Monsters/Border Crossing Views”: The nature and reality of physical
and cultural boarders facing the US migrant population.
An immigrant lies in the back of a truck, praying the border patrol will not notice him illegally crossing the American boarder. It is this journey filled with terror and hope that Angel Olegario Luna, the son of migrant farm workers, presents to his audience in his exhibit entitled “Border Monsters/Border Crossing Views”. In addition to the journey of crossing the border, attitudes and stereotypes that the new immigrants face are depicted by the masked faces of clay figures. It is through these images and clay figures that Luna approaches the political topic of illegal immigration in the United States. Through the medium of art, Luna is able to approach the topics of humanity and discrimination.
Illegal immigration is certainly one of the most controversial topics in America. While some pursue change through protests and lobbying, Luna has chosen to voice his opinion through art. The images Luna presents portray the merging between Mexican and American culture. It is nearly impossible to recognize by the images the point at which the immigrant has crossed the border. Further blending comes in the form of language as Luna uses both English and Spanish in both his images and clay figures. Luna’s aim is to display the similarities of people on both sides of the border. Besides a different language and national flag, we are all human beings and strive for a better life for ourselves and our families. It is this message that Luna presents to aid in the understanding of immigration.
Luna’s gallery provides an interactive aspect that is unique in that the audience becomes the immigrant and in essence looks through his eyes as he makes his way across the border. This interaction provides a chance for the audience to empathize with the immigrant and further recognize that these individuals are not monsters, but rather people simply seeking for a better life. It is amazing the risk these individuals take to cross the border, as is evident by the images of the border through the window of a police car and much worse, the view from inside a body bag. Immigrants risk everything, not for a promise of prosperity or a better life, but just to simply have the chance.
Once the immigrants crosses the literal border into America, another border must be crossed that lies within the attitude of American culture. Stereotypes and discrimination are profound towards aliens, whether legal or illegal, in the US. This notion is portrayed by Luna’s ten clay figurines. One must first notice that the figurines are dressed nearly identical with the exception of the masks they adorn. The masks, coupled with the words imprinted on the bodies of the figures, represent the notions and stereotypes many American’s have towards aliens. Words such as “drunk” and “abusive” characterize the Spaniard mask while other masks include a dead woman, a clown, a fool and several others. It is these “masks” that American’s see instead of the true face of the immigrant that lies beneath.
One might view the message of Luna’s work as the portrayal of American ignorance, but there is another message to be recognized. It is often easier to hide behind a mask than to stand out as an individual. It is this critique of the Mexican migrant population that Luna makes in his representation of his clay immigrants. While it is very rare for a single individual to make a profound change, a group of individuals can unite and make changes in attitudes and stereotypes. The fact that the figurines are dressed alike signifies that the potential to unite is present, one must simply refuse to wear the mask and become proactive in the aim to change attitudes. However, the statues in Luna’s exhibit all wear different masks and lack organization and a common goal as is evident by the several different directions they face on their pedestals. Luna’s art is asking and even challenging the migrant population to refuse to wear the masks society imposes and unite with their fellow men to force change and to give the migrant population a voice.
Luna’s exhibit acts as a political statement regarding the controversial issue of illegal immigration in the United States. Through his images of crossing the border and masked clay immigrants, Luna is able to capture the notion that immigrants are not monsters and that immigration is a real issue that must be recognized. Luna leaves the responsibility of change not only to the American public, who imposes stereotypical masks, but also to the migrant workers who wear them. We are all human beings on this Earth, and borders and cultural barriers must not prevent us from recognizing that we are in this life together. Acceptance begins with understanding and Luna’s attempt to aid in the understanding of migrant workers is a small step towards this end.
By Jeremy Gronos
Graduation Date: May 6th, 2006
Major: Movement Studies (Kinesiology)
Hometown: Eagle River, AK
The exhibit by Angel Olegario Luna exhibit entitled, “Border Monsters/ Border Crossing Views” produced an immediate feeling in myself of empathy for the migrant population. Having been to the Mexican border in California, I was better able to appreciate the political and social messages Luna depicted in his exhibit. I used this essay to present, discuss and interpret these messages in hopes of acquiring a better grasp of Luna’s view of migration in the United States.