By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer
Immigration is a subject Congress has worked hard to avoid.
It is a complex, challenging subject. One that is not going to go away by itself and needs to be addressed.
Gallery Azul in San Pedro is not afraid of the controversy. The gallery is currently presenting Crossing Over – A Dialogue About Immigration Via Art. The exhibit looks at the question of immigration from many sides.
Nine artists, with a variety of outlooks, from a multiplicity of locations, submitted pieces for this show. The works view the issue of immigration from a variety of angles, including those of people who live in fear of immigration sweeps, separation of families and the trafficking of babies from foreign countries.
José Flores, from Mexico, presents a cleverly humorous take on Edvard Munch’s “Scream.” Flores gives us a young immigrant screaming in fear of “La Migra (Self Portrait)” the title of his painting. This is the typical cliché when politicians discuss immigration, stating that immigrants are illegal law-breakers who should all be deported.
In his painting “Legal Alien,” artist Diego “Yeyo” Aguirre asks us to look at immigrants such as Justin Beiber, who enter the country legally, but live above the law, creating resentment among those who work to gain the right to live and work legally in the United States. Bieber’s reckless behavior and immigration status has inspired a petition with more than a quarter-of-a-million signatures demanding his deportation.
Michigan artist Mark Metzner, submits a piece titled “Motown– Ghost Town.” Metzner laments the death of a vibrant city destroyed by the collapse of the auto industry. Rather than a center for immigration, Detroit’s population has declined 60 percent since 1950, going from 1.8 million residents to 700,000. A once proud American city, Detroit was abandoned by the dreams of European immigrants and African-American workers.
This is the first time that gallery owners Ray Vasquez and Cora Ramirez-Vasquez have presented an exhibit on the topic of immigration. Opened in 2006, the gallery has built a reputation with exhibits celebrating the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos and Cora’s interest in women’s art.
Their mission is to provide a platform for emerging artists to collaborate and showcase contemporary and cultural artworks. Their reputation has grown in the area of shows, which focus on informing the community about issues that affect us all.
The two gallery owners have several reasons to take interest in this subject. A successful couple, the two are highly engaged in their professional and artistic communities.
Ray Vasquez is dean of students at Narbonne High School in Lomita. The school of 3,200 students is 63 percent Latino, a large number of those are children of immigrants. As dean, Vasquez is responsible for discipline in the school, including working with troubled students experiencing behavioral issues.
Vasquez has a piece in the show titled, “On the Fence.” His painting powerfully portrays an immigrant lingering on the fence mulling the consequences of “crossing over.”
“Those are all our ancestors,” Vasquez said. “Somehow they got here. If you are here today, you have come from a successful migration. That was me on the fence when I was contemplating college. I was not sure how I would make it in without affirmative action.”
Vasquez achieved his goal of acquiring an education, graduating from UC Davis with his bachelor’s degree and acquiring his master’s degree at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“I started out in the classroom teaching art,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez-Ramirez says she was inspired to choose the topic of immigration for this show because she comes from a family of immigrants.
“I have a lot of family and clients who are undocumented,” she said.
A graduate of Loyola Marymount College, she has a private practice as a licensed marriage, family and child counselor, and as an art therapist.
“Occasionally, my undocumented clients have asked me to provide a letter testifying on the psychological effects deportation would have on them,” Vasquez-Ramirez said. “People are trying to find a black or white solution to immigration, but there is none.
“I hear stories all the time of how my clients migrated over. Some had family who were killed, some were raped. Some came when they were only 10 years old. My own daughter is 12, I could never allow her to take that journey. I think, ‘What would make somebody take that leap?’”
Recently, several news sources quoted Jeb Bush saying that illegal immigration is “an act of love, — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.”
This is a surprising statement for a politician, especially a Republican. Perhaps not so surprising when you consider his wife is a Mexican immigrant. In America we all come from immigrant roots, unless you are part of a tribe. The exhibition at Gallery Azul confirms this reality.
The exhibition will be open on First Thursday, May 1, from 6 to 9 p.m. There will also be an artist’s reception June 1, from 11:30 to 4 p.m.
Venue: Gallery Azul
Location: 520 W. 8th St., San Pedro