Photo booth activism for immigration reform

September 28, 2013

A photo booth on wheels started conversations about immigration reform last Wednesday at Phoenix Job Corps in downtown Phoenix.

photo booth truck

INSIDE OUT 11M volunteers work outside the mobile photo booth.

The photo booth is owned and operated by INSIDE OUT, a project out of New York City that aims to help communities around the world raise awareness for social projects through art, according to Alejandro Morales, an organizer for INSIDE OUT’s first, mobile national project, INSIDE OUT 11M. “11M” represents the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants that are living in the United States.

“To the general public, immigration reform is just a news headline – they don’t realize how real, how personal, how important it is for this country and for everybody,” said Morales.

Immigration reform is a personal issue for Morales who is a DREAMer, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. as a child. He was able to register for Deferred Action a year ago, so he can legally reside in the country for two years, Morales said.

Before he realized the limits of his legal status, Morales wanted to serve the country by joining the Marines, he said. But when he realized in high school that he couldn’t get a driver’s license because of his status, he knew that he could not serve in the Armed Forces. Advocating for immigration reform through INSIDE OUT 11M and other projects is how he now chooses to serve.

“I’d like to think of this as another way of serving – spreading the word for immigration reform, sharing my story,” Morales said. “We all want to serve this country in our own way, whether it’s teachers, engineers, doctors; we all just want to give back and be part of society.”

INSIDE OUT 11M traveled around the country during the summer. The project traveled by a large truck that doubled as a photo booth, stopping in communities outside local buildings and organizations that partnered with them to allow their organizers and volunteers to print and paste portraits at their locations. Tuesday, the truck was in Tempe, then moved to downtown Phoenix Wednesday, and ended its tour in the Valley on Thursday in Scottsdale.

Organizers and volunteers approached or were approached by passersby to talk about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. If they wanted, people could go into the photo booth to have their picture taken and printed on a large sheet of paper in black and white.

“We take their portraits to humanize immigration reform, make it much more personal,” said Morales.

Faces of all ages were pasted in a grid on the concrete floor of the Phoenix Job Corps courtyard, people walked over them and around, allowing the art to become part of the scenery.

portraits on courtyard ground

People walk around the courtyard at Phoenix Job Corps, looking at the giant black and white portraits on the ground.

One student at Phoenix Job Corps, Isaac Martinez, pointed to a picture of himself with his tongue out which was pasted next to a man in a hard hat and safety goggles. He was drawn to the photo truck when walking around and decided to ask what the truck was all about, he said.

“I don’t really like to get into politics myself,” said Martinez.

But he decided to get his picture taken anyway. Martinez looks at everything through a logical point of view, he said, but he does lean to one side of the issue: a path to legalization for the undocumented immigrants in this country.

When Martinez was young, he was present for a court case where his father, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, received the ruling that he would be deported.

Martinez has not heard from his dad in a year.

When his father was deported back to Mexico, Martinez couldn’t finish high school because he had to work, he said. Now he studies computer repair and engineering at Phoenix Job Corps, a no-cost vocational training center for low income students ages 16-24 according to the school’s website.

“It made me a better person,” he said.

He learned from his experience that things change quickly and drastically, said Martinez.

Martinez is not alone. The Census Bureau estimated that in 2010, 9 million people in the U.S. were part of mixed-status families – families with both undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens – according to the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project.

From January to June 2011, about 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported, according to USA Today when citing a report issued to Congress by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

INSIDE OUT 11M aimed to start a conversation this summer, according to Rhea Keller, an employee with the main INSIDE OUT office.

“INSIDE OUT doesn’t have a stance either way,” she said. “We’re just a platform for people to communicate a message.”

Keller said that people start talking about their own stories when they see their portraits.

“I think it’s really great when people come and get their picture taken,” said Keller. “When you see yourself that big, it’s a different experience.”

prints drying on courtyard sidewalk

Prints lay drying on the sidewalk before being pasted on the courtyard floor.

INSIDE OUT runs outside of the travelling truck and the INSIDE OUT 11M movement, she said. Since the project was started by French artist J.R. in 2011, it has sent over 150,000 posters to almost every country.

“Anyone can sign up and communicate a message of their choice,” said Keller. “And it’s not just about the truck coming to you, it’s also about you creating your own action—power is all about you.”

INSIDE OUT 11M tries to partner with local organizations in the cities that they visit, according to Keller. In Phoenix, the project organizers worked with Promise Arizona, an immigrant rights organization led by Petra Falcon.

If people don’t have immediate problems related to immigration reform, they’re going to be disconnected, according to Falcon.

“But this is an eye grabber – you’re going to engage this and then decide, ‘Okay, this is something I can do,’” said Falcon. “‘I can stand up and take a picture for immigration reform.’”


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