Aimed at humanizing and shedding light on the realities and experiences of detained migrants, this illustration is part of Visions From the Inside, a visual art collection based on letters written by detained migrants at the Karnes County detention center, a for-profit immigrant family detention center in Texas.
Based off of a letter from a 27-year-old mother being held with her 10-year-old son, artist Zeke Peña created this piece seeking to illustrate the letter-writer’s strength and struggle. Half of the illustration shows the backs of an incarcerated mother and child looking out the bars of a jail room window with United States stars and stripes imagery painted on the walls of the cell and as the background for the other half of the image, which shows the face of the woman wearing black and gray striped prison clothes in front of the red and white stripes of the American flag.
Visions From the Inside was created by CultureStrike in partnership with Mariposas Sin Fronteras, and End Family Detention, in collaboration with the migrants who shared their letters and stories and the 15 artists across the United States who created the visual art pieces.
Read the letter written by the woman whose story informed this illustration. What is she saying about her experiences and how have they been captured in the illustration? What is the significance of different parts of the illustration, including the stripes on her shirt and the stripes in the background? How are the American flag and the United States represented in this image? How are reading the letter and looking at the illustration different in terms of visual and emotional impact? What can you gain from one that you cannot from the other?
How do words and labels matter when speaking about migrants, refugees, immigrants, and the boundaries of national belonging and identity? What’s the difference between referring to someone as “illegal” versus “undocumented”? How does this language matter for the people, institutions, and laws that govern their lives?
What and who comes to mind when you think of people in jails and prisons? How does this illustration and the others in the series complicate these associations?
How are migrants, immigrants, and refugees represented in the media? How do other aspects of identity, such as gender, sexuality, class, religion, race, nationality, and ethnicity factor into these representations? What are some examples in news, television, movies, music, and other kinds of popular culture? Are these representations positive, negative, overly simplified, complex, or mixed? How?
These letters are from migrants detained in a for-profit detention center. What is the significance of this detention center being a for-profit organization? How do they make money? What sustains the organization?
Look at the other illustrations and stories from the Visions From the Inside collection. What common themes emerge?