It Wasn't Just Fireworks That Captivated People

23 hours ago

The 4th of July is undoubtedly one of the most patriotic holidays celebrated in the United States.

There was more that hit the skies than just fireworks.

Project In Plain Sight, is a collaboration between artists who utilized sky-typing across a variety of cities to bring awareness to the Immigration practices in America and expose U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) detention centers.   

In Plain Sight is a collaboration between 80 artists, activists and organizers from around the country. The idea was first conceived by visual and performance artists Cassils and Rafa Esparza to shed light on American Immigration detention.

According to Rafa Esparza, the conversation heightened after photos of detention center living conditions went viral.

“I feel like the country was probably experiencing and seeing, kind of like proliferate through social media and online, is the news of children being put away in cages,” said Esparza. “That was a strong impotence to just for us to even a conversation around it.”

The two artists came up with the idea of sending sky messages to spread hope and awareness to more than 80 immigrant detention centers and other places like ICE offices.

Cassils, who identifies as trans, is no stranger to immigration. Cassils came to America in the late 90’s from Canada and has been navigating the immigration process for almost 20 years.

“The expense and the bureaucracy of being in compliance with the immigration system was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done, and I speak English and I’m Canadian and I’m white…,” said Cassils “…and so knowing when that people come to this country fleeing, feeling because of the people that  they are at home is safe for them to be who they are, they come to this country for refuge and for the promises of freedom only to be met at the border and locked into a cage.”

"Abolition now," sky typed over Los Angeles.
Credit In Plain SightABOLITION NOW / Ken Gonzales-Day / Los Angeles - LA Immigration Court / July 3. Photo by Ken Gonzales-Day for In Plain Sight

Oglala Lakota Artist Marty Two Bulls Jr. out of Rapid City,S.D., is one of the artists and his message appeared in the skies of Corpus Christi, Texas. Two Bulls says he felt the importance of sharing a message that reflects his Lakota culture and shows solidarity.

“I decided to use the Lakota Phrase Mitakuye Oyasin which is like a pretty ubiquitous phrase in this area and it loosely translates into all my relations or we are all related,” said Two Bulls. “It’s something that we say in ceremony to kind of acknowledge that interconnectedness to one another and also the connectedness to the land. It’s kind of a philosophy a way of thinking. So I decided on that phrase because I thought it was important to bring the Lakota language into this dialogue. I don’t speak for my tribe, I don’t speak for other Lakotas, but we are a group that have been dealing with border issues and land entitlement for a long time especially with the United States Government.”

For artist Yosimar Reyes, this project was very important as the topic directly relates to his own experiences.

“I happen to be a writer that is also undocumented,” said Reyes. “I felt like often times, we as undocumented people, the country is not accustomed to us not having a voice or something that projects and so for me that was very much important. This project as an undocumented writer lets me formulate my voice and at the same time represent for folks that are in a way are a bit kind of exhausted with everything that is happening politically having to do with immigration.”

Reyes’ message was written in Spanish and was on full display in Los Angeles. It loosely translates into “F*** your Immigration system.”

Visual and performance artist Cassils (left) poses with fellow artist Rafa Esparza.
Credit Chris Mastro

In Plain Sight not only served as visual awareness for immigration with the sky messages it also partnered with various local and national groups who serve immigrant communities such as Puente Human Rights Movement, a non-profit based out of Phoenix.

According to Maxima Guerrero who is with the Puente Human Rights Movement, since COVID-19 started, their group has been engaged in a Freedom All Campaign that highlights and exposes the inhumane conditions inside all cages in jails, prisons and detention centers in the state of Arizona.

“We really see right now the repercussions of the in inaction from the governor of taking action in releasing people that are incarcerated because of COVID-19,” said Guerrero. “Not just what’s happening inside but what’s happening out here too. Even Guards from Eloy.”

The Eloy Detention Center is a private prison located between Phoenix and Tucson. It is under contract with ICE.

“There’s a guard who actually passed away from COVID-19," said Guerrero. "It just showcases the lack of inaction and the lack of value for humanity for folks that are inside.”

There is something pure about the sky, said Cassils, who wishes the messages can be seen by those in detainment and will draw hope from them. Cassills also says this is a reminder that these detention centers exist and can inspire people to take action.

For more information on In Plain Sight or how you can help, you can visit https://xmap.us/.