10 Artists on Rescinding DACA
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10 Artists on Rescinding DACA

Patrick Martinez, then they came for me, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles Photo: Michael Underwood

Calling the measure an “amnesty-first approach,” Donald Trump announced on September 5, 2017, that he aims to rescind the five-year-old DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Created by President Barack Obama through an executive order, the immigration policy—slated to phase out in six months—protects people who came to the US as children of undocumented immigrants, preventing their deportations and offering the possibility of legal work. This decision, at the very least, will bring heightened uncertainty and fear into the lives of some 800,000 young immigrants—the majority with roots in Latin American countries—who are enrolled in the program. At worst, it could mean that many of these young people are driven underground or deported to countries they likely don’t even remember.

Following Trump’s announcement, we invited an array of artists with close ties to the border to share responses to the DACA decision and the issues at the heart of our national discourse around immigration.

Jorge Almada

Furniture designer (Casamidy, founded with Anne-Marie Midy)
Born in: Mexico City
Lives in: San Miguel de Allende/Brussels

In the 1970s, my cousins moved to San Diego and someone wrote “Beaners go home” in big black letters on their living room wall. This was the fist time I had heard this uniquely Californian term, and I remember my father and I laughing because it was so ignorant in as far as it reduced our rich gastronomic tradition to one item, as if this is all we ate. Later, in the early 1990s, I went to a very liberal boarding school where everything was beaner this, beaner that, and there was a general incredulity that someone could be both Mexican and white (I thought that was funny, too, until I got beat up for it once—that is, for being Mexican). The good side to all this is that when Anne-Marie and I started Casamidy, I knew from the very start that we would never be successful unless we challenged an often unspecified, cartoonish image that we as Mexicans generally tolerate, whether it’s in benevolent or malevolent form (thanks to early and generous editorial coverage of our work, I believe we were able to expose a more positive view of what Mexico is, even if it was through the arguably banal world of design and decoration).

When Donald Trump descended his golden staircase again we all laughed as he evoked the “rapist illegal Mexican” epithet. (Please keep in mind that the negative stereotypes can go both ways, as this guy with his blond hair and ill-fitting suits, lack of manners and loudness adhere almost perfectly with our image of a certain type of Gringo).

“Build the Wall! ” is a joke; DACA is not. It is outrageous that the administration is billing itself as the defender of “rule of law” when the USA is notorious for slavery and its despicable treatment of Native Americans and the rarely-respected treaties they made with them. Westward expansion, after all, was done by illegal immigrants in covered wagons. 

I feel terrible for these DACA kids. As we all know, if you don’t have access to credit in the United States, your prospects for having a home or business are dismal. I imagine most of them have never been to Mexico, because how could they travel back and forth between the two countries without having the risk of being deported?

Mexico is a land of immigrants, too. It’s not just a mantra that is exclusive to the United States. From the 1920s to 1950s Mexico accepted Jewish refugees fleeing Tzarist persecution (special shout-out to Plutarco Elías Calles) as well as people fleeing the Spanish Civil War. We have a large Lebanese and Korean communities, as well as Japanese, Greek, German, French, and Chinese. We even have hipster immigrants in Mexico City.

We as Mexicans should be prepared to receive DACA dreamers should they be deported. We should receive them with open arms and mentor them when possible. If you are a DACA dreamer yourself, please know that Mexico is a land of opportunity where you may find the skills you acquired in the USA of great value. This isn’t to say Mexico doesn’t have its problems, but I can’t imagine anything worse than living with the fear of being deported.

Natalia Almada

Filmmaker (El Velador, Al Otro Lado, others)
Born in: Mexico City
Lives in: Mexico City/San Francisco

My son was born in San Francisco one month before the 2016 US presidential election. He makes the world feel like it has become a friendlier place—people smile at us and give up their seats. Yet I find myself imagining how it would feel to have my US passport revoked because I was born in Mexico and ICE hauling me away one afternoon while grocery shopping. The symbiotic relationship between a nursing mother and her baby is so physical that separation hurts the body. Even thinking about it can cause my breasts to ache. It is an unlikely scenario given that my white skin allows me to pass as 100 percent gringa—a privilege that does not escape me and yet a painful erasure of half of who I am. Perhaps my more real fear is that my guerito son will not embrace his “inconvenient” Mexicanness.

