sun rays like those jutting from the Virgen de Guadalupe. Both works illustrate the idea that people will progress and move regardless of political climates, regardless of their assigned nationality, and regardless of the flushed-faced haters who have forgotten that they too descend from immigrants. The idea that a border wall will keep people from migrating, from escaping, from moving is just a conservative pipe dream. You can’t kill an ancient human instinct.

Lastly, in Santi Armengod’s print, two young girls swirl around a caracol – a symbol for movement and community – as if in a dream. The girls are in a peaceful trance, yet one is marked with the symbol of resistance – a Zapatista mask. Optimism is all good and dandy, but nothing is won without struggle, the piece suggests. ‘Mija, haven’t you learned by now that there are fields of soldados, soldiers swimming through your veins’ is another reference to struggle in Rommy Torrico’s print– a portrait filled with the battle scars left by 287G, deportation, border laws, NAFTA, and the spirits of those who didn’t survive the fight.

The message is that in order to rise and in order to assert an existence, you have to fight and demand to be heard. And that is the exhibit’s function. It’s asking for the migrant experience to be recognized as part of a collective humanity.

With that, El Museo sends you back off into the world.