Necesitando al Otro (Needing the Other) is a three-channel video installation exploring the health, nutrition, and spirit of the Mexican Migrant, as well as the effects of mass migration on los que se quedan (those who remain). This project premiered at the 2017 CUNY Film Festival at Macaulay Honor College, April 28-30.
The installation employs components visible to the audience (three LCD screens or similar display devices), and components that are hidden or obscured from view: a computer terminal running the installation and a simple web camera to detect movement and presence.
The video content of this installation is part of a larger documentary film project entitled ¡Salud! Myths and Realities of Mexican Immigrant Health. This project is focused primarily on the healthcare and health disparities of Mexican immigrants in the United States, the ‘Latino health paradox’, and the social contexts of health, mental illness, and reproductive health.
In the Winter of 2015, Lehman College Profs. Alyshia Gálvez and David Schwittek sought to complement their research into social determinants of health and migrant communities in the New York area, with an investigation of the social contexts in migrant communities of origin in Mexico. Building on a proposed pilot collaboration with a university in Puebla, Mexico, they garnered enough support to run a Winter session study abroad course there. Fourteen students enrolled, from four different CUNY campuses, including 5 students of Mexican origin who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (an executive order that enables undocumented students to participate in study-related international travel upon successfully soliciting a State Department permission called Advanced Parole). Funding for the program was raised from Lehman College, Anahuac University of Puebla, the Migrant Affairs Office of the State of Puebla, Aeromexico, and private donors. During this ten-day research and production trip, Gálvez and Schwittek and their students traveled to rural migrant-sending villages like San Antonio Texcala, Tulcingo, and Chinantla, as well as highly developed, urban areas like Ciudad de Puebla and Cholula.
This installation – and its interactivity – can best be described in three states: inactive, partial, and active.
The installation detects the relative presence of viewers and, when it detects an absence of any viewers in the vicinity, it enters the inactive state. In this state, as if to suggest the increasing denial of the migrant’s position and struggles in our society, the three channels enter a state of data corruption that escalates with the duration of inactivity.
When the installation detects a partial presence (e.g. one or two people relatively nearby, though not front and center), it enters the partial state. In this state, the corruption of the three video channels becomes increasingly more subtle, and the viewing therefore less challenging.
As the audience increases in number and enters the front and center area of the in- stallation space, the installation enters the active state, wherein data corruption of the three channels is nearly unnoticeable. This interplay of obscurity and visibility is designed to interrogate the Western Hemisphere’s relative indifference to the struggles of the Mexican migrant, and that an active interest in – and attention to – the struggles can lead to a clearer understanding of our shared humanity.
- Present at interactive film festivals such as Tribeca Interactive and the CUNY Film Festival.
- Mimic my own process of coming to understand the Mexicans, Mexican migrants, and Mexican-Americans: from ignorance, to increasing interest, and finally to respect, empathy, and a persistent desire to incorporate aspects of their culture into my own.
- Obscure glimpses into the life of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans until full attention is given.
- Present sequences from the ¡Salud! Myths and Realities of Mexican Immigrant Health documentary in a non-traditional way.
- Give students the oppurtunity to understand central components of User Interface and User Experience design, as well as installation art.
21 Trucks of San Antonio Texcala is a fiber-based, graphic design series exploring the importance of trucks and other vehicles to the people of rural Mexico and Mexican migrants in the US.
Through depictions of trucks, towns, and people, this series explores the roles of trucks and the paquetero (individuals who transport goods across the border) in these rural communities. This project is inspired by folk-art traditions of amate bark painting and quilting found in Mexico, Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series (1940-41) and the Quilts of Gee’s Bend in the US.
This series consists of ten to fifteen distinct pieces varying in size from as small as 30 by 40 inches, to as large as 6 by 8 feet. The various media used in these pieces includes, but is not limited to, canvas, commercial textiles, fiber, buttons, die-cut cloth and foam, photograms, brass, acrylic, and found objects. These compositions explore individual trucks, groups of trucks, individuals involved in the use and transport of trucks, as well as individuals who depend on the goods transported by these trucks.
21 Trucks... is inspired by a documentary film I am producing with Prof. Alyshia Gálvez entitled ¡Salud! Myths and Realities of Mexican Immigrant Health, which explores the healthcare and health disparities of Mexican immigrants in the United States and the ‘Latino health paradox.’ Building on a proposed pilot collaboration with a university in Puebla, Mexico, we ran a Winter session study abroad course in Puebla, Mexico. During this ten-day research and production trip, Prof. Gálvez, myself, and our students travelled to rural migrant-sending villages like San Antonio Texcala, Tulcingo, and Chinantla, as well as highly developed, urban areas like Ciudad de Puebla and Cholula. See the video below for a work-in-progress glimpse of this developing documentary
These regions have sent large numbers of migrants to the New York tri-state area and the migratory flows have produced deep connections in which migrants and their families work to pursue their goals for economic, social and professional mobility in spite of barriers which prevent most of them from migrating with authorization, working legally or circulating freely across borders. Paqueteros, possessing visas allowing them to circulate freely and transport goods in both directions, playing a key role in connecting people divided by borders.
Because current immigration law does not allow most working class migrants to circulate freely, their efforts to maintain foodways, traditional health practices and family ties are challenged. Despite this, people continue to seek ways to pursue health and well being, including consuming foods and remedies from their home communities. Falsely associated with epidemics and health risks, many people in the US are unaware of the many practices people engage in to sustain health in spite of socioeconomic disadvantage. Moreover, these connections have direct and well-documented links to the health and wellness of these migrant communities. Given the current administration’s hostility to immigrant communities, these connections are even more under threat than in previous years.
It was in these rural towns of Tulcingo, Chinantla, and specifically San Antonio Texcala (SAT), that I saw how pivotal trucks were in the lives of the residents. Fruit and vegetables, maize, construction materials, rocks, minerals, and even people are loaded onto trucks in these towns for transport. In addition, trucks in various states of disrepair are scattered about SAT, waiting for repair, mirroring many of the unfinished houses – half built, the owners of these houses wait for additional remittances from the US to complete work.
While in SAT, I met Moises Fuentes, who owns a thriving business selling carved pieces of decorative onyx from the local mine. Moises is also a paquetero, regularly journeying to and from Mexico to bring back goods and remittances to the families of migrants in the US, providing a unique and vital cultural link that otherwise would not exist. Every month he travels to the South Bronx from SAT to bring letters, gifts, and goods from residents of SAT to their relatives in the US.
Upon returning, Moises will often transport items back to Mexico that are too difficult or expensive to purchase in country, such as televisions, bicycles, and microwaves. He and his wife will often drive back an additional truck, as these are also expensive to buy in Mexico. Moises has had to learn how to circulate on some of the riskiest highways in North America, even while many fellow paqueteros have experienced violence.
To celebrate this multi-location, cultural support system, 21 Trucks depicts the trucks, towns, and people, exploring the roles of trucks and the paquetero in these rural communities.
Through words and images, this portrait series explores the impact of creativity and the arts on aging, specifically highlighting individuals over the age of 65 currently engaging in one or more forms of creative expression. Rather than focussing on the creative output of these artists and creators, The Lens of Age casts its gaze on the faces of the artists themselves, celebrating the supremacy and intimacy of the portrait, as well as its ability to reflect – and elevate – the human spirit.
Presented at the 12th International Conference on the Arts in Society, The American University of Paris, France, 14–16 June 2017
The initial study participants consisted of 25 Social Work undergraduates enrolled at CUNY’s Lehman College located in the Bronx, NY. they were paired with 25 adults over 65. Data collection consisted of interviews, with key points documented in photographs. Students exhibited results in local venues, extending the reach of their work in an advocacy action. A mixed-methods pre- and post-test captured student reflections and reactions. Study findings indicate that arts-based participatory research can contribute to decreasing depression and isolation by promoting intergenerational relationships, reducing workforce shortages and fears about ones own future by improving perceptions of older adults, and supporting student success by deepening engagement with learning.
Their final student presentations were rooted firmly in the sciences, in the form of traditional poster presentations like the one seen here. These highly analytical documents do a great job at presenting the project, breaking down the methodology, and provide a good summation of the study’s key findings. After all, certainty in findings is a prized commodity in the sciences. In this case, one of the key findings that emerged was the unique importance of remaining creative, whether it be through painting, sewing, writing, or some other activity. Though creativity certainly stood out as important to the aging, it wasn’t clear why this is true. Creativity meant something different to each of the subjects. But whereas this lack of ambiguity is valued in the sciences, it can be problematic in the arts.
This idea of an unclear intersection btwn creativity and aging inspired me to explore it in a less analytical, somewhat more ambiguous way. I began by tracking down working artists over the age of 65; people who had been creating art their whole lives in some form or another, and were still creating late in life. The basic premise is this: the artists sit for their portraits, and as I take pictures, I interview them.
Then I began exploring amateur artists: people over the age of 65 who took up art as a kind of hobby late in life, asking them to discuss their processes, and what creativity meant for them. But the images alone couldn’t capture this intersection of age and creativity. I needed to include their words. I’m a graphic designer, and naturally it occurred to me that the things these people were saying – both professional and amateurs alike – brought much needed context to the portrait.
The result is a developing series of portraits paired with text. Each portrait is an attempt to crystalize something unique about the subject’s creative spirit. the accompanying text – a subsection of the subject’s discussion during the interview – attempts to contextualize the portrait and anchor the overarching theme of this series.
No one portrait, regardless of the artistic level or age of the subject, is given preference over another, in an attempt to better democratize aging and its relationship to the creative urge.
Rather than framing the process of aging as a gradual decline, Through the Lens of Age examines creativity and artistic expression as a means of renewal, i.e. how self-expression can enrich self-worth.
Gallery of Portraits
This is the pitch video for the ¡Salud! Myths and Reality of Mexican Immigrant Health documentary that I am currently researching and developing with my students. This film is the product of my honors seminar course at Lehman College CUNY exploring the so-called 'Latino Health Paradox' – the better than expected health outcomes of recent Latino immigrants to the US. We want to create a broadcast two-hour documentary to explain this paradox through the lens of recent Mexican immigrants in NYC.
This pitch video will be used to help crowdfund the documentary.
Directed by: David Schwittek and Alyshia Galvez
Victor Borja Armas
I recently completed this short animation for the 2013 Sustainable CUNY Video Short Contest. The film features the voices of Natalie Goldberg, Lindsey Goldberg, and Abby Schwittek.