I remember the children I filmed in 2004 on the US/Mexico border while making Al Otro Lado. As a new mother I have a visceral reaction to the footage that I did not have 13 years ago. Did these children make it to the US? Did they become Dreamers? Are they living in fear? Are they reliving that day when they were apprehended for the first time?

Felipe Baeza

Born in: Guanajuato, Mexico
Lives in: Brooklyn/New Haven

Felipe Baeza, Untitled (so much darkness, so much brownness), 2016. Ink, collage and hand embroidery on paper

When we talk about progress in this country, there’s a group that is always left out—often black people, working-class poor people, and migrants. Through Untitled (so much darkness, so much brownness) and through my art practice I aim to challenge those notions that keep marginalized people in the margins. I believe that art has a crucial role to play in transforming, redefining, and reimagining the global phenomenon of migration. When it comes to migration, the discourse rarely focuses on the stories of real people trying to succeed; instead, the frame is dominated by criminality and punishment. I believe that when we share our images and tell our stories, we illustrate the human struggle and win over broad audiences. Art drives ideas home in a way that is unmatched by any other medium. There needs to be a shift in culture, and I see myself changing the conversation of artists of color and including myself in the conversation. We need multidimensional, complex stories about who we are; we need to represent ourselves in our full humanity, as we are not single-issue people. We have to present ourselves in our fully dimensional, complex selves. That’s how we combat racism and that’s how we achieve justice. But more importantly we reclaim our existence.

Helado Negro (Roberto Carlos Lange)

Born in: Ft. Lauderdale
Lives in: Brooklyn

I wrote all the songs on the album Private Energy in 2014, but the message holds in 2017. “Lengua Larga” is about a relative who was born in Ecuador but grew up in the States since age 9. She wasn’t a part of DACA and unfortunately has had to live here working “under the table.” She received a scholarship for college but wasn’t able to use it due to her status. The song title is slang for someone who is a snitch; the whole jam circles around this paranoia and defiance.

Ken Gonzales-Day

Artist and author
Born in: Santa Clara
Lives in: Los Angeles

One of President Trump’s first acts was to install a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office of the White House. Then, Trump made a pilgrimage to Jackson’s tomb in Nashville. But worst of all, Trump is using Jackson to target brown people.

Andrew Jackson was the President that got the US Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It “allowed” the government to break numerous treaties and displaced tens of thousands of Native Americans. The death march it produced was called The Trail of Tears, and within seven years more than 45,000 Indians from southeastern states had been “removed.” This opened 25 million acres for white settlement, and, most importantly for southern whites, it created a need for more black slaves and sowed the seeds for the Civil War.

Ending DACA will be Donald Trump’s Trail of Tears when he forces American children who lack documentation to a country they may not remember, and more importantly it breaks up families. Breaking up of families was a central component of slavery because it diminished individuals and communities and kept people of color from being seen, or seeing themselves, as equal to whites.

Latinos and Hispanics can be of any race but many Latinx persons have indigenous ancestors from the Aztec to the Apaches. Some of my own ancestors arrived from Mexico 14 generations ago, in the 17th century, and yet growing up I was regularly called a “spic,” “a wet back,” and a “beaner,” so it is important to remember that targeting DACA students is just another way of keeping Latinx people from seeing their own growing numbers as a political, economic, and cultural force that can no longer be denied.

Jonathan Herrera

Born in: Chicago
Lives in: Minneapolis

Jonathan Herrerra, Norte, o Muerte, 2015

Fleeing extreme poverty, my parents migrated to the US from Iguala Guerrero in the early 1990s with two of my three older siblings. I was privileged enough to be born in Chicago in 1994 to a hard-working and loving family. Spanish was my first language, and my mother tells me stories about how public school counselors tricked her into enrolling me into an English-only academic path rather than an ESL or multilingual program because I “showed promise”—that somehow I was worthy to join their club. Today, I am able to articulate myself better to my English-speaking colleagues than my own parents. Out of protective love, our parents mold our brown bodies to fit the American image. Over time, we learn how to play their game and play it well. DACA has provided a merit-based reward system on these terms.

