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.
Created by artist Jess X Chen, this illustration is based off of a letter written by a Honduran mother detained in Karnes County, Texas with one of her sons and separated from the other, who lives in Los Angeles, California. In her artist statement, Chen expresses wanting to pay tribute to the risks, loss, optimism, and resiliency of these families, and describes the significance of her artistic choices, saying that “despite the traumatic and abusive conditions (the letter writer) faces at Karnes, she and her younger son reach across the US/Mexico Border to join hands with her older son who made it to Los Angeles. Their bodies are preserved with the light of a million stars, representing the millions of mothers, fathers, and children throughout history who attempt to cross the border into the U.S. Migrants risk enormous loss in the optimism of securing family and community in a new country.”
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 experiences informed the illustration. What is she describing and how have her experiences been captured in the illustration? How does the drawing reflect the pain and hope of the many migrants who experience years of separation and adjusting to reunifications with their families? 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,” or “migrant” versus “refugee”? 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?