PST LA/LA has many venues including all of our large museums with wonderful catalogues and ambitious check-lists. And then there are small alternative galleries that received no funding but are part of the overall programming. Such is the case with the indefatigable Loft at Liz’s, voted one of the ten top best galleries in Los Angeles, and to be found atop her antique hardware store at Sixth and LaBrea in the Mid-Wilshire District. South of the Border, co- curated by Liz Gordon and Isabel Rojas-Williams (former Executive Director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles) is an exhibition addressing the timely and controversial topic of immigration through the works of ten artists including Lili Bernard, Marisa Caichiolo, Pablo Cristi, Joel García, Oscar Magallanes, Maja, Poli Marichal, Andres Montoya, Sandy Rodriguez and Votan.
What caught my eye though was the work in the project room by Yunuen Bonaparte. Her straightforward project on DACA families, some of whom were there on opening night with whom I spent the evening speaking with, meant more to me than the hours I had spent in many of the museums wading through one extensive presentation and over written didactic wall panel after another.
Yunuen was born and raised in Michoacán, Mexico. She moved to the United States at the age of 12 as an undocumented immigrant. She received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012. She lives here, received a full college education and a degree in journalism and now, besides contributing to major periodicals she creates compelling photographs to tell the stories of those who are marginalized by society from a perspective that shows the beauty of life despite the struggle. Some of these stories are here. There portraits are in the slide show.
Alexis, 25, is the program director for a non-profit organization in Ontario, Calif. His parents helped him get through his undergraduate education. However, he had to rely on payment plans until the California Dream Act came into place. When his DACA status expires, he will lose his job, the sense of protection, and part of his identity. With DACA he felt he had became someone. He was finally able to come out of the shadows, have a Social Security number, a driver’s license, pay taxes and be part of society. Whatever happens, he plans to continue with his education, get a doctorate degree, and eventually become a teacher or start a non-profit organization.
Ana, 21, was not a Hillary Clinton supporter but she was sure Hillary would win. When Trump won, she could not believe the reality of the situation. She wanted to cry. Then the fear set in. Growing up, Ana was always aware of the fragility of her status in this country. Once she received DACA, she was ready to plan for a future. In 2016, she was accepted at California State University, Fullerton, where she’s working towards a communications degree with a focus in advertising. She is now worried that she will not be able to finish her education. The realization that everything she has worked for could be taken away if DACA is eliminated, this frightens her. Ana cannot imagine returning to Peru, her native country. When DACA is gone, she still hopes to continue her education, however, she will have to quit her job and figure another way to provide for herself.
Anahi, 24, and her parents have been living in the United States as undocumented immigrants for 21 years. Anahi dropped out of school because she wanted to go into a private school for nursing. The school was ideal for her, however, her undocumented status was an obstacle and she was not allowed to enroll in the nursing program. She was devastated and opted to quit her dream all together. She is currently working in Orange County where she has a good salary, vacation, paid time off, full benefits, and a 401K. When her DACA expires, she will lose her sense of safety and the stable job that she loves.
Andres, 27, came to this country with his brother to live with his dad, whom he had never met before. He was 10 years old and his brother was 9. The first week after arriving, his father told him that he should never tell anyone he was undocumented and that his stay here would be hard. He added that if he wanted to do anything with his life he would have to work twice as hard and his work might still be unnoticed, but if he worked hard things would get better. Andres does not think the undocumented youth are asking for anything out of the ordinary, just for the basics to make a living. When DACA is gone, he will lose the chance to make his education useful. In the meantime, he wants to be a teacher and help others navigate the journey that he once did. As far as Andres goes, he will fight to make sure his plans of helping others come true.
Areli, 24, was devastated after the 2016 election. It became a struggle to keep her mental health in line. It felt like a heart break, like if someone she knew died. She had hoped for a different election result because it would have meant that things would get better for the immigrant community. Her plans always consisted of obtaining a Ph.D, travel outside the country and research immigration patterns throughout Latin America and eventually have a family with her partner. Now she feels that her future has been placed on hold. When DACA is gone, she believes everything will be taken away from her. She’s close to obtaining her master’s degree in political science at California State University, Fullerton. She feels that no matter how much she tries to show that she belongs in this country, she will always be treated as a foreigner and forced to go back into the shadows. Despite all the negativity surrounding her, she is figuring out how to move forward from the pain of being once again attacked by the country she has given so much of her life to.
Edgar, 20, was a 4-year-old boy when he came to the United States. His first memories are from here. When he was 15, his mom and sister self-deported. His mom gave up an went back to México. She was tired of living the undocumented life – working minimum wage and never being enough. He stayed here with his dad and eventually with his godparents. That same year, he received DACA. He was able to do the same things other kids his age were doing, such as getting a driving permit, driving – belonging a little bit more. Despite his short win with DACA, he still had trouble adjusting in high school. When he was a junior, he left his godparents and became homeless. He feels lucky his girlfriend’s family took him in. Edgar sees all his misfortune as an opportunity for growth, it has molded him into becoming a better man. After his DACA expires, he plans to continue doing construction work and perhaps go to college. Since he graduated from high school, he has worked hard with and without his work permit. Edgar is a proud American and he hopes that his sacrifices are worth it. He hopes his children and future generations won’t have to worry about the same things he has to worry about. He hopes to live a happy American life.
Lupita, 22, is a college student and community organizer. The results of the 2016 presidential election only fueled her willpower to fight back. The day after the election, her first thoughts were about how to help her community. It is clear to her that despite the political climate, she won’t go back into the shadows. She feels empowered by the unity and stance she sees among the community that protects her. When DACA goes away, she will lose her stable job at a retail company that treats her well. She feels this is luxury because before that job, she used to clean houses with her mother. Cleaning houses is a respectable job, she said. However, it can become a source for labor exploitation or even a space for sexual harassment. Regardless of what the future throws at her, Lupita plans to continue with her education. She can be deported, she said, but her education cannot be taken away from her.
Manuel, 30, came to this country when he was a 1-year-old baby. He had always known he was undocumented while growing in a mixed family of U.S.-born siblings. He didn’t let that get in the way of living life. After he graduated from high school, he got a job at McDonald’s and put himself through community college. He eventually had to quit his education in order to focus on work and pay his bills. He feels it is unfair to be put in a position of fear because of his immigration status. There is nothing for him in the Motherland — the land he is asked to return to. He often has to explain that even though he has lived here all his life, there is no path to citizenship for him. It’s hard to explain that his livelihood is not in his hands. The reality for him is that at some point he will not be able to work or, the worst case scenario, stay in the country when DACA goes away. He feels it will be a matter of time before ICE comes for him or he receives a letter in the mail. One thing is for certain: he will not pack up and leave without a fight.