Growing up, I’ve seen undocumented family members fall into habits of alcoholism and violence. I’ve witnessed undocumented cousins and friends join gangs to gain a sense of family that they couldn’t find at home because of the multiple jobs their parents were juggling. My older brother risked deportation and spent three years in jail for a DUI when I was in high school. I bring this up because there needs to be a broader discussion about respectability politics in marginalized immigrant communities. In providing youth with a regulated outlet for work and education, DACA has distinguished a new class between undocumented communities. In 2012, Yasmin Nair wrote that the mainstream undocumented movement “is built upon a discourse of exceptionalism and explicit statements that the undocumented are better than others, the ‘illegals’ in this country.” Fueled by American patriotism, the power elites have distinguished a class within the undocumented community from the 11 million living in the US. 

Representatives of the American power elite, Sens. Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham, have recently urged congress to “formally” pass the DREAM Act. DACA recipients should keep their status, and to do anything otherwise is inhumane. The conversation in parallel is to demand human rights for all immigrants held up in cages across the US. To stand up against respectability politics is to criticize their definition of worth and legitimacy. No human being is illegal, and as artists and cultural producers we need to continue asking questions and demanding answers. We demand justice for all those who fall between the cracks. 

Patrick Martinez

Contemporary artist
Born in: Los Angeles
Lives in: Los Angeles


Indigenous arts collective
Born in: Arizona, California, and New Mexico
Lives in: Southwest United States

Postcommodity, Repellent Fence, 2015. Photo: Michael Lundgren, courtesy Bockley Gallery

Borders in the Western Hemisphere maintain the colonial state. Dreamers are part of the indigenous legacy of our hemisphere. “2043: No Es Un Sueño.”

Star Montana

Born in: Los Angeles
Lives in: Los Angeles

The night 45 was elected, I was at an election party. Everyone was in shock, except for a few of us. I was lucky to be in a small group of women of color, and we knew what the future of this presidency would entail. A reign of hatred and white supremacy against the most vulnerable. I address the following to them: When I heard the news about 45 ending DACA, I cried because I thought of the amount of pain you must be going through right now. I grew up in a Latinx community where many of my friends were undocumented because of being brought here as babies or very young children, and I remember how it seemed every time the government almost made immigration reform and then didn’t: their hopes and dreams seemed shattered. I’m sorry. You’re waiting right now, once again, to see what lies in your future. I know you’ve always been waiting, and DACA made it seem like some pathway to citizenship, even though you’ve always been an American. I stand with you, I see you, I love you, I am your ally, your fellow women of color sister in the fight for equality in America.

Pedro Reyes

Artist (DoomacracyBaby Marx, others)
Born in: Mexico City
Lives in: Mexico City

Pedro Reyes working on his cartography project, Hemisphere (pre-colonized). Photo courtesy the artist

The decision to end DACA can only be read as a manifestation of ethnic cleansing. It is important to see this in a historical context, as our understanding of current borders of Nation States is relatively new, and continues to change. If we look at a demographic map of the United States showing Hispanic populations, they will reveal a striking resemblance to where the border stood before 1848, when Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California were still part of Mexican territory. This resonates with the phrase “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”

Most countries have a map showing where the original tribes were, Native Americans, in the case of the USA, or as they are called in Canada, first nations. In Mexico and the rest of Latin America we also have ethnic cartographies. However, there is not one map showing a comprehensive mapping of the whole continent showing all of these tribes across the Americas. So I decided to aggregate the available maps found in each country to do one for the whole hemisphere, a project that I am currently fact-checking with different ethnographers. This is something that would be interesting to look at since it can give us some perspective on the arbitrary assumptions of both race and immigration.

On another note, I recently realized that while Mexican food has kept its essence, from sources and ingredients that are thousands of years old, I have never come across, during my visits to the United States with a restaurant serving Native American food. I don’t even know what it looks like, which may be a symptom of the scale of the racial extermination in the country. Was their use of corn as central as it was to Mesoamerica? Did they eat Buffalo or Turkey?

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