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I was able to go to Italy last summer thanks to the visa waiver program, which was provided by President Barack Obama's executive order designed to protect "Dreamers" like me from deportation. Thanks to him, we could travel abroad for our studies without fear that we wouldn't be able to return to the United States. I came forward and registered as a Dreamer when Obama announced the waiver, which discouraged ICE agents from targeting the children of the undocumented. Obama's 2014 waiver represented a "spiritual pardon" for the former president given the number of people he deported in his presidency.
In Italy, I saw the great works of the Italian Renaissance, but also glimpsed the country's economic and refugee crisis. I didn't want to go back to the United States, and I felt the weight of anti-immigrant ideology forced upon me when I arrived back here and went through the immigration checkpoints. I was put in an empty, gray room for questioning and was ultimately allowed back into the country. I rode the train home with somebody I had just met who waited for me on the other side of customs. I wanted someone to wait for me just in case I didn't come out—in case I was threatened with deportation.
- 'PATRIOTISM, U.S.A.' Watercolor on paper.
NOT MY DREAM
I never wanted the American dream. It was never my desire. The American dream has been stabbed into the heart of the Americas, the American continent, and it has shaped who I am. It has destroyed many families and it continues to do so. The American dream is a tool used to oppress. This is where I find myself now: trying to create art that can heal me from it all, art that is just, open, contradictory, but also that can try to help.
Identity is a subject that excites me as an an artist, since art goes beyond walls—it crosses all borders. I am excited to talk about identity and to figure out identity through fashion. That's my big plan—to create a couture fashion line. I've been interested in this since I was young, when my grandma gave me hand-tailored dresses that she confiscated from my aunt because they were too short. Given the renewed anti-immigration push by Trump, I've been in a dark place and I want to come back to a positive place with positive acts—using my art as an extension into couture, and the connection to identity.
This is the issue Dreamers face now: identity and internalized racism and oppression. For me, those things are imposed on the body. I am creating wearable couture sculptures which have imagery that addresses bicultural identity and which helps free me from the internalized oppression of "illegality."
I know there are dangers in sharing my story. Now the politics and the beauty I see are all going into the garments that I make. I need to deal with my emotions that way. There is such darkness now. We need something beautiful.
The author would like to thank Belle O. Mapa for her assistance in preparing this article, which is also drawn from a follow-up interview with news editor Tom Gogola.