Things That Matter

These Milk Cartons Are Bringing Attention To The Number Of Children Detained By The U.S.

During the 1980s and ’90s, photos would be put on milk cartons to raise public awareness about children who’d gone missing. 72U, a creative residency within agency 72andSunny, is now doing the same by installing a larger-than-life milk carton on Venice Beach to represent the more than 14,000 children who are currently detained by the U.S. government. The non-profit chose to highlight this issue because of the alarming number of detained children had risen from 2,400 in 2017 to over 14,000 in 2018.

The two-story polycarbonate Plexiglas milk carton is made up of 14,000 smaller cartons to represent each missing child.

CREDIT: CREDIT: Javier Rojas

The art piece titled “14,000 Missing Childhoods and Counting” is a project that took more than 2 months to build and was a collective work of eight different artists. Traecy Smith, 72U Residency Director, says immigration is one of the most contentious issues of our time and felt that art could be a way to shine a light on how drastic things really are. 72U has highlighted various social issues in the past and the agency felt this was appropriate considering the mass attention immigration received this year.

“Once I saw the number of separated children grew I knew we had to do something,” Smith said. “Society took their eyes off the issue but it was still happening and we knew if art could do anything is magnify the reality of the situation.”

The art piece was created from artists around the world including Mexico, Ecuador, and India.

2U residents Ginger Quintanilla, Taylor Alley, Tyler Hicks, Daniel Kim, Federico Zoppei, Jacqueline Miller, Raja Man, Wale Agboola, and Cristina Marquez came together to create the art piece. They hail from across the globe in places like Mexico, Ecuador, India, Africa, Italy, and Los Angeles. Many of the artists have seen similar social issues back home but were emboldened to create something after the Trump administration began separating families earlier this year. 

Smith says having a global collective of artists helped bring in various ideas and perspectives when creating the work. She says the issue of separated families isn’t just exclusive to America.

“By giving the art installation a global perspective, we acknowledge that the work and message isn’t just something that’s affecting people here in the U.S. but around the world,” Smith said.

Artists also consulted with many immigration organizations like the ACLU and Immigrant Defenders who gave input on the art piece. Smith says the art piece is part of a pending documentary on art and immigration as a whole.

Every milk cartoon inside the art structure has etchings on each box that represent aspects of children taken from detained immigrant youth.

CREDIT: CREDIT: Javier Rojas

Words like “Dad, “Freedom,” “Home” and “Future” are etched into the milk cartons to represent the wants of the children. Smith says she wants people to think of the reality for many of the children being detained and what they might be going through.

“We chose the milk carton for a specific reason,” Smith explained. “This is an item on every table and every family is aware of the milk carton and what it symbolizes, so that’s why we made this choice.”

The reaction to the art installation has been positive and has already gotten attention from the city of LA to possibly move the piece somewhere else in town for a longer stay. Smith says nothing is finalized but she sees the art piece finding a permanent home where more people can see the message.

The art installation has even gotten attention from people outside the U.S.

CREDIT: CREDIT: Javier Rojas

People from outside the U.S. have come to see the art piece because of its importance. It serves as a reminder of the lives for many in the immigrant community. Emilio Rosales came from Guatemala after he heard about the art piece on social media. He says the Trump administration’s policies are a humanitarian issue and feels that art like this highlights what’s really going on.

“What’s going on in America is sad and I see it all over the news and it makes you wanna do something about it,” Rosales said. “I look at this art and it makes me sad to know these children will never get to relive their childhood again. That’s the reality here.”

The art piece encourages people to engage via a QR code that links to a website created for the project. Visitors to 14000andcounting.org can sign an electronic petition and share campaign artwork on social media. The artwork is currently installed in Windward Plaza at the Venice Beach boardwalk.


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Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Things That Matter

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Tomkiefer.photographe / Instagram

Photographer Tom Kiefer worked as a custodian at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Southern Arizona from 2003 to 2014. When migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Southern border officials would throw away their belongings, medications, and nonessentials during processing. Kiefer collected all of those belongs, arranged them systematically, and photographed them.

The photos will be displayed in the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. 

The result is eye-catching and colorful art that, upon closer inspection, reveals the rich inner lives of migrants. Kiefer’s photographs of the CDs they were listening to, the medications they were on, and even diary entries provide insight into the almost ordinariness of migrants. These were just people carrying things that meant something to them the way anyone else going somewhere would. Then the U.S. government deemed those personal and sentimental items trash. 

What Kiefer provides is a rarely seen snapshot of what migrants cared about when they came to the United States looking for a better shot. 

Kiefer was documenting American history through his lens and labor. 

“It was my way of documenting a piece of our nation’s history,” Kiefer told the Washington Post

In one of his haunting photos, there are 32 CDs lined up. Some CDs are from artists like Trapt but others are mixed CDs with intimate labels like “Brown Pride” or “Super Sappy Songs for Issa 2.” The image reminds the viewer that these migrants were real people — and we don’t know who any of them are and because of the United States’ ever-changing immigration policies, we don’t know if they’re even OK. 

Kiefer began to find the belongings when he asked if he could donate the canned goods that Border Patrol authorities seized to food pantries. He went through the trash bins to look for the nonperishables, but what he found instead was a wealth of humanity. 

“The Bibles, the rosaries, the family photographs. I was shocked,” he said. “And I didn’t know what to do, because it was obviously being condoned.”

Kiefer knew he would get into trouble if he took other items so everything he gathered was by intuition. Altogether in his years working there he collected 100,000 items. 

