This past Sunday, an oversized mailbox was installed in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza, an invitation to Queens residents to send postcards to President-elect Donald Trump. The action, called Letters from Home, was organized by the Center for Artistic Activism as the culmination of its Arts Action Academy at the Queens Museum.
“We realized something about Queens, that it’s one of the most ethnically diverse places on Earth and it’s the [childhood] home of Donald Trump,” Stephen Duncombe, co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism, told Hyperallergic. “Here’s this person who’s talking about making America ‘great again,’ but of course the America that he came from is one of the most diverse places on Earth.”
Trump, who is avowing mass deportations of immigrants and campaigned with racist rhetoric, was indeed born in Queens, a borough whose population includes representatives of over 100 countries. His childhood home in Jamaica Estates is currently up for sale, if you have a few million dollars to burn. Every Letters from Home postcard starts out: “Dear Donald, I’m from Queens, just like you. Let me remind you what your home borough is like … ” All of the around 150 cards submitted on Sunday will be mailed to Trump Tower in Manhattan, and you can also download a printable version and send it yourself.
Duncombe referenced Candy Chang’s I Wish This Was project as a similar initiative, as it asked the public to fill in stickers placed on buildings that had been abandoned in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Both interventions involve positive community engagement. In particular, Letters from Home “allow[s] Queens residents to use this opportunity to reflect on what Queens means to them and what they really value about its communities,” Duncombe said.
For the past three years, all of the Center for Artistic Activism’s workshops have ended in an action. Each is planned, organized, and executed in 36 hours, using the idea of an artist’s sketch to encourage a new focus for activists. Participants in the Letters from Home workshop included both artists and activists. Benedetto, a participant and senior designer at SYPartners, told Hyperallergic that the “action was a draft, and we’re thinking about ways to bring it forward.”
At the same time that it was happening in Diversity Plaza, a separate political rally was taking place nearby. “In terms of teaching artists to act more like activists and activists to act more like artists, it was incredible to be staged across the street from the Queens Young Democrats, to see their response to the creativity,” Benedetto said. “It shows that a really simple but creative, crafty motivation can inspire people.”
Photographs of the postcards from Sunday’s action are posted on the Letters from Home site. Not all are confrontational — one simply concludes: “I am a Tibetan who recently came to the US. Wish you all the best.” Others express the anxiety that many immigrants in this country are now feeling. “I came to US and NYC because I thought it was a place for everyone,” wrote one international student. “Now, I am feeling that I should go back to my country because of the hate that you are generating among people.” Overwhelmingly, the postcards echo Duncombe’s statement about the diversity of the borough, including one that reads: “It’s full of people who help each other no matter of skin color, no matter their race or national origin. That’s what Queens should teach you — to be more than your limits.”
Participant Abby Dobson wrote an anthem for Queens titled “Our Sanctuary” that was performed at the action. It includes these words, which reverberate through all of the messages: “We love and support each other / From Astoria, Jamaica to Jackson Heights / We dream in a million colors / We fight for what is right.”
The Letters from Home action took place in Diversity Plaza (Jackson Heights, Queens) on November 20.