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From Stateless to Citizen: Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico

By: Latina/o Studies Program, 
August 30, 2018

From Stateless to Citizen: Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico is on view at Latina/o Studies Program on the 4th floor of Rockefeller Hall for the 2018—2019 academic year. A collection of twenty portraits, rendered in black and white, the photographs are of Maya peoples who, for more than thirty years, remain or were stateless in refugee settlement communities in Southern Mexico in Chiapas. Portraits of 26 stateless subjects and their families help show the paradox of familial ties and citizenship as some family members are Mexican-born citizens while others endure an ongoing denial of legal status in their host nation.

The photographic and documentary project first came to the attention of Latina/o Studies professor Ella Maria Diaz while she was teaching her testimonio course in fall 2017. Photographer Manuel Gil was a former student of Diaz’s when she instructed at the San Francisco Art Institute. While teaching her testimonio course, Diaz shared a bit of the project with her students as a visual model of the literary genre. Diaz and her students challenged the genre of testimonio for its limitations as a text-based or print-based literature by introducing visual and performance art as integral to the testimonio’s aesthetic achievement. The combination of Gil’s respectful and compelling portraits with Professor Óscar Gil-García’s anthropological methods of meeting with the indigenous people of La Gloria, the largest refugee settlement in Mexico, recording their testimonies, and working on their behalf to gain formal status is a twenty-first century example of the testimonio tradition and praxis.

"From Stateless to Citizen reflects the history and ongoing reality of indigenous people who were displaced by U.S. and state-backed civil wars throughout Central        
America and who have been living outside of their homelands for decades. This is especially important for people to understand given the recent news that consistently treats the problem as a twenty-first century phenomenon, when, in reality, the displacement of people, and first peoples in particular, has never ended in the western hemisphere." Ella Diaz.


Photographer Manuel Gil and Dr. Óscar Gil-García will be on campus to give a presentation on the From Stateless to Citizen project on Friday, November 9, 2018 at 12 pm, 429 Rockefeller Hall.

This exhibit sponsored by the Latina/o Studies Program with support from Latina/o Studies professor, Ella Diaz, and the College of Arts and Sciences.

"Collectively, the power of my portraits is that they illustrate the profound strength and resilience of stateless subjects’ to support their families and communities, while simultaneously continuing their struggle to gain legal status and be recognized as members of their host nation states." Manuel Gil

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