“I had to do it all very quick, discreet,” he said. “It was just rapid-fire, split-second decisions about what I could keep and what had to go in the trash, stay in the trash.”

Throwing away migrants’ possessions is particularly cruel, Kiefer feels.

 “[It] underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people. It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family,” he told the Los Angeles TimesWhen Kiefer first began going through the trash looking for cans, he found mostly toothbrushes. However, when things appeared to be more personal like religious items and diaries, he felt compelled to save them because, he says, “no one would believe me if I had not collected these items.” He purposefully used colorful backgrounds to humanize the items. He didn’t want a cold, white background that would make things look sterile, more like products than personal items. 
“[The photos are] like a knife to the gut, and that’s precisely something that I think gives this work its power — that it draws you in with its beauty and then it has this really profoundly sad backstory,” Laura Mart, Skirball curator, told the Los Angeles Times.

He hopes the legacy of his exhibition is empathy above all else. 

“Dora the Explorer. A personal belonging carried by a migrant or someone seeking asylum. When apprehended by USCBP while crossing the desert most personal belongings considered non-essential or potentially lethal are confiscated and discarded,” Kiefer wrote in a caption of a children’s Dora the Explorer purse. 

Things like children’s toys, backpacks, and clothing items are enough to infuriate and sadden just about anybody.

“Whether it’s an individual object, shoelaces, I present them in a way that I hope the viewer can not just identify, but just kind of be empathetic, or put themselves in the person or persons’ shoes: ‘Wow, a person carried that.’ ‘That’s the same cologne I use, the same toothbrush or toothpaste,” Kiefer said. 

While he was a custodian during the Obama administration, Kiefer says he didn’t witness the abuses of powers reported under the current president. Kiefer personally condemns the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and hopes his exhibition will change some peoples’ stances. 

“Is this the nation we want to be?” He said. “The way things are now is not sustainable.”

Los Angeles Made History After Nury Martinez Became The First Latina City Council President

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Los Angeles Made History After Nury Martinez Became The First Latina City Council President

cd6nury / Instagram

There was some history made this past Tuesday as Nury Martinez was unanimously elected as the first Latina president in the 110-year history of the Los Angeles City Council. With a unanimous 14-0 vote, albeit Councilman Gil Cedillo was absent, the council chose to put Martinez at the head of one of the most important positions in the city. 

With the historic vote, the San Fernando Valley Councilwoman will be succeeding outgoing Council President Herb Wesson, the first African-American to head the council. Martinez will become just the second woman ever elected to serve as LA city council president. Before Martinez, Councilwoman Pat Russell was the first and only woman elected back in 1983. 

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who worked as a dishwasher and a factory worker, Martinez took time to credit and thank them during a speech on Tuesday.

Her humble beginnings growing up in Pacoima, a predominantly Latino working-class community in the San Fernando Valley, taught her the importance of hard work. Martinez saw her mom and dad work tirelessly for her family so she could have a chance at success one day. That day came on Tuesday. 

“As the daughter of immigrants, as a daughter of a dishwasher and factory worker, it is incredibly, incredibly personal for me to ensure that children and families in this city become a priority for all of us, to ensure our children have a safe way to walk home every day … to ensure that our families feel safe,” Martinez said on Tuesday. “And first and foremost, to ensure that children living in motels, children that are facing homelessness, finally become a priority of our city, to ensure that we … find them permanent housing for them to grow up.”

Martinez is the product of public schools and became the first in her family to graduate from college. She began her career serving her own community as part of the City of San Fernando Council from 2003-2009 then followed that as a member of the L.A. Unified School Board from 2009-2013. 

It was her upset victory in 2013 beating out well-known Democrat Cindy Montañez, a former state assemblywoman, for a seat on the city council that put her on the LA political map. Despite trailing 19 points after the primary city election, Martinez would win in the general election by 969 votes. 

“To think, six years ago, I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I worked so hard and I was able to turn it around,” Martinez told the LA Times. “It’s not only an honor, but I really and truly feel blessed. And I just want to make everyone proud.”

Martinez has previously taken on issues like ending homelessness, installing rent control laws and supporting low-income families. She hopes to continue fighting for this and similar issues as president of the city council. 

As part of the city council, Martinez worked on behalf of the many families in the San Fernando Valley taking on issues like housing projects, rent control, and paid family leave. These issues will continue to be part of her agenda as president of the city council as well as advocating for children and families. 

“It’s monumental. She looks like the face of L.A. and she’s been elected to the highest position possible,” Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus with California State University, Los Angeles, told LAist.  “Usually people consider city council president to be a stepping stone to elsewhere — and we’ll see what the future holds.”

The significant moment wasn’t lost on many who congratulated Martinez for this historic stepping stone for Latinas everywhere. 

Another trailblazer, Gloria Molina, who was first Latina ever elected to the City Council, told the LA Times that Martinez has an incredible opportunity in front of her to bring real change and representation to the position. 

“She has a real opportunity to bring so much change,” Molina said. “She has an opportunity to create a balance. Martinez’s election is “a very significant accomplishment, not just as a Latina but as a woman. It’s still a men’s game there.”

As the council vote was officially confirmed and the motion to elect Martinez passed, there was a loud eruption of applause from those in the council chamber. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on Martinez who said that she will use the opportunity to highlight the best that Latinos can offer. 

“I think it’s important to continue to show the rest of the country what this community is made of,” she said. “The Latinos are ready to lead and we’re very grateful to be part of this wonderful country called America.”

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