|Thoughts on September 11||Home
|American Refugees in Mexico|
It has always been the province of art to show us not only what is and what cannot be but, sometimes most disturbingly, what could be.
If I were an artist, this is the painting I would be working on right now, with great care and love and a grieving heart: I would be making a painting entitled American Refugees in Mexico.
The painting would depict a refugee camp in Mexico, just south of the California border. Amidst all the squalor, confusion, and misery to be found in any refugee encampment anywhere in the world, you would see brown-skinned Americans of widely varied ethnicity who had fled to hide among the brown-skinned Mexicans, fearing the violence directed not only at our country from without but at themselves from within.
From their coloring and features you would know that you were looking at ethnic Indians, Pakistanis, Sikhs, Arabs, Afghans, Egyptians, Israelis, Ethiopians, and many, many more of Middle Easterm, African, South Asian, and other origins, and people of mixed descent of all kinds from Polynesians to those of mingled Caucasoid and Negroid ancestry. From their clothing and possessions, you would know you were looking at Americans—Americans with their backpacks and tennis shoes, their T-shirts and jeans, their baseball caps and radios, their Gameboys and even a few laptops. Americans from Los Angeles and San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Americans who shopped at Wal-Mart and Penney’s and Sears, at Macy’s and Nordstrom and L.L. Bean, at Safeway and Walgreen’s. Who carried along reading matter written in English—their only common language—and whose culture is our own. Us, in other words—any of us whose non-European origins could make them appear to someone with one eye closed and the other half blind with rage or fear—to someone, and one is all it takes—to bear some physical similarity to the presumed authors of our recent national tragedy.
The painting would show Mexican border guards struggling to maintain order among the illegal immigrants, and Mexican relief workers distributing rice and beans and tortillas to people who might formerly have employed their children at menial labor somewhere north of the border.
I cannot make this picture, but I can imagine it, and vividly. I can imagine it done in oils on a canvas as big as Picasso’s Guernica, which measures in excess of 11 x 25 feet.
More frightening still, I can imagine it as a photograph.