Immigration, Masculinity, and Motherhood

Yoshua Okón's Oracle

In response to Yoshua Okón’s work Oracle, and a class visit with the artist, students in Professor Michael Martinez-Raguso’s course “Latinx And Chicana Feminisms” wrote the following texts.

Yoshua Okón, video still from Oracle, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Krisla Canales ’20—”Hyper-masculinity in the Mexican-American Border”

English text:

In the video of artist Yoshua Okón, Oracle, masculinity is represented in both the visual and the auditory. Most of the people seen in the video are middle aged men, white, and Americans. Although there is not much dialogue within the work, the few words that are present, in conjunction with the background noise, reveal a group of men set on protecting their masculinity.

Okón decided to place the video in a desert, a location contrary to all female concepts. The barren terrain depicts an infertile soil with few signs of fauna or animals. The desert offers the men of the video a place where even the soil exudes hypermasculinity. Ironically, the only other animal species found in this work are the ants, which exist under a matriarchal system. However, ants are usually characterized as a plague, and for these men the matriarchal or any form of respect for the feminine is also a plague. The unpaved terrain also forces these men to use vehicles that are typically considered masculine. These men drive their trucks in a very aggressive way to, according to them, intimidate the immigrants who supposedly cross through that area. The height, speed, and strength that these trucks provide reinforces masculinity in a way that a small car could not in the desert. These men choose the desert to make their demonstrations of masculinity because every aspect of the desert is masculine, and also forces humans to bring masculine objects in order to facilitate movement within the desert. The return to nature for these men gives them the opportunity to fulfill their stereotypical masculine duties, which includes exploring nature in order to find food for the family. In this case what these men are attempting to hunt are immigrants, although they are not very successful.

Most of the men in Okón’s video are already middle-aged or older. With old age comes the loss of masculinity. Men suffer with impotence, loss of physical abilities, and retirement. By doing what these men do, the desert gives them their ability to be aggressive, strong, and supposedly protect their families from immigrants once again. When these men are using weapons, they are not really shooting at anyone but the ground. However, the simple act of shooting gives them a feeling of euphoria, perhaps because they have the opportunity to feel the masculinity they are losing. The political feelings of these men towards immigrants seem to be arbitrary. They simply use their opposition to immigration as an excuse to be able to act in this manner. Apparently these men are aware of this because if their focus were illegal immigration, they would have chosen a location where there were immigrants attempting to cross the border.

Texto en español:

En la obra del artista Yoshua Okón, Oracle, la masculinidad se ve representada tanto en lo visual que en lo auditorio. La mayoría de las personas que se ven en el video son hombres ya en la media edad, blancos, y Americanos. Aunque no hay mucho diálogo dentro de la obra, las pocas palabras que si se encuentran dentro del video junto al background noise revela un grupo de hombres set on protecting their masculinity.

Okón decidió ubicar el video en un desierto, una localización contraria a todos los conceptos femeninos. The barren terrain depicts an infertile soil con pocas señas de fauna o animales. El desierto les ofrece a los hombres del video un lugar en donde hasta el suelo exudes hypermasculinity. Irónicamente la única otra especie de animal que se encuentra en esta obra son las hormigas, las cuales existen bajo un sistema matriarcal. Sin embargo las hormigas usualmente son caracterizadas como una peste, y para estos hombres lo matriarcal o cualquier forma de respeto hacia lo femenino también es una peste. The unpaved terrain also forces these men to use vehicles that are typically considered masculine. Estos hombres manejan sus camionetas de una forma muy agresiva para, según ellos, intimidar a los inmigrantes que supuestamente cruzan por ahí. La altura, velocidad, y fuerza que estas camionetas proveen refuerza la masculinidad de una forma que un carro pequeño no pudiera en el desierto. Estos hombres escogen el desierto para hacer sus demostraciones de masculinidad porque todo aspecto del desierto es masculino, y también obliga a los humanos a traer objetos masculinos para poder facilitar el movimiento dentro del desierto. El regreso a la naturaleza para estos hombres les da la oportunidad de cumplir con sus deberes masculinos en la forma de que se supone que el deber del hombre es explorar la naturaleza para poder encontrar comida para la familia. En este caso lo que estos hombres están tratando de cazar son inmigrantes, aunque no tienen mucho éxito.

