by Abaki Beck
Part of this piece was originally posted on July 2, 2016.
Since Donald Trump has been elected, fear of deportation has risen by many people; one of Trump’s major campaign promises (or rather, rhetorical tactics) was to deport all undocumented immigrants and build a wall to stop other immigrants from arriving. Though President Obama’s Administration deported over 2 million people - garnering him the nickname “Deporter in Chief” - Trump’s rhetoric is much more violent, and ICE has already begun detaining undocumented immigrants - from a father attending his child’s birthday party to a DREAMer and young activist. In these uncertain political times, it is crucial to support the artists and activists on the frontline of this work. This week, we’re profiling the super dope Latina artist and activist, Favianna Rodriguez. Her work is beautiful and visually stimulating, in addition to tackling issues such as immigration, globalization, racism, climate change, patriarchy, and sexuality.
Favianna is the daughter of immigrants and identifies as a queer Latina with Afro-Peruvian roots. She became politically aware and active at a young age, both from witnessing racism and sexual violence impacting her home community and from being around Latinx activists. In her twenties, she began to be hired to create artwork for racial justice movements in Oakland, California. This led her to eventually drop out of college to become an entrepreneur. She notes that though her parents encouraged education, the educational system did not fit what she wanted in life, and it became repressive to fit that mold.
Her prints are colorful, graphic, and political. Her work is so arresting because it goes beyond simple political awareness to political involvement and community building. In a 2013 interview with Bitch Magazine she noted:
“My earlier work helped me emerge as a "political artist," but to be honest I never liked that title. My work has always been based on my environment, my community, my experiences—it's always just been about the life I'm living and all the forces that affect me and my community, and those who look like me. Part of being an artist is understanding what unites all of us. I've become known as a Latina artist whose work focuses on migration, but it's a human issue that impacts all of us.”
Favianna is not only inspiring and badass as an artist and activist, but as a business woman. She knows her worth. She recognizes that as a woman of color, it is sometimes necessary to be your own boss and not wait to be discovered. In addition to her personal work, Favianna is the co-founder of two incredible organizations: Presente, which is dedicated to empowering and amplifying the voices of Latinx people, and CultureStrike, a network of artists and social agitators who host social justice events and campaigns. She is also well known for her project Migration is Beautiful, which uses the image of a butterfly and wings to reimagine borders and immigration.
Migration is Beautiful was created by Favianna at a workshop with artists and activists in 2012. Today, the image of the butterfly is used to represent the power of migration at demonstrations and events across the nation. The CultueStrike website notes that the image of the butterfly is powerful in that it is “an approachable way to reimagine borders as permeable rather than militarized, reinvigorating a metaphor that many migrants have looked to for generations.”
Beyond the image of the butterfly itself - reproduced on t-shirts, posters, and as butterfly wings - CultureStrike also produces action kits and wing design templates so that people can use them in their own communities and marches. Favianna’s butterfly, and the slogans “Migration is Beautiful” or “Migration is Natural” that often go along with it, have become one of the most recognizable symbols of immigration rights in actions across the U.S. As Favianna has noted:
"Just like butterflies migrate in order to survive, people migrate in order to survive. It is not just about economics, it is also about people wanting to be unified with their families, or people wanting to be safe from environments where they can’t be gay, or women escaping situations that are dangerous to them, or young people trying to find opportunities. These are all beautiful stories of who we are as humans, and I think that the butterfly is very symbolic of that. The butterfly as a symbol of policy can be a little bit tricky, because the butterfly clearly crosses borders . Yet I don’t believe in our lifetime we are going to see open borders. However, I think it’s an important idea to push out, because art sometimes is about imagining what could be, it’s about allowing people to think really big."