In the month of February, CultureStrike, Center for New Community and our network of partner organizations and allies from the art, literary and activist worlds are converging twice–in Berkeley on the 15th and in Denver on the 23rd. Since we launched UndocuNation last year, CultureStrike founder Favianna Rodriguez has been working to develop it into a cultural “thing”–a cultural event with a brand, a kind of gathering that leaves a lasting imprint on people’s senses and sensibilities, but also proves versatile enough to be adopted and adapted by many diverse communities. Like the Vagina Monologues or Theater of the Oppressed, our project is blossoming into a cultural phenomenon that lives and breathes, a concept that’s both portable and participatory.
This week’s UndocuNation event at University of California-Berkeley showcases local artists as well as creative change-makers whose voices resonated around the country. Writer, activist and performance artist Cherríe Moraga will be one of the better-known names on the bill, but she’ll be letting her students take center stage with performances from a new working play about the migrant experience. Nationally renowned poet and Comedian Josh Healey will be joining us too, and sharing a platform with local spoken word artists and performers. The backdrop and soundtrack of UndocuNation comes courtesy of our crew of gifted “artivists,” but the roster of artists and the works on display get changed up depending on where we are, playing on the styles and talents of the community hosting UndocuNation.
To get an insider’s take on UndocuNation and our campaign to take the CultureStrike movement undocunational, read Berkeley scholar-activist Marco Antonio Flores’s reflection on his journey from audience member to coordinator of the project. — MC
“I am grateful for those first moments of consciousness, always born from a living experience of injustice turned to righteous rage, that first experience of genuine collectivism, that blessed epiphany of art-inspired action.”
- Cherrie Moraga, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness
“Jota, it’s going to be amazing! There are artists from all over the country using art to talk about immigration,” those were the first few words Julio Salgado expressed to me about UndocuNation. And like many other moments in my undocumented life, my first reaction was uncertainty: “Is this a crime?” I thought. I was terrified that ICE could show up at the doors and take me away.
UndocuNation, an artistic encouentro created to bring together gente without papeles, was created at such a pivotal point of the immigration debate that I feared any possibility of national attention. Of course, this wasn’t new to me. I knew this fear as a child, always being asked to not bring too much attention to myself because of my families undocumented, “Marco, muerdete la lengua.” I feared UndocuNation would do exactly what it intended to: pick up national attention.
I had just met Julio Salgado a few months back, at this point, our friendship had began to unfold. One thing was certain to me – art kept us centered. It allowed me to see that we are both hermanos, undocujotas en la lucha. But despite the sense of familia I had nurtured with Julio, I was unable to imagine what this even would look like. In all honesty, I was consumed by my own fear of deportation.
I found myself in awe of the undocumented artists who were willing to put a face to the immigration issue. I couldn’t believe this kind of courage was possible. I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve never had the courage to speak against injustice.” It became clear to me that UndocuNation took that risk. I thought, this IS face of the struggle against injustice.
As artists took the stage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, I was captivated by the artwork on the walls, each piece revealing many political affirmations of being undocumented. Prints with vibrant images indicating the exploitation of undocumented workers to stopping the separation of families. Visual artists illuminated the room with images that spoke to our struggles as undocumented community. But it was the poets who captivated me, their every word seeping into my skin reminding me about how ‘real’ my undocumented life is yet how much power there is a collective esfuerzo.
Much time has passed since the start of it all. Today, I find myself making phone calls, meeting with funders and collaborating with various artists in an attempt to bring UndocuNation to the University of California, Berkeley. As a co-coordinator of UndocuNation, I’m working with CultureStrike to spark creative energies and bring a sense of collective consciousness to our undocumented communities. I’ve come to learn that many of these creative encounters don’t stand alone; UndocuNation serves as artistic witness to the injustices happening across the country, shedding light to the many faces of living an undocumented life. UndocuNation has created a space for artistic talent to mobilize our gente, and to shift minds and corazones. By enabling artists the ability to mobilize our communities through developing their craft, UndocuNation is a tool of creative transformation.
I come to Berkeley with a vision y con un corazón sano. I return as a lover of words; poetry has served as buena medicina. I am learning to nurture and nourish words. I am learning to create a path towards consciousness and justicia. I am learning to weave the necessity of healing arts alongside undocumented community and my undocuqueer familia, I am learning resistance. I have been able to create community and familia de corazón. Today, I believe in the power of fearlessly making art, and it’s the ability to make corazón.
UndocuNation is more than an evening of cultural jamming and an artistic celebration, it is poetic justice.
Undocunation is taking Denver by storm on February 23. As we prepare for another weekend fest of art-making, music and dialogue, Domenic Powell, a senior organizer at our partner organization Center for New Community, reflects on UndocuNation as a vehicle for a widening social justice movement.
Art makes community, even on the smallest scale. When you gather together to listen to a musician at an El stop or on the street, you share a moment with the other listeners, you acknowledge one another and your shared emotional experience. In that way, making art is a lot like organizing, which helps us recognize our shared experience and leverage our collective power to change society. With UndocuNation, we’re bringing people together around art that moves us, hoping that we’ll move together from then on.
Art has always been part of the fight against injustice. Photographs, posters, poems, what have you—they make us reflect on the moment and recognize the need to act. When we bring together artists and activists in UndocuNation, the artists find ways to connect to organizers in a way they may not have in the past, and the organizers find ways to work with artists. In this moment, when the rights of immigrants are being challenged by the anti-immigrant movement, art is a perfect way to rebuild the community that movement is trying to destroy.