Activist art seeks to show the humanity of Dreamers

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Artists and proponents of the Dream Act have united to tell the stories of the people brought to the United States as young children and might have to return to their native land as changes are made to the DACA program.

Artists are creating projects so people “see Dreamers as people in their community, because a lot of people might not know they are interacting with a Dreamer,” said Sylvia Johnson, a photographer.

Johnson, who works for a Santa Fe, N.M.-based organization that supports Dreamers, has photographed many Dreamers as a way to personalize them and their struggle.

The term “Dreamer” is used for people who were eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the Dream Act, simultaneously used as symbolism of their hopes to stay in the United States.

The Stanlee & Gerald Rubin Center of Visual Arts hosted a panel discussion in September to provide a space to share their stories and current works with immigrants. The art exhibitions and panel discussion were previously planned prior to President Donald J. Trump’s decision to repeal the Dream Act.

Trump announced he’d overturn former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As Congress is currently responsible to make a final decision in the following six months—on the future of 800,000 DACA recipients—immigrants and non-immigrants started to speak-up to defend young immigrants’ right through a variety of mediums.

“We are not in the position to give out advice about DACA, or sort of imagine on what’s going to happen,” said director of the Stanlee & Gerald Rubin Center of Visual Arts, Kerry Doyle.

“We are going to talk about it from a human perspective, as what’s the experience of an undocumented person who is brought here as a minor, how do we make that visible, and how to relate to that.”

Dreamers-Panel-Discussion.jpgThe panel discussion was held inside the art installment Under the Same Sky… We Dream by painter and sculptor Erika Harrsch. The exhibition is an interpretation of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act—better known as DREAM Act—the bill purposed to Congress in 2001, but never reached approval.

“For me the fact of being undocumented is something that is incredibly sensitive, and I wanted to touch that and recreate this piece,” Harrsch said.

Painter and sculptor Erika Harrsch, is an immigrant from Mexico City residing in New York City. Harrsch arrived to the U.S. 16 years ago via an O-1 Visa, a work permit provided to those involved in sports, arts and science. After experiencing the possibility of deportation due to a malpractice from a lawyer, she decided to turn her art into an activist perspective.

Harrsch said: “All these legislations, all these documents, all the legal aspects that for some is almost incomprehensible, so many people do not even understand that.”

Panel attendees were seated inside a photography exhibition in conjunction with Harrsch’s installation.

The New American Dreamers is a series of photographs by filmmaker Johnson and photojournalist Kerry Sherck, consisted of Dreamers from the Santa Fe area with descriptions of their stories.

Sherck has been a photojournalist for 10 years, and has documented the lives of immigrant laborers. Johnson is a documentary filmmaker born in Bolivia, who was brought to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. Both partnered with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a non-profit organization that has served over a 1,000 Dreamers in the past three years.

“In a lot of ways Dreamers are more American than I am—since they were brought here as children—but because of the color of my skin, and the place where my parents were born, I have always had privileges that cannot be accessible to Dreamers,” Johnson said.
Some of the photographs not displayed at the Rubin Center were placed at the U.S. Senate floor for the past weeks, in order to be part of the narrative in legislation to defend the DACA.

Dreamers-Audience-Interaction.jpgU.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., has also been sharing the stories in the photographs as part of his argument to support DACA. One of the photographs placed in the Senate is about a 22-year-old Dreamer named Roxana. Sherck said Roxana was reluctant to participate ever since the beginning of the project.

“As soon as we found out about that, we called her and said if she was okay with that, that it was time to start fighting,” said Sherck about Roxana.

“She felt really strong about coming out at this time and sharing her story, so that was really amazing to see.”

The concluding panelist was Director of Community Affairs Claudia Yoli, a 25-year-old Dreamer from Venezuela who has been living in the U.S. for 18 years, and currently works as the for the office of Democrat State Sen. Jose Rodriguez.

Yoli supports a variety of organizations, such as: Battleground Texas, Texas Freedom Network, West Fund, Education Not Deportation, and Border Dreamers Alliance. Yoli initially planned to study Engineering at Emerson College in Brooklyn, NY, but due to her limits as an immigrant that is not eligible for Financial Aid, she could not afford it.

After her experiences as an immigrant, she decided to study Political Science and Communications at the University of Texas at El Paso. UTEP is well known for having an 80 percent of Hispanic/Latino students and six-point-eight percent Non-Resident students.

“I want to be able to cast a ballot and share that experience with my other U.S. citizen friends because we are immigrants, we are American in a meaningful way, and we are part of the American future,” Yoli said.

At the conclusion of the presentation, photographers Johnson and Sherck provided postcards with their photo series of Dreams in order for the audience to send it to legislators and consider to support immigrants’ rights. Audience members also got the opportunity to interact with Harrsch’s art exhibition. Yoli’s future project is attending to Washington D.C. among with 50 Dreamers, through the help from the Border Network for Human Rights, in order to talk to legislators in late October.

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