This week, the media brought us somber images of a group of immigrant youth at the Nogales border “visiting” their parents at the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico. They hugged and sobbed, but their embraces were ruptured by ugly wooden slats that stood between them — the wall that has separated families, symbolically and now, physically. The encounter, organized by United We Dream, aimed to show the devastating impact of immigration barriers on families and communities, and to push for reforms to help reunify families and protect them from deportation. But on a personal level, the tender, and tragic, scene at the border should remind us of how family is defined, how we express bonds of affection, and how the meaning of family endures across the political fissures that constantly threaten to break parents and children apart.
For Fathers’ Day, Strong Families, a social media campaign that links graphic art and political consciousness, is depicting and extending the public’s idea of family. CultureStrike asked two of the participating artists, Amaryllis De Jesus Moleski and Robert “Tres” Trujillo, to share some thoughts on the images they designed to celebrate fatherhood, how they tie their creative craft into the relationships that have created their lives.
To participate in the Strong Families campaign and create your own Papas’ Day Card, go to strongfamiliesmovement.org.
ROBERT “TRES” TRUJILLO
Being a father is being there in your child’s life and being present. Plain and simple. There are times when I could think of a very theoretical or historical perspective, which is no doubt valid. But usually it is the quality time with them, making mistakes, the golden moments, discoveries, challenges, and moments of insight and love that define it. And you know, it’s hella different for everyone. I know, ever since I found out that I was going to be a father I started to ask other fathers for advice. Like, seriously: what the hell am i doing?! What do you think about this or that? It felt funny at first, but I think we as parents, especially men, need to swallow our pride and ask for help from each other. And although I am a young father who by no means has it all business handled, I offer advice too when I come across a cat who needs guidance.
I also feel that being a dad means being disciplined. It means remembering things that they need like their glasses, their favorite new book, or the last time you took their temperature when they have a fever. It is also showing your child who you are. That means sharing what or who makes you happy. Showing them that you work hard, or that you are kind, that you can whistle, make ILL grilled cheese sandwiches, enjoy cooking or reading. You know? Anything that makes you, you is like a mental tool for them to use. It means saying “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize”, admitting when you make mistakes, because you will. It means encouraging your child, letting them know that you are paying attention, that you care, and that above all that you love them. Lastly, it means confronting the pain or frustration you as a boy or a man went through with or without your dad. If things were great, cool. Passing it on. If not, it means acknowledging that and breaking hurtful or unhealthy cycles.
What inspired you to make a Fathers’ Day card for Strong Families?
For as long as I can remember I made my own Mothers’ or Fathers’ day cards for my Mom, my Dad, and my Stepfather. Why? I’m an artist for sure, but the cards I would see at the grocery or book store were wack. Straight up! They didn’t show someone with my skin color. They didn’t acknowledge the fact that my parents were separated or remarried. They did not have any art, wisdom, or knowledge that culturally reflected my life or my heritage either you know? I was blessed to meet women and men at an early age who were openly gay, too. Where were the cards the reflected those friends or family I have?
As an artist and activist, how are you helping to explore the idea of family in the immigration debate?
Both my father and my grandmother were born outside of the country in Korea. My dad actually grew up in a household where the languages they spoke (Spanish, Korean, and Japanese) were not taught to the kids for fear of “otherness”. Of being different. What I have come to see as a huge weapon in the fight to increase understanding, knowledge about the “other”, is the power of the story. In books, TV, radio, and even the Internet, there is a very racist, homophobic, and sick distorted archetype of what an “American” is or should be.
AMARYLLIS DE JESUS MOLESKI
Fatherhood is an honor that exists beyond the experience of gender, blood relations, geographies, and material wealth. In its highest form, I believe the act of healthy fatherhood to be a healing gift in the world. Fathers — however they have arrived at that identity and title — really have the opportunity to transform poison into medicine, and impart an embodiment of healthy masculinity and love for us all.
Why did you contribute your art to this project?
I see this project as a salve for those of us who, not only are not celebrated by mass image production, but are actively denigrated or erased by it. As Strong Families has pointed out, statistically, the majority of families in this country fall outside the nuclear family model.
Images — especially ones that are intended to reflect us — have as much destructive potential as they have creative power. We consume images of ourselves at such a rapid rate, and we internalize messages about our lives that weren’t even created with the intention to honor how we live. I see this campaign and art movements like this as an active source of healing for everyone that finds themselves reduced, misrepresented, or underrepresented by the mainstream. We need more images of ourselves that dignify and elevate our love, our lives, and our families.
My hope is to create images that actively combat a society dependent on xenophobic systems just by saying “I see you. I see your love. And it matters so much. Your life matters so much.”
What do you see as the connection between your art and the struggles of immigrants?
The immigration policies in this country that separate families and demean basic human rights are supported by a constant streaming of images that denigrate someones humanness in order to justify monstrous institutionalized behavior.
When we do not receive the full truth, we become psychologically malnourished. I see the work that I do as a part of the larger creative movement to defend, evolve, and preserve our truths — not only so that we do not starve, but so that our children, and our children’s children can grow up with a whole picture of who they are — allowing them to reach their fullest potential, and in turn, heal this world.