“Migration is beautiful, and it is inevitable.”
That’s what artist and activist, Favianna Rodriguez, wants people to walk away with after watching her new three-part short documentary series released this week, called “Migration is Beautiful.” It is part of the “Voice of Art” project rapper Pharrell Williams aired on his “I Am Other” YouTube Channel. The series also features actor and activist, Rosario Dawson, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and undocumented activist, Jose Antonio Vargas.
“Since I was an adolescent, I began to see the rise of anti-immigrant laws around the country,” says the 34-year-old Rodriguez. “As an artist, I’ve always been really curious about how art can help change society.”
For the past decade, Rodriguez has been lecturing around the country about the power of art, cultural organizing, and technology to inspire social change. When the filmmakers approached her, she was busy teaching printmaking at Stanford University in California.
“I thought it was a great idea,” she says about making “Migration is Beautiful.” “As [Latinos’] political power is growing, I wanted to show that art is the way for us to tell our story. Behind every migrant is a story of family love. I thought if there were ways we can highlight that instead of the negative stories you hear over and over, there might be a way to change people’s lives about how they see migrants.”
She says the timing was just right.
“Just this election, Latinos turned a huge tide for the progressive vote,” says Rodriguez. “Immigration is not a back burner issue anymore. The way we treat immigrants is going to define how we grow as a country.”
As an artist, she says she often thinks: What can she do?
“I think cultural change has to happen before political change can happen,” says the activist, who believes we are instrumental in cultural change. “I was excited that this story of how artists can shape society was finally going to be told.”
However, she also says she’s seen more and more oppressive laws being passed that criminalize and imprison people with low-level offenses, like street art or holding a banner or a puppet.
“There are laws that are unjust,” says Rodriguez. “It’s important to use all the tools we have to call those laws out…They designate these things called protest areas, and the ability to make a statement is so limited. Undocumented people are doing the same thing — they are using their bodies to make a public statement against unjust laws.”
Also, she says laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 increase the likelihood of arbitrary arrest and detention, and use jailing as a profitable business.
“This is about human lives, and about the well-being of children and family unity,” says the unstoppable activist. “We can’t give into big business or profiteering when we have 12 million undocumented people in this country.”
After reading the news every morning, and getting a sense of what is happening in the country, Rodriguez says she often hears “things that really piss [her] off.” But that only inspires her to create more art.
“It’s a crucial year for us,” says Rodriguez who also directs an arts organization called CultureStrike. “Now that Obama has been reelected we want to see results. 2013 is the year that we are going to push.”