She faced physcial hardships and verbal abuse along her eight day journey from the border.
Sunset descends upon Los Angeles' Chinatown as a crowd gathers inside an art space filled with socially-conscious art. Called “Decentralized,” the works here largely look at issues of displacement and brings together students from ArtCenter College of Design and local nonprofit Art Division.
Meanwhile, not too far from here, Jackie Amezquita is walking.
The ArtCenter student, only a short time away from graduation, is on the final stretch of an eight-day journey that has taken her from the U.S.-Mexico border — separating San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico — to Los Angeles. Most of her trek has been made on foot.
“Huellas que Germinan” is a performance piece that stretches 150 miles and is Amezquita's meditation upon her personal history.
Photo courtesy of Jackie Amezquita.
Born in Guatemala in 1985, she headed to the United States in 2003. Amezquita turned 18 during the course of that journey and lived undocumented in the U.S. for more than a decade.
Two years ago, she received her green card.
"I'm in a position of privilege now," says Amezquita in an interview conducted after the conclusion of her performance. The point of “Huellas que Germinan” was for Amezquita to "displace" herself again, but with the knowledge that she has privilege now that she didn't when she was 18.
It was a walk that Amezquita intended to conduct in silence. That, however, changed.
On the second day of her trip, Amezquita was still in the vicinity of San Diego when a woman called her a "wetback." She responded verbally to the slur and the woman's subsequent rant. "That's when I broke the silence because I need to speak out," she says. "I couldn't keep walking and be silent when someone was treating me like that. It was really intense."
The following day, Amezquita was set to receive a ride from friends across a 10-mile stretch from Oceanside to San Clemente, where road restrictions would prevent her from walking. Unfortunately, Amezquita's friends were involved in a car accident on the way to get her.
The artist cancelled her walk for that day after receiving the news by text message and tried to figure out a way to find her friends. Ultimately, she took an Uber to the hospital where her friends were. "I had the privilege to actually take an Uber," she says, pointing out that in order to get a ride, one needs a smart phone and access to funds via means like a debit card and bank account.
Amezquita's performance was part of a class at ArtCenter called "Socially Engaged Art II." Social-practice artist Olga Koumoundouros, who has been teaching the course for two years, says that it's a way to help artists understand the "responsibility" involved in their work.
Amezquita and social practice artist Olga Koumoundouros. Photo courtesy of Jackie Amezquita.
"I'm really interested in shifting their interests from creativity as an insular activity that's only about their ego or their bright ideas and having them look outward to become good citizens, to think of their place in the world, understand their impact to the different things that they do," she says. Koumoundouros joined Amezquita for seven miles of the walk on the day before the performance concluded.
At various different points in time during the trek, Amezquita had friends travel with her, but she also spent a good deal of time walking alone. She says that reactions changed throughout the course of her trip. In some areas, there were people — presumably unaware of what she was doing — who cheered for her. As she made way into Los Angeles, though, she was stopped by men who tried to talk her into get into their cars. "They were like, don't you need money? Jump in the car with me," she recalls.
Amezquita steps into an oil drum during her performance. Photo courtesy of Jackie Amezquita.
In front of the Chinatown art space, Amezquita removed her overalls and top to reveal the "Traje," or suit, crafted from materials specific to Guatemala as well as her own menstrual blood. She then submerged herself in a trash can that was "abducted," which also resembled the containers to dispose of murdered women in Mexico.
"That's the reason why I put the water in, because I was not one of them. I made it," she says. "It was one of my grandmother's worries, that I was going to end up in one of these trash cans, burned, and they were never going to find what happened."
“Huellas que Germinan” also speaks to the greater subject of migration. "There are many, many reasons why people migrate here. It's not just for a better opportunity," says Amezquita. "Sometimes, you actually need to ask for help, to a different country, because you have to flee yours in order to survive, not just to look for a better life."
The oil drum she stands in represents the barrels that often hide the bodies of murdered women. Photo courtesy of Jackie Amezquita.
For decades, Guatemala had been embroiled in a Civil War that included acts of genocide. (In 2013, former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide against Guatemala's indigenous Ixil population.) Till this day, the country still suffers from poverty and violence, which Pew Research Center cited as two of the reasons for an uptick of immigration from what's known as the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — between 2007 and 2015.
Amezquita's mother came to the United States in 1989, while the artist wasn't able to join her here until about 13 years later. Now, Amezquita says, much of her family has been reunited in the United States.
"This is very personal. This is just a whole recollection of experiences. They're not only mine; they're my family and my friends," she says. "I was afraid for such a long time and I think with the help of a lot of people that know my story, I've been able to be here tonight.”
When her performance ended, Amezquita emerged from the water, her mother was there to wrap her in a towel. She has worked with her mother before in her practice, but this seemingly simple act reflected a larger symbolic void in Amezquita’s life. "I didn't have my mom to do homework with when I was little," she says, "but now I have the chance to work with her and be with her and to connect with her."