I’ve spent the last month or so in collaboration with Asian-American filmmaker Tani Ikeda, Immediate Justice, and the Center for Biological Diversity leading a weekly stencil and mural workshop to fifteen migrant high school girls at the Miguel Contrera Learning Complex in Downtown Los Angeles. On the first day of class these girls all shared their migration stories, where either their parents, grand parents or even themselves migrated across the US/Mexico border before finding residence in Los Angeles. Many species of birds, such as the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo have been migrating on this journey for thousands of years. Why are birds, animals, and wind allowed to migrate across borders, while the migration of humans is heavily policed? This mural explores the immense solidarity between the migration of humans, especially women and the migration of all the creatures and seeds that roam this Earth.
It’s been a dream for these girls for years to create a mural collaboratively. On the first day of class, I showed them a presentation featuring the small number of fierce women of color muralists I’ve come to know along the last year of creating and witnessing public art. From then on, the girls were inspired to take portraits of each other which I blew up large scale on a printer. We spent the first few sessions cutting stencils to prepare for a permanent 65 foot long migration and ecological mural within the school’s basketball court. Witnessing the girls help one another hold up each other’s portraits while they used spray paint for the first time was nothing but joy. Many other students and teachers in the school crowded around us and felt so much joy. In the times I begin to doubt why I set out on this journey of bringing the struggles and triumphs of migrants & the Earth to the monumental wall and to the big screen, these girls lift me back up into remembering that this work is transformative & its effects transcends far beyond the reaches of this 65 foot wall and our lives.
Linda, one of the girls whose portraits is featured noted, “as a woman of color, I never thought I’d be important enough to be remembered on a mural in my high school. Watching this community mural come together has been truly a life-changing experience.”
A big shout out to the students, Nina Lee, Nelson Tsui, and Natascha Heckers in Ming-Yuen Ma’s Asian Americans in Communities class at Pitzer College for coming out from Claremont and helping with the mural and interacting with the girls. Thank you Justseeds artist Roger Peet for supporting this through the Endangered Species Mural Project. You’ve all made this a life-changing experience for them.
Watch a quick timelapse video of the mural here!
Stay tuned for part 2, featuring the endangered Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, bridging solidarity with it’s migration from Latin America to Southwest America and back and the migration histories of these young latina women. Stay tuned also for a short documentary about the mural created by the Pitzer Students and Tani Ikeda where the girls will talk about the process of painting and share their migration histories.
Photos by Tani Ikeda. Follow the progress of the mural at @jessxchen on instagram!