The political debate around immigration reform has returned to Congress — heated and divisive, heavy on finger-pointing and light on hope for real change.
A far quieter, but no less potent, debate around immigration reform lives on for a few more days at Minneapolis’ Augsburg College.
It could be a much-needed push, or a mind-opener at least, for lawmakers willing to consider it.
“UNdocumented” is a senior art show by Augsburg studio arts major Maximino Garcia-Marin. The boldly colored and edgy presentation, featuring thousands of blindfolded faces and a wall of myths and facts about immigrants to the United States, is deeply personal and immeasurably brave.
“There are 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States that are foreign-born but have resided in the U.S. for 10 to 15 years,” Garcia-Marin states.
“I am one of those people.”
The exhibit runs through Feb. 19, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., in the second-floor Student Art Gallery of Augsburg’s Christensen Center.
Garcia-Marin’s art teacher Susan Boecher calls it “the strongest show I’ve seen in the seven years I’ve been here. It forces you to go in and investigate, and interact with the work. It raises all of these interesting questions.”
That is exactly what Garcia-Marin, 22, hoped to accomplish. Using his own story as a launchpad, he delved into research, whittling down copious amounts of immigration data into easily digestible lists, graphics and maps.
“I hope people leave with a better understanding of what is truly going on,” said Garcia-Marin, who posed in front of a wall that he, with siblings and friends, stenciled with 4,900 blindfolded faces, each representing about 3,000 undocumented immigrants.
“All these people are trying for the American dream,” he said. “A better life.”
Garcia-Marin was born in Mexico, moving with his family to the United States as a boy. The soft-spoken student has long used art to help him make sense of loss and disparities, but hope, too.
I met Garcia-Marin four years ago, when he was a senior at Patrick Henry High School participating in a citywide art competition at Minneapolis Central Library. The theme was “home,” something he never took for granted. Throughout middle school and much of high school, his family lived at Mary’s Place, a Minneapolis homeless shelter.
There he began to fill sketchbooks with his pencil drawings and was inspired to later create his art entry, a family tree crafted from clay, copper sheets and wire. Into the tree’s trunk, he cut a gaping gash to represent “the disconnection of roots.”
Its power, and his maturity, stunned me. I bought the piece after the library show ended and, for four years, wondered if the quiet young man did, indeed, fulfill his dream to go to college to study art.
A few weeks ago, I was delighted to receive an invitation from Max to come see his show.
Visitors are greeted by a wall with two silhouettes — a woman dusting and a man mowing — literal and figurative representations of the invisible thousands who, mythology aside, provide as much as $7 billion a year to this country’s Social Security fund.
Much of the show, created in black, red and yellow paint, revolves around myths and facts.
The undocumented don’t want to learn English? In fact, 91 percent of undocumented immigrants are fluent in English. They don’t pay taxes? Up to 75 percent do. They commit most of the crime? One Harvard study found that first-generation immigrants are 45 percent less likely to commit violent crimes than Americanized third-generation immigrants.
Last year, Garcia-Marin received his work permit through a deportation deferral program. It has opened some doors, he said, yet he still lives in fear that what was given can be taken at any time.
He’s candid about his disappointment in President Obama, who has deported 2 million people since 2009, far more than the number deported under George W. Bush.
His disappointment extends to House Republicans, and Speaker John Boehner, who last week expressed doubt that an immigration bill will pass this year. Just after House Republicans released a set of principles Jan. 30, outlining what immigration reform might look like, Boehner backed away from them, blaming Obama for inaction.
“We had so many hopes,” Garcia-Marin said. “There’s not going to be any immigration reform.”
For now, he’s focused on finishing college.
Despite his challenges, Garcia-Marin has joined many student organizations and maintained a solid GPA. Through scholarships and grants, he will graduate in May with no student loans.
He continues to work at Mary’s Place 22 hours a week, cleaning and manning the reception desk. With school work, he said, “It gets crazy. I don’t have time for much else.”
After graduation, he hopes to find work as a Web designer, but he’s thinking bigger already. “The dream to me would be to own my own business,” he said, breaking into an uncharacteristically huge smile. “I want to be my own boss.”
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350