With the issue of immigration so hotly contested, it seems everyone has opinions about who and why and what continues to bring thousands of immigrants into the United States each year. Often overlooked in this debate are the personal stories of those immigrants and the horrors many face while detained along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Visions from the Inside, a new collaborative project between CultureStrike, Mariposas Sin Fronteras, End Family Detention and detainees at the Karnes Detention Center, highlights these narratives. Fifteen artists transform letters written by women and children in the detention center into visual art.
From July 27 through Aug. 14, the project posted a new piece of art and a letter excerpt on its Tumblr, spreading the stories across social media platforms to raise awareness and humanize the migrant experience.
The pieces are heavy. The fear and isolation -- as well as the resilience and hope -- are felt in each one.
Many of the works depict the stress and fear of parenting behind bars. Mata Ruda's black and white composition expresses this beautifully by incorporating an excerpt and a drawing of a broken heart from a detainee's letter: "Me siento frustrada, desesperada, y preocupada." (I feel frustrated, desperate, and worried.)
Jess X Chen's piece embodies the pain a Honduran woman experiences while separated from family members just across the border in Los Angeles. "I am trusting my God who will quickly end this nightmare," the letter excerpt reads. The painting exudes grief; the mother and children reach out across the sky for one another.
The painting with perhaps the strongest impact is Zeke Peña's image of an imprisoned mother and child gazing through a jail cell window surrounded by the American flag. The accompanying letter excerpt reads: “I do not think it is fair to see my son incarcerated here when he could be free...”
And the stories go on.
Last year an estimated 60,000 women with children made the harrowing journey from Mexico and Central America across the U.S. border. Several thousand additional minors unaccompanied by adult family members also made their way to the U.S. This influx in immigration prompted the Obama administration to expand the family detention programs largely disbanded in 2009; since July 1, 2015 at least 2,600 women and children have been detained at immigration centers in Texas alone.
These detention centers -- like the Karnes County Residential Center, where several women have filed complaints of sexual abuse -- are run by private prison contractors. Recently, a number of the centers have come under harsh scrutiny for potential human rights violations. The Obama administration was recently given 90 days to release the detainees at these centers or to show “just cause” in order to keep holding them.
Despite the harsh conditions the women live under while in detention, Visions from the Inside, an important and critical collection of artwork, represents them as remarkably strong. They are shown with the strength to fight for their children, to endure dangerous journeys most of us couldn't dream of and to risk everything for their families' futures -- aspects of immigration that should be spoken of more often. Visions from the Inside opens the doors to this necessary conversation and gives the viewer real life stories of the human beings who are all too often viewed as statistics.
A banner across a painting by Breena Nuñez reads: “We are human, just like you.” This simple, yet poignant statement embodies the heart of this project.