Exhibiting Migratory Cultures as Art

Personal stories about immigrants that have come to the U.S. are scheduled to be showcased in San Jose, a city that has a diverse population.

The project called, “Migratory Cultures: Mapping the Distance from Me to You,” produced by SJSU art professor Robin Lasser and the school’s art department will be projected outside of the San Jose Museum of Art at night on July 21.

This will happen just months after a presidential candidate who insulted illegal immigrants, visited Downtown San Jose. Donald Trump’s famous quotes, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” did not shy away from his mouth during his visit despite being in a city with a huge immigrant population.

Lasser produces work that has to do with environmental and social issues. She said one of the reasons why she chose the topic of immigration for this project was because most of her students come from different countries.

According to Lasser, at least half of her students are either first generation immigrants or are sons or daughters of immigrants. In fact, half of her students speak another language besides English.

“I’m working with students at a very personal level, because they’re creating art, and it’s not uncommon for me to hear a student say ‘Robin. I’m from Guadalajara and I live here in San Jose, but I’m not sure who I am anymore,” Lasser said. “I don’t really feel that I’m Mexican and I don’t feel that I’m American, there’s this third space that I’m in and I want to create art about that to help myself discover what that third space means.”

Lasser said she would like to make an impact on the community after these stories are shown, to create a space of inclusion for those who feel a part of a third space.

“You never know what that impact is going to be when you go with an open mind and an open heart,” Lasser said.

This is not the first time the art professor has used art as a medium to discuss issues, she has produced art on other controversial topics as well.

She once produced an “artist generated billboard” that was placed on highway 80 in Sacramento. The billboard was about eating disorders.  A local assemblywoman  saw the billboard, and a mental health parody bill was passed.

“As an artist, I try to use the tools I have to create work that is sometimes confrontational, but is sometimes very public, to provoke and provide an environment for very public discussion for issues around immigration, so that different voices are heard,” Lasser said.

One of the stories that will be projected illustrates a Mexican immigrant named Guadalupe. In this story, Guadalupe explains the difficult process of coming to the U.S. illegally via a “coyote.”

The “coyotes” are people who smuggle immigrants from Latin America to the U.S., usually at an expensive price, who tend to not treat their customers well.  Guadalupe’s sister’s legs were bleeding.  Guadalupe, along with all of the immigrants in the packed truck were covered in plastic because they were crossing the border illegaly.

Guadalupe’s mom didn’t recognize her daughters after she picked up the plastic, because they were so thin.

“When I hear Guadalupe telling that story, my heart goes out to her,” Lasser said.

Guadalupe currently lives in Watsonville and works for a non-profit agency helping people find their way in the world.

“Is that a person that you could feel angry at for taking your job? I don’t think so,”  Lasser said, in response to Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants.

After viewing these stories herself, Lasser said “you can’t help but feel a kind of empathy.”

The last time these stories were projected was in handball courts in Watsonville. Lasser said she chose Watsonville because of it’s diversity, just like San Jose. For example, Latino’s make up about 75 percent of Watsonville’s population, according to the city’s website. San Jose is ranked no. 6 when it comes to cities with the most ethno-racial and linguistic diversity, according to WalletHub.

Lasser’s choice of location in the Watsonville handball courts resonated on the viewers because of its apparent and symbolic wall in between. For some, that wall represented the border that many struggled to come across.

“So it’s the self divided. Maybe the self that feels like half Vietnamese, Half-American,” Lasser said.

This project will also be shown in October at a Subway station in Bangalore, India. And just like in Watsonville, Lasser plans on incorporating symbolism.

The stories will be projected on the escalators that go up and down the station, since according to Lasser there is a metaphoric border at the station.

The projection at the San Jose Museum of Art also has a theme. It will be on migration, flow and trace. Several other photographers, artists and organizations will be present on the 21st to show their work in conjunction to this theme.

People who view these stories are welcome to tell their own personal stories after the showcase is done at the San Jose Museum of Art, as part of an open mic.

Anyone interested in viewing the project can do so free of charge.