La mayoría de los hombres en el video de Okón ya están en la media edad o son señores mayores. Con la vejez también viene la pérdida de la masculinidad. El hombre sufre con la impotencia, la pérdida de las habilidades físicas, y retirement. Al hacer lo que estos hombres hacen, el desierto les devuelve su habilidad de ser agresivos, fuertes, y de supuestamente proteger a sus familias de los inmigrantes. Cuando estos hombres están usando armas, ellos realmente no le están disparando a nadie más que al piso. Sin embargo el simple acto de disparar les da una sensación de euforia quizás porque tienen la oportunidad de volver a sentir la masculinidad que están perdiendo. Los sentimientos políticos de estos hombres hacia los inmigrantes parece ser arbitrario. Ellos simplemente usan su oposición a la inmigración como una excusa para poder actuar de esta manera. Aparentemente estos hombres están concientes de esto ya que si su enfoque fuese la inmigración ilegal, ellos hubiesen escogido un lugar en donde sí hay mucha inmigración ilegal.


Yoshua Okón, video still from Oracle, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Nancy Mateo ’19—”Fronteras: Immigration and Motherhood”

As I watched Yoshua Okón’s piece, Oracle, I imagined what it would be like to be a lone child in the desert, hearing pop after pop. I imagined the journey these children travelled to get to the United States, realizing that nothing about that journey was easy. I imagined grieving mothers who were worried sick to hear something about the whereabouts of their children. I imagined families expectant of the arrival of these kids. I imagined the countless bodies lost and disappeared, bodies that will never be claimed. I imagined children alone in detention camps, questioned by Border Patrol agents that were too immersed in their own lives to understand the children’s struggle. I imagined the hidden dangers that these children encounter both in and out of the desert. And I cried. I cried because the United States will never be what undocumented immigrants thought it would be. I cried because migration wasn’t a choice, but a necessity that hatred will never allow certain individuals to understand.

The harshness and hypermasculinity exhibited by the armed militias speaks to the gendered ideas of violence and threat on the border. The militias in the short film are abrupt in the way they repeat the circling motions and fire off their arms. Similarly, the manner in which the militias carry themselves and hold dialogue, is not inviting and instead reflects a policy that hopes to instill fear. The militias are able to instill fear in migrant groups, fear that resembles terrorism. They also have jurisdiction over who is constituted as a threat; which is appalling to believe that children would be a threat.

Consequently, the piece offers a greater critique of the distortion of our social conceptions of childhood. These unaccompanied minors are perceived as a threat and therefore, have a justified reason to be targets. Their bodies are not protected against state policies that place them as felons, who are bringing and incite danger. The youth go out, leaving their homes, seeking refuge and safety, to only be met with greater retaliation. These children leave home, and mothers are left to grieve and question their own motherhood.

While watching the piece, I thought about those mothers that let their children go. Who were probably left behind wondering if they made the right decision: did they feel like they were bad mothers for letting their children go? On the contrary, the mothers could also be standing firm by their decision to let them go, because they knew that their respective countries were too dangerous for their young boys. Then again, I thought about those bodies that would never return and would never appear. There are countless bodies that disappear in the desert because of the conditions, and I thought about how mothers would never recuperate their children. This, would leave them in a state similar to La Llorona. Mothers in this state would be entangled in an eternal grievance because they would not know the whereabouts of their children.

Ultimately, immigration is not a matter that only concerns those who are attempting to cross. It affects families and all who are invested in a successful crossing. It involves border agents and state actors that shape ideas of who is considered a threat. Even more, it includes mothers who put their own identity on the line for the safety of their children.