As a federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants spreads across the country, California publishers have responded with literary projects that breach the borders of traditional publishing.
In San Francisco, City Lights Books and Moving Parts Press have teamed up to publish a trade paperback called Doc/Undoc Documentado/Undocumented Ars Shamánica Performática. The paperback captures the essence of DOC/UNDOC, an elaborate collaboration between Mexican performance artist (and MacArthur fellow) Guillermo Gómez-Pena and artist Felicia Rice.
At the heart of the mixed-media DOC/UNDOC art project is a book that unfolds like an accordion when opened. Rice crafted the connected pages by mixing traditional printing press and digital print techniques. The pages illustrate Gómez-Pena's scripts and poems about “the political, geographic, social and psychological borders separating the United States and Mexico.” When displayed in a gallery, the unfolded book is accompanied by video and sound art from Gómez-Pena's performance art. In the performance pieces, the artist dresses in different costumes, delivering monologues and performing surreal activities. The art project also features props focused on “immigrant identity in America,” including a Mexican wrestling mask, a mirror, and small religious icons. The book and props are stored in a brushed aluminum case with electronic buttons that play additional "sound art" when pressed by the viewer.
Moving Parts Press produced 15 copies of the complete project, a package containing Rice's book, the props, and the interactive carrying case. These extremely limited editions have toured museums and galleries around the world. The website for the Museo Eduardo Carrillo in Santa Cruz, California has a digital presentation about the exhibit, capturing some of the audio and video that viewers experience at the DOC/UNDOC exhibit.
City Lights' trade paperback edition of DOC/UNDOC will come out in November with reproductions of the original artwork and explanatory essays, but City Lights created its first ever Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a multimedia addition to the trade paperback. The campaign aims to “replicate the interactivity” of the original project with a mini-USB containing video and sound that museum-goers experience. The Kickstarter campaign successfully concluded this week with 203 backers pledging more than $13,800 to the campaign, exceeding the bookseller and publisher's original funding goal.
“The [immigrant] experience informs a lot of these [Gómez-Pena] scripts,” says City Lights publisher and executive director Elaine Katzenberger. The trade paperback celebrates immigrant identity at a moment when undocumented newcomers face “demonization” and “prosecution.” Katzenberger explains: “Stories are about being able to have empathy and understand [other people]. You can’t demonize people that you actually have empathy for.”
The immigration crackdown will also affect the writers and publishing team at the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education. For the last 10 years, the center has published a series of books written by undocumented college students, sharing the stories of these “underground undergrads.” These UCLA students collected, transcribed, edited, published, and publicized the series.
So far, the center has published three books about the experience: Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out (2008), Dreams Deported: Undocumented and Unafraid (2012), and Immigrant Youth and Families Resist Deportation (2015).
In 2017, the series expanded with a multimedia exhibit called Undocumented Stories, a collection of “photographs, oral histories, posters, art, videos, and artifacts” about the undocumented community. The exhibit has toured the country, starting its journey at the National Education Association (NEA) in Washington, D.C., where it will be showing for the coming weeks. On June 28, the exhibit will move to Boston for the NEA’s Conference on Racial and Social Justice.
UCLA Labor Center director Kent Wong founded the book series in 2008, after noticing “a spike in the number of undocumented students” in his courses. (The spike came after the California legislature passed laws allowing undocumented students to pay dramatically reduced in-state tuition for college. By 2015, 18 states had passed similar laws.) Through his courses, students started collecting the stories of undocumented students and their families.
When asked if the Trump Administration’s immigration crackdown would have a chilling effect on the project, Wong remained resolute: “Not at all,” he said. “If anything, there’s more urgency on the importance of letting people know about the policies of mass deportation. How it’s harming not only immigrant communities, but it’s [also] harming society at large.”
City Lights publisher Katzenberger agreed. “The language that Trump and his team uses around immigrant people and the criminalization of all this—everyone needs to understand how frightening and toxic that is,” she says, encouraging empathy for immigrants in this new political climate.