The short essay below appears in a slightly modified version in the new issue of Whitefish Review. It accompanies my photo Houses and Homes.
I first came to the United States to study literary translation, and I was so taken with the possibilities this country seemed to offer that I wanted to live here. Today, I am a writer and photographer. I didn’t even know that was my dream but I got the chance to find out. All immigrants deserve the same chance. Valid visas and residence permits no longer seem to make much of a difference. The following list includes immigrants who hold DREAMer/DACA status, work visas, or green cards.
For Daniela Vargas, Alan Vargas, Daniel Vargas; Daniel Ramirez Medina; Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez; Srinivas Kuchibhotla, Alok Madasani; Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos; Juan Garcia Mosqueda; their families, and everyone else who no longer feels safe.
From Whitefish Review, Winter 2017 (pp. 99-100):
The hydrangea: unwatered, waiting in vain to be planted in the garden. The suitcase left on the porch: was it supposed to be taken inside or out to a waiting car? The lawn: waiting for the hose to be turned on. The hose dropped in the grass: waiting to be collected and put back on the wheel by the garage.
Nobody has taken the time to sit on the porch swing in a while. Someone tried to repair the dry rot damage on the post with plaster. Now there are holes left waiting to be filled in, sanded down, and painted. The concrete needs work, too. Rain, ice, children, dogs, parents, the UPS guy, the mail carrier have worn the surface through the years, running or walking up to the front door. They are all gone.
A pair of transparent yellow miniature houses is waiting to tell their stories. The paper houses, scattered on the lawn, are looking for a place.
We all hope that, if we have a house, it will remain a home forever. For more and more people, that is no longer true. The world is in its largest refugee crisis since World War II, and time has run out for millions of women, men, and children. My photo belongs in a series I started in 2011 after I got stuck at home for five days because of an ice storm. The series features miniature houses that I build (usually with watercolor paper, but also other materials) and place in different environments. Often those are somewhat serene, timeless spots in nature or abandoned houses in town. It has been contemplative, slow work. Recently, I even thought I was done with the series. It seemed there was nothing else I could say by placing a small representation of the idea of house/home in locations I found interesting.
Almost exactly at the same time I sat down to write this artist statement, President Trump picked up a pen to sign the executive order barring refugees from entering the United States and refusing entry or re-entry to certain holders of non-immigrant and immigrant visas as well as green cards. Right away, the stories began to pile up: desperate refugees arriving at American airports, denied entry to the country that had agreed to save them and given them visas. Students, researchers, teachers barred from joining or re-joining their academic communities. Green card holders—legal permanent residents of the United States “vetted” many times—forbidden to return to their homes, jobs, and loved ones in America. All of them suddenly found themselves out of time and out of a chance to place their houses, all because of the cruel stroke of a pen.
I am an immigrant, too. My green card expires in a few months. Since I am white and European, and because immigration bans and wall-building plans are fueled by racism, it is unlikely that I will run into any real problems when I go to the USCIS office for my renewal appointment. But the mood has changed so much that I’m worried like never before. Now is not the time for serenity and contemplation. I will add new images to my paper house series, and they will be in support of the human right to place your house and live in it—permanently—without fear.