Metropolitan State College of Denver art student, Jesus “Jesse” Díaz, has found a unique way to comment on the treatment, social injustice and inequalities of the immigrant population in the U.S. through the use of his thesis. The art work was displayed in a MSCD art show held in late 2011.
Díaz recalls a couple of years ago he was downtown for one of the fair’s at Civic Center Park, and he noticed a paletero standing around with his cart, and another man – English speaking – was trying to tell the paletero that he needed to move, but was being very rude to the paletero. Díaz noticed that while all this was happening, several people were walking past, and no one even noticed what was going on, so he stepped in to communicate with the paletero.
“After I talked to him, he understood and went on his way, and he kind of got lost in the crowd. After that I started to notice more and more that this happened frequently – the way the immigrant community is expected to disappear or go on unnoticed,” explained Díaz on what inspired the creation of the works and in particular the piece entitled, “Paletero”.
Díaz created the piece, “Lupita”, which is honorably named after his mom, who worked in a resort cleaning rooms for over 20 years. The piece utilizes a city landscape, featuring the figure of a woman vacuuming. The piece exposes another reality of immigrant life in the shadows.
“I was interested in telling the story of why they do the jobs that they do – the jobs that the rest of América won’t do. After researching, talking with my own family and other immigrant families – of all ethnic backgrounds – and one common theme is that they are all searching for the ‘American Dream’ or the betterment of their family,” explained the artist.
“I noticed this with my dad – when we would go to México to visit family, he was able to spend time with us and he was relaxed, but when we would come back to the states, he was always working and continuously stressed and under a lot of pressure,” noted Díaz. “When I asked him about this, he said, ‘yes, all I do is work when we’re here’.”
These mixed media art pieces all display the indistinct profile or shadow of the migrant worker using newspaper clippings from news headlines and stories about immigration; immigration politics; poverty; violence in México. Underneath the newsprint figures, Díaz used wood as a medium, which represents the enduring strength of the migrant worker and the complexities of their lives.
“How can I honor these people who are not recognized in society?” he asked. “My point is not necessarily to have people agree with me, but to give them perspectives for understanding.”
The art piece entitled, “Levicitus 19:34” refers to scripture which states that you should treat foreigners as if they are native-born, and love them as you would love yourself because you were once a foreigner as well. The work shows the figures of migrant day laborers waiting on the corner looking for work. The figures are purposefully placed in front of an upscale organic farmers market in an upscale neighborhood, calling attention to the irony of the cheap labor used in the fields in comparison to over priced and over glorified organic food markets.
“There are many people out there who are saying that we [immigrants] are always taking all the jobs, and so on. At some point those people saying these things need to understand that they or their family had been through the same struggle, coming to the U.S. as an immigrant – to seek a better life. I think it’s important to get that message across so we all have more understanding and compassion to each other’s struggles.”
Díaz will be graduating in May 2012 with a degree in Art Education. He is aspiring to be an art therapist, to utilize art as a therapy component and wants to work specifically with migrant children. Díaz is a student of Carlos Frésquez, MSCD professor and internationally recognized artist.