Last month during a trip to North Carolina I went to the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte to see a special exhibit on undocumented Latino youth. The exhibit, “Out of the Shadows: Undocumented and Unafraid,” consists of photographs, text, art, and interactive media that together offer a thoughtful and thought provoking window into the lives of undocumented youth.
The exhibit’s most innovative feature uses a series of “double portraits” to explore undocumented youths’ struggle to negotiate their multiple identities. Each of these portraits, which are meant to “re-enact the youth’s ‘coming out’ as undocumented immigrants,” is divided vertically in two parts: “The individuals looking in the mirror (on the left) are visible in their invisibility, the way the rest of the world seems them (the Prussian blue negative suggests infrared imagery of immigrants at border crossings). The unmodified image in the mirror (on the right) represents the way the Latino youth would like to be seen — just like anybody else, without the filter of stereotypes or being dismissed because of their ethnicity.” Some youth used the photographs to render their own artistic self portraits. A video camera, mirror, and projector allow visitors to create their own “double portraits” as well. The result is powerful.
A quote from Ralph Ellison adorns one of the exhibit’s walls: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me …” But, as this exhibit reflects, youth who have come out and made their status known are forcing everyone to see them as they are: undocumented and unafraid, and, in almost every way, American.