Alum advocates for change with art installation on US border

Shannon Coan, Copy Editor

Two eyes stare unblinkingly up at the sky. People gather around them, sharing food and drinks at a giant picnic, ignoring the fact that half the attendees are on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I didn’t understand how art can change someone’s perspective of someone or about an issue,” said Mayra, a Sequoia Alumni and photo subject. “Being there was impactful, …meeting people who shared their stories about how their [family] migrated to the U.S.. We were able to see our connection.”

Mayra’s Eyes, officially titled “The Giant Picnic,” is a photograph by French artist JR and installed Oct. 8, 2017 with an eye on each side of the border; one in Tecate, Mexico and one in Tecate, Calif. The eye on the Mexican side was turned into a table while the one on the American side was turned into a tarp, in order to allow people from both sides to come together to have a picnic on the art installation across the border. Through the installation, JR hoped to represent humanity, hope, beauty and division.

A lithograph of the original photograph was donated by the artist to Mayra, who asked to only be referred to by her first name. She then donated the piece to Sequoia’s Dream Club.

“Though we don’t have the same stories, it is very heartwarming that I can share a similar identity with her, and I can see myself in those eyes,” said senior co-president of the Dream Club Myriam Leon. “I am also hopeful for a better future.”

The Dream Club hopes to hang the photograph in the new Media Center once it is finished.

“We want to put it in the library, so that students might ask questions about it, see this piece and connect with it or learn more about undocumented students,” Leon said.

It is very heartwarming that I can share a similar identity with her, and I can see myself in those eyes.”

— Myriam Leon, senior

The art piece was first introduced to the Sequoia Community at the Dream Club Dinner Nov. 16 where around 400 staff, students and community members attended despite class having been cancelled due to the smoke from the Camp Fire. The dinner raised a little over $15,000, which will be used to help fund club efforts and provide scholarship money for students in the Dream Club to attend college.

“It’s a really beautiful photograph, and I think it will spark a lot of conversation, and predominantly that’s what [The Dream Club is] looking for: for people to understand the issue and to talk about it,” said English Language Learner Department Chair and Dream Club Adviser Jane Slater.

Mayra came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 7 years old in 1992. More than a decade later when the Dream Act passed in 2012, she got her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Mayra was first introduced to JR after College Track, an afterschool program she participated in while in high school, connected them. JR outlined his vision for the project and then invited her to participate.

“For the hours we were there although we physically could see a wall, we were sharing an experience with each other and forgot the meaning of the wall. We were sharing a positive experience with each other with the wall in between us,”
Mayra said.

What made the image of her eyes even more powerful was that Mayra was born with ptosis, a condition that causes impaired vision. It was only with health insurance she got under DACA that she was able to get this condition fixed and see clearly for the first time. While the artist did not know this when he initially picked her to be the subject of the piece, it still adds meaning to her.

“If that picture would have been taken just a few years ago, it wouldn’t look the way it looks now. When I look at this picture it’s a reminder of how transformative decisions can be,” Mayra said. “I was given an opportunity to impact a greater audience through the way my eyes look now.”

Courtesy of Jane Slater