Multimedia: Artists Explore 'Cultural Paths' Created Through Chinese and Mexican Immigration

What can art tell us about the American immigration experience? If a new exhibition on view at Asia Society Texas Center is any gauge, the answer is clear — a lot. Art has a way of illuminating the conversation, adding a human dimension to complex issues such as border relations and labor practices. These topics are explored in-depth in The Other Side: Chinese and Mexican Immigration to America, on display through July 19, and the subject of an Asia Society talk last week. Four of the featured artists shared their responses with Asia Blog to the following question:

What is the role of art in understanding the immigration experience? What is the story you are hoping to tell through your work in this exhibition?

The Other Side: Chinese and Mexican Immigration to America is on display March 28 through July 19 at Asia Society Texas Center. Featuring six contemporary artists, the exhibition explores recurring issues of immigration, border relations, and labor practices that have persisted throughout U.S. history and remain timely today. Learn more

Margarita Cabrera

With these works, we have created art pieces that serve as cultural and historical artifacts that value and document the experiences, struggles, and achievements of those who have found their way, often through migration and exceptional sacrifice, to new places where they now work to contribute meaningfully within their communities. 

Tony de los Reyes

For me, the most interesting comments that art has to say about the immigration experience are often not in particular narratives, but rather in the stylistic fusions that point the viewer to an “in-between” aesthetic. Self-described identities of dominant cultures tend to be full of bias and oversimplification, but the cultural paths that immigrants create as they ebb and flow through new territories are vital, engaging, dramatic and fluid: their identities are more contradictory, and therefore more potent.

This is what I offer in my Border Theory work, allowing the viewer the opportunity to be indeterminate and unfixed, and to therefore be a migrant within the context of the paintings. The paintings are certainly kinds of border maps, but maps that contain little clarity other than the division of space made by seemingly directionless linear elements. The viewer is left to decide how to roam the surface, and whether or not to make sense of the experience.

Zhi Lin

Through the piece "Chinaman’s Chance," I want to re-examine one of the most important monuments in American history (even in our development as humankind) from a different perspective — a vantage point of the Chinese workers who built the Central Pacific Railroad, but were excluded from the Golden Spike celebration marking the connection in Utah of the two major portions of the Transcontinental Railroad. As Faulkner pointed out, "The past is never dead, it’s not even past.” We should recognize that the sentiments of xenophobia towards non-European immigrants, and the Sino-phobia towards Chinese Americans, are still pervasive in our society.

Blane De St. Croix

What a wonderful opportunity to have my work included in The Other Side: Chinese and Mexican Immigration to America at Asia Society Texas Center, in a state directly affected by complicated border issues.

Art can have the profound ability to act as a catalyst for thought, contemplation, and even action. My sculpture Two Ends offers a unique way to dialogue with the public about this complex topic. This sculpture represents two picturesque landscapes: a traveling border, shifting from one location to another, being exhibited in places both familiar and unfamiliar with its issues.

This work gives audiences an option to see from both sides, as a giant, from every angle, having a birds eye view and being able to walk the border without the sometimes dire consequences or travel time involved. The public has the chance to share in a dynamic dialogue about an often contentious subject and can do so quite literally from both sides, bridging any disconnect and perhaps even forming cross-cultural connections.

Bridget Bray assisted with the coordination for this article.

About the Author

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Tim Lau is a Content Producer at Asia Society. He is a New Jersey native and has also lived in Greater Chicago and Washington, DC.