Ana Armengod: The Filmmaker Giving Voice to America’s Undocumented Story

By Anna Mikaela Ekstrand Anna Mikaela Ekstrand has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on October 3, 2023

On the East Coast of the U.S., conversations about undocumented people are not frequent; however, they should be. Undocumented people live and work across the country, contributing to our communities — sometimes side-by-side with citizens and those with adjusted status — but with less security and little access to legal systems to ensure that employers follow labor laws, for instance.

On October 7th, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB), of which I am Associate Director, will bring together five formerly undocumented people, including three artists: Ana Armengod, Raul De Lara and Christopher Unpezverde Núñez. Also present will be Annie J. Wang, Senior Staff Attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and moderator danilo machado, who currently works at the Brooklyn Museum. They will all speak about their experience of living undocumented in the U.S. and how they advocate for others. 

TIAB hopes that the roundtable will challenge listeners to take undocumented people into consideration in their work and private lives. It is supported by two organizations: Define American, which works with advocacy in entertainment, media, and the arts to broadcast immigrant stories, and The Immigration Council, which works with litigation, research, legislative, and administrative advocacy. Both offer resources for companies, organizations, and individuals to understand how undocumented people form an important part of our economy and the various legislation and policies that take advantage of, support, and/or counteract them.

The Immigrant Artist Biennial has as its mission to support immigrant artists, and its 2023 edition Contact Zone has a sub-focus on undocumented artists and features undocumented artists throughout several of its exhibitions. 

Ana Armengod Brooklyn Museum
Ana Armengod. My heart breaks every time her voice breaks, 2023. 05:25 min single-channel video shot on super 8mm. Image courtesy of the artist and The Immigrant Artist Biennial.

Featured in TIAB’s opening and a panelist, Armengod — who, through film, broadcasts the stories of undocumented people — shares her perspectives on visibility and access with Grit Daily’s readers. 

Anna Mikaela Ekstrand: You work with undocumented populations in the U.S. What considerations do you make in working together? What significance does the representation of them in your work have? 

Ana Armegod: I am a formerly undocumented person. I was incarcerated and deported, and I spent two years of my life waiting; I speak about my story through the stories of others. I see myself in their struggle of invisibility and heartache. But, mostly, I see how misunderstood we are — the lives of undocumented folks are complex. There is a range of emotions that we feel: pain, suffering, and resilience, but there is also hope and longing. There is possibility. Undocumented folks don’t want to be portrayed as only suffering, because then all that hard work and sacrifice is for nothing. 

Humanity is the main consideration. I ask questions about how they want their story to be told. Anonymity is important as a lot of undocumented folks are in the process of figuring out their immigration status. They are scared that any visibility will compromise their hard work. We are taught to not speak about our undocumentedness; simply the word “illegal,” which has been used to refer to us for years, holds the weight of our “criminality.” It’s hard to fight against that stigma. Art should always have the openness of conversation and of choice. My work is a collaboration, and I see myself as a vessel to deliver the stories of others. I’ve worked hard to be able to get recognition, to have access to spaces, and to grants. I’ve fought hard for my name to be said in spaces which I was not allowed to be in. I want the names and stories of undocumented folks to be told, and I’m happy to find ways to accommodate that.

Anna Mikaela Ekstrand: You will be participating in “Politics of Visibility: Undocumented Artists” at the Brooklyn Museum. What can the art world do to help undocumented people and artists, if anything? How have you been received over the years? Are things changing? 

Ana Armegod: Visibility is the most important thing, but one cannot just say the word visibility without having an understanding of the real immigrant experience. One must ask questions as to why folks immigrate to understand what makes every story so unique. What are the differences between immigrating from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, for instance? It is important to acknowledge that art that speaks about immigration is not all going to look the same. I’m an avant-garde filmmaker; when thinking of art that speaks about immigration, folks tend to think of bright, colorful banners with monarch butterflies, which are meant to inspire us to break these borders and be free. That is not me. 

Access and visibility go hand in hand, and access is how the art world can and should help undocumented artists. For example, how many grants will ask an artist for a W9, not acknowledging that an undocumented artist will not be able to partake in this opportunity because of these arbitrary guidelines? 

The roundtable “Politics of Visibility: Undocumented Artists” is part of Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays on October 7, 2023. Check out The Immigrant Artist Biennial 2023: Contact Zone’s full program here.

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By Anna Mikaela Ekstrand Anna Mikaela Ekstrand has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is a Grit Daily columnist, an art critic, and a cultural strategist. She is the founder of Cultbytes, an online art publication and culture-focused communications agency. She is also the Associate Director of The Immigrant Artist Biennial and is curating its 2023 edition. Anna Mikaela has held curatorial positions at the Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Arts and Design, Solomon R. Guggenheim, and Bard Graduate Center. She holds dual Master’s Degrees in Art and Design History from Stockholm University and Bard Graduate Center.

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