Performance

What Properly Addressing the Migrant Crisis Might Look Like

Artist Alicia Grullon performs the role of a UN representative for refugees to address the migration crisis at the southern US border.