Creative activism: when arts meet immigration reform

As the nation continues to grapple with the effects of a broken immigration system, artists across the country are doing their part to highlight the issue. Art can be a powerful medium to address many socio-political issues and artists often react to the circumstances around them. Art has also been a supportive space for people facing violations to tell their stories. And it's also a great medium to raise awareness and make an impact. We were excited to look at a few examples of how artists have been contributing to the immigration reform movement, inspiring action and change.

One such artistic movement came in the form of The Sound Strike, a coalition of artists that are using their music and reach to work towards repealing Arizona's controversial SB1070 law. The artists, which include M.I.A, Maroon 5, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Rage Against The Machine, Kanye West and many more, have pledged to work together to raise awareness and oppose the unjust treatment of immigrants in Arizona. Besides their aim of repealing SB 1070, The Sound Strike also works towards "galvanizing a new generation of ideas that reject the old ways of thinking while affirming that we are all equal." (A similar movement of writers, called WordStrike, calls on writers to boycott the state of Arizona on the same grounds.) The Sound Strike has been assisting with fundraising for immigration reform organizations, raised awareness around the issue through their performances, and conducted press interviews to build opposition and engage fans in dialogue about moving towards a more just and equal society that treats immigrants fairly. Speaking about the movement as a "cultural interruption," Gabriela (of Rodrigo y Gabriela) stated:

"As a band we consist of all immigrants and we know each other’s stories really well…we can’t really be down with any fear-creating laws…we have many songs about brutality of immigration process…these issues are not new, they have always been there."

Check out a piece by Sound Strike titled 'Evil Arpaio', from the Sound Strike Radio:

Another artist using his work to fight the injustice of SB 1070 and the ongoing mistreatment of immigrants is Intikana, a Hip Hop/Spoken Word artist, activist and educator from the Bronx, New York. Intikana's work with the immigration issue was most powerfully manifested in his music video titled "Arizona," which he made in collaboration with fellow rapper Navegante. Made in response to SB 1070, Intikana and Navegante collaborated to make a video that combines a 5-minute short documentary about the life of Benito and Carmela, Mexican farm laborers in Immokalee, Florida and their deplorable working conditions. Working long hours without breaks and in inhumane conditions, the couple pick tomatoes in the fields to support their family. In their work, Intikana and Navegante point out the hypocrisy in the treatment of immigrants today considering the fact that the country was built by immigrants.

Watch the full video - Benito and Carmela's story followed by the song by Intikana and Navegante:

Keeping with a similar theme of farm laborers, Shine Global, a film production company that focuses on ending the abuse and exploitation of children around the world, recently released and critically acclaimed documentary feature title 'The Harvest.' Directed by U. Roberto Romano and backed by executive producer, philanthropist and "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria, the film tells "the story of the children who feed America." These are the children of immigrants. According to the synopsis on the film's website:

Every year more than 400,000 migrant child farmworkers in the US journey from their homes traveling from the scorching sun of the Texas onion fields to the winter snows of the Michigan apple orchards, from the heat of the Florida tomato fields to the damp cherry trees in Oregon. These children are American citizens. All are working to help their families survive while sacrificing the birthright of childhood: play; stability; school.

Watch the trailer for "The Harvest" here and visit the website to learn more about the film and the issues.

Besides spoken word, music and film, other forms of art are equally powerful in immigration activism. Favianna Rodriguez is a well known printmaker and digital artist from Oakland, California. Rodriquez has come to be known for her high-contrast and vivid artwork that depict "literal and imaginative migration, global community, and interdependence." Her work deals with war, immigration, globalization and social movements in an impressive portfolio of stylized posters for events and much more personal artwork. One of her most striking pieces is titled "El Reencuentro" (pictured above) from 2001. Describing the inspiration for the piece, Rodriguez says:

This piece is a very personal piece for me because it narrates the story of my mother's experience as an immigrant. In 1970, only months after she had arrived from Peru, my mother became pregnant by an abusive alcoholic. Because she was homeless, the Department of Social Services took away her child at birth to turn him over to an adoption agency. With the language and cultural barrier, my mother could do very little. 31 years later, my brother came searching for his birth family and writes a letter to my mother requesting to meet her. They are reunited in 2003.

Like with Rodriguez's work, the many tribulations faced by immigrants in the recent past over ever-toughening immigration laws have triggered a slew of artistic movements. Artists have been inspired to use their talents to call for change. Movements such as Alto Arizona provide a forum for artists to showcase their work in relation to fighting unjust immigration laws. Similarly, various artists have also reacted to the campaign to get the DREAM Act passed, combining art and activism to make potent images.

We end with a short rap by Humble the Poet, a Sikh rap and spoken word artist from Toronto, Canada. His music addresses a wide range of social issues, from immigration to religion to sexual abuse. He, just like all the other artists and work we have profiled here, as well as the many others that continue to blend art with activism, lends a strong voice to the movement for comprehensive immigration reform. We need a major overhaul of the system now more than ever, and these artists are able to reach out and raise awareness for this crucial issue confronting our nation today.

Watch the video for the rap titled 'Life of an Immigrant' by Humble the Poet or listen to the full track, with music (and expletives):

History comes alive with Immigrant Heritage Week

From the Restore Fairness blog.

What is your favorite thing about New York City? Food? Culture? The people? Its unique neighborhoods? New York may have a lot to offer but what really makes it stand out is its identity as a melting pot of cultures from around the world.

So here’s your chance to get the best out of the city’s vibrant immigrant cultures. Starting today, New Yorkers of all ages can enjoy hundreds of affordable events organized in museums, parks, restaurants, theaters and universities across the city through Immigrant Heritage Week. Begun by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004, every year the Mayor’s office for Immigrant Affairs partners with organizations across the city to host a week of general revelry across the five boroughs as a tribute to the city’s immigrants. The theme for this year is “Flavors of the World” so get your gastro-groove on and challenge your palette!

To kick off the celebrations, the Opportunity Agenda hosted a great event yesterday evening. The “Timely Conversation with Artists and Advocates” featured an incredible panel of artists and advocates who explored how integral creative expression is to celebrating diversity and highlighting a common humanity amongst people. Acclaimed director Mira Nair kicked off the event followed by Tony award winning playwright David Henry Hwang, DJ and musician Martín Perna, new media artist Favianna Rodriguez and PBS anchor Maria Hinojosa, among others.

While there are countless things on the Heritage Week calendar that are worth recommending (Dance in Sunset Park, African Folktales at NYPL, and the Cultural  Video festival in the Bronx), one of the special ones is The Maysles Institute, which is hosting  “Shall We Dance“, a program of amazing docs. In “Two Dollar Dance,” the filmmaker looks at dance clubs in Jackson Heights, Queens, where Latino immigrants meet “two-dollar ballerinas,” women who partner them for two dollars a song. One of the other featured films, “The Mist,” follows the filmmaker, Maryam Habiban, as she returns to Iran after 30-years to find that a new culture of art and ideas flourishes alongside the more fundamentalist tradition.

Check out the calendar, and get planning!

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

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