Out of the Shadows: Undocumented and Unafraid is a participatory art project, conceived and orchestrated by artist Annabel Manning. Immigrant youth from Charlotte and the Triangle area of North Carolina collaborated with Manning to create portraits, which were then digitally altered to portray the youth's visible and invisible status simultaneously. Compelling and personal, the pieces featured in the exhibit demonstrate how art can be a deliberative and imaginative forum for exploring complex issues about immigrant labor, education, and legal status.
Please meet activist and artist, "Touchdown"
Does the concept of being both visible and invisible relate to your experience, and if so, how?
Yes. I participate in this society as any other regular person but then there are moments that always remind you that you are not quite the regular person…that there is something missing and that it will limit you. Traditionally, before growing to questioning the immigration system and all that benefit from its lack of working, I understood that not having legal status must be kept secret or invisible as much as possible. Every day was about negotiating identity in a home that is not “your own.” Even today with all the empowerment that has come from being involved in the immigrant youth rights movement, it is still difficult to branch out outside of social justice circles and be fully visible. You don’t know how people will react…to a certain point one may not care but the fact is that the system in which daily life functions with things such as employment, you must be kept invisible or at least the full you and your identity must not be known. At the end of the day it is still a liability upon which many things depend on.
When did you first become aware of your circumstance of being undocumented? What is it like to be undocumented?
I became aware of this status upon crossing the border by foot with my family. Additionally, it became evident that I was different when I was in school K-12th grade. I was very aware of this immigration status because everything was pointing in the direction of hiding it or making it invisible and just faking it but as youth sometimes that is the last thing you are willing to do. I did not want to participate in a mock presidential election at my elementary school because I had to vote and I knew then that was not allowed for someone like me who did not have a social security number. For me being undocumented became about learning how to negotiate my presence anywhere I went and often being very scared to open what I thought would be a Pandora's box type of situation. However, you learn that life has to continue and if you don’t go back to “your” country then you have to learn the ins and outs of living while being “illegal.” This encompasses everything from your friendships to your goals to the practical thing of getting fake social security numbers in order to get a job somewhere. That’s the truth. This country and its politicians push us to these fringes in which we have to make decisions for which results in either direction have you as the “illegal” losing out.
What is your dream for immigration reform?
I don’t dream about immigration reform…anymore. I just dream of an empowered community that comes to understand that with or without immigration reform we are worth it and must not live afraid. If there is no reform then I would hope that undocumented people would live life being unafraid and willing to risk it all in this country because the alternative means losing our dignity.
What does coming out of the shadows mean for you?
Coming out of the shadows for me means a process of healing. It does not necessarily get rid of the fear. Coming out of the shadows means you allow yourself to consider the possibilities of being deported or targeted and having a plan of action for that. It means breathing like you own yourself and your future instead of a nine digit number. It is only the beginning of a longer term process for liberation.
Out of the Shadows: Undocumented and Unafraid is on display now through June 29, 2014.
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