Jan 3, 2016


Yesterday, day 2 of the new year, I had some vague intention of recounting the glories of 2015, and maybe some of what I know so far about 2016. All my ideas and plans were soon washed away, when I answered a persistent knocking at the door. There stood a young migrante asking if I could hire him to pull the weeds and clean up the street in front of my house. Josué, pronounced 'Ho-sway', said he was from Guatemala, working his way to el Norte, and really needed some money. Hearing that he had relatives in Antigua, my home away from home, and Rio Dulce, where my sister lives, I felt an immediate desire to help. 

(You may at this point be thinking "Stop helping migrants cross the border illegally. We have enough here already.")

Well, guess what? If it weren't so illegal, there wouldn't be a problem with that. As a U.S. citizen who can easily and legally cross the border, I harbor all sorts of guilt about the inequity in this. 

So I told Josué that if he wanted, I would pay him to clean the entire street, weeds and trash and everything else. Two hours later, he returned for trash bags and a broom, and brought all four filled bags to store in my garbage bin.  I asked him if I could take a photo of him, and when he walked into my studio, the conversation opened up.

First, he saw the huipil titled "Las Trazas" (see August blog  http://lenabartulalahuipilista.blogspot.mx/2015/08/collaboration-immigration-and-traces-of.htmland began trying to read it. 

Josué Carlos Mascadreño

Seeing him struggle a bit, I asked if he wanted to read it aloud, and with my help on a few words, he finished it. Why did he need help, you ask. He told me he has never been to school. Not one day. Let that sink in for a moment. I know. It took me some time too. How many adults do you know that have never been to school? Now at 23 years old, having taught himself to read and write, what Josué wants most is an education and a job.

Curious whether the poem he had read made sense, I asked him if it rang true for the migrant situation he knows so intimately. At first he answered simply "yes" then began to tell me some of his experiences and those of other migrants he knows. 

"it's a place deported from everyday life, where witnesses remain ephemeral.
Barbed border a constant reality, a disturbing presence"

As he looked at my computer, I asked if he had ever used one; he said no, but he knows what they are. I let him use my phone to call the bus station, to get the price of a ticket to the border. He has never had a phone in his entire life, but he knows how to use one. He laughingly said that he might want one someday, but that the way he sees people so addicted to them, he's not so sure.

Sometimes we think we have to be in a primitive jungle or undiscovered forest, to meet someone who has never been to school or had a phone. We don't. Sometimes we just have to open the door. From that chance encounter, this blog has been brewing.
How many of us have had conversations about immigration policy with a real immigrant? 
Talked about poverty with a truly poor person? 
Listened to first-hand experiences of traveling without food for days on end, trying to survive rapists, killers and Border Patrol? 

Let me just say, it isn't anything like reading a post on Facebook. 


Marian Wyklige said...

A chance encounter? After you have already explored the plight of the forgotten and the disappeared in your art? After you have aided indigenous women in their quest for economic stability and physical safety? After you have shared your space with the broken stranger as well as beloved family and friends?
Josue knocked on your door, not knowing your heart and home were already open, your place of refuge was safe and secure. But it wasn't by chance. Everything in your life and in his led to that brief encounter in that moment. Bless you for being there.

Lena Bartula - Contemporary Huipils said...

Thanks Marian, I appreciate that. Josue isn't my first encounter with migrants here, it seems to happen a lot since I began working on Las Trazas. He's just the first that's come to my door. I wish I had my camera for every encounter I've had with these refugees. Bless you for being there right alongside me, even though far away geographically. (but not for long :-)

Marian Wyklige said...

The universe blesses you, Lenita, as do I. xxM. Hasta pronto!

Nick Hamblen said...

This is beautiful. You have turned my day and week and month around Thanks for the insights 7 so beautifully written...xO

Lena Bartula - Contemporary Huipils said...

oh Nick, I'm so happy that it makes a difference, that it makes your day, etc. You will be so missed at my exhibition, but I have a feeling I will feel your presence.
big love,

The Mistress of Marshmallows said...

Ah, Lena, sharing your "chance" encounter enriches all of our lives, helps keep us humble and real. I deeply appreciate you.

Sher Davidson said...

Gracias, "hermana en solidaridad con los immigrantes." You did it! I got the blogpost and was so moved by it. You may know this is one of my "cries" out to the world: let's change our immigration system, let's remember our principles and values as a nation, let's show compassion to these people, who I no longer call "immigrants" but "refugees"---the current stream of women and children from the "Northern Triangle' of Central America which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are not chasing the American dream, they are fleeing for their lives from the violence and poverty of their countries (which the US helped promote with the War on Drugs).

After my talk on Dec. 6th at the UU in SMA I had an outpouring of interest and we are meeting now every other Sunday to discuss what we can do, locally, and in the US, long term and short term to help these people. Won't you join us. You already have done so much just telling this story, Lena!! Let's talk.

Lena Bartula - Contemporary Huipils said...

Thank you mistress of marshmallows, and Sher davidson,for your encouraging words. Yes, Sher, I might be very interested in joining you. Let me get finished with this exhibition prep and we'll talk. thanks for all you do for these refugees.

Fatima Bacot said...

I loved reading this, Lena. As always, your insights are clear, to-the-point, thought-provoking, incisive...and compassionate all at the same time. I appreciate your passion, your perspectives and experiences...and how these become foundations for your art, and for furthering your visionary messages . Blessings as always ~ Fatima

Lena Bartula - Contemporary Huipils said...

That's lovely to hear, Fatima, encouraging words are the air in our balloons! They lift us up! gracias.