FOCUS: Critical Conversations with Art
Atravezándo Fronteras (Traversing Borders): An Enduring Quest
The print created by widely renowned Latin American artist Luis Jiménez, is a powerfully sensuous and humane depiction of a cultural struggle that is still being played out at Iowa State University and other US institutions. The work depicts a man carrying a woman on his shoulders as he walks through grasses most likely growing along a waterway. And she is carrying a baby. It is easy to imagine the scene enacted along the Rio Grande border between the US and Mexico. The artist is careful in his depiction of the scene protagonists, however, to give them a Pan-Latin American look and feel. Both are muscular and clearly accustomed to hard work and perseverance. They are also focused on their pursuits, while demonstrating a bond that transcends the day-to-day. Are they partners? Or maybe friends? Or perhaps they just met on the border, and being united by shared hopes and aspirations, are helping one another? All are possibilities. And more important, such possibilities make the depiction relevant to the LatinX experience at Iowa State.
At first blush it can be argued that the Jiménez work has limited campus applicability since many LatinX students, faculty, and staff at Iowa State were not forced to cross the wilderness to arrive on campus. Although many come from parents or grandparents who did make such a trek, their lives have not involved those physical hardships, and many others arrived under different legal and political circumstances. Such surface detail differences seem to matter little, however, when it comes to attaining equal standing and access with students from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Be it because of physical traits, skin color, speech intonation and syncopation, or last name, once a student, staff, or faculty member at ISU is identified as LatinX, they are vulnerable to the same unspoken questions about legitimacy in US society, and their rights as members of the Iowa State community. And as a result, they are forced to pursue their dreams and aspirations while fighting against potentially overwhelming odds, much like our brave border crossers. Iowa State LatinX members may not have to wade across dangerous rivers or traverse desolate landscapes, but they are subject to constraints and challenges that hinder their progress, and rob them of energy and life. And like the brave man and woman portrayed by Jiménez, they must embrace hope and persistence, with full knowledge that even such extraordinary effort may not earn them the same rights and rewards as others enjoy. Moreover, they must rely on one another with deep devotion and compassion on account of those shared hardships and challenges, not only for their own well-being, but also for the sake of other LatinX siblings who accompany them now and will in the future. At Iowa State, traversing borders is not a historical event that affected our ancestors. It remains a reality, suggesting that all LatinX Iowa State members can relate, and likely should admire, the struggle and triumph that Jiménez portrayed.
-Dr. José Antonio Rosa, Professor of Marketing and John and Deborah Ganoe Faculty Fellow at Iowa State University, and Faculty Fellow in the ISU Office of Diversity and Inclusion