Selene was a dreamer.
The daughter of undocumented immigrants who brought her to Texas at the age of 4, she breezed through the school system to become her high school valedictorian.
She was bright enough to earn a full college scholarship. Then she took a bus ride to visit a Tennessee friend. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents pulled her from the vehicle and the world she once knew shattered.
Selena’s story is part of “At Home in the World,” the first exhibition of 516 ARTS’ 10th anniversary year. Opening on Saturday, Feb. 6, the show examines the nebulous borders of home, place and belonging, exploring issues of nationality, citizenship and migration through the work of 13 artists.
Photographer Miguel Gandert documented a group of mariachi musicians who created a home in East Los Angeles.
The University of New Mexico director of interdisciplinary film and digital media spent the mid-2000s traveling to and from California to create the book “Hotel Mariachi,” (University of New Mexico Press, 2013).
The 80-year-old mariachi culture centered on the 1889 hotel in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Gandert sought to capture the contrast between the joy of the regal bands performing versus the harsh reality of their struggles for work from the crumbling building.
Gandert discovered the hotel through a former student who was the great-granddaughter of the man who had built it. The photographer was shocked its story had never been told.
“It’s not just about mariachi; it’s about L.A.,” he said.
“When I first went there, there were 100 mariachis living in that hotel; maybe 400 in the surrounding area,” Gandert said. “Almost none of them are citizens. If you want to rent a mariachi, you call the hotel. I was there once on Cinco de Mayo and almost all of them had work except for nine who didn’t have enough trumpets. So it became about community.”
Many of the musicians double on construction crews or in hotel kitchens to make ends meet. The mariachis wait for customers and stare at their cellphones in the donut shop across the street, their tight black suits dotted with silver buttons.
California-based Juna Rosales Muller created a flag quilt stitched from clothes left behind by migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.
“Mending Patriotism” mimics the old-fashioned sewing bee. Participants gather to contribute to an original quilt sewn with cast-off migrants’ clothing. They will darn the holes, providing symbolic mending to the quilt’s warmth and cohesion. A digital storytelling booth allows guests to share their reflections. The workshop will take place from 1-4 p.m. on Tuesday, February 2.
“Selene’s Dream” tells a far more tragic tale of home, homelessness and borderlines.
The photograph shows the ghostly imprint of the young girl’s body splayed against a blue background like a broken bird. Albuquerque photographer Delilah Montoya and the artist/activist collective Sin Huellas (without fingernails) created the piece using cyanotypes, a 19th century printing process, to create an image resembling a blueprint. Selene’s letters to her parents hang on the walls, documenting her story from aspiring undergraduate to detention center and deportee.
“Her parents were frantic,” Montoya said. “She turned herself in at the border. When Obama said he was going to help the ‘dreamers,’ she believed him. She was deported again.”
Curators will surround her image with chain links and razor wire. The piece is part of an installation called “Detention Nation.” As many as 34,000 people are being detained across the U.S., Montoya said.
“It was as though she was a terrorist,” she continued. “She was raised in the U.S. It’s a population without a home, without a country.”
In the end, Selene returned the old-fashioned way. She paid a “coyote” to smuggle her across the border to San Diego. Today she’s waiting tables to pay him off.
“She’s so sweet,” said Montoya. “She says she has a nightmare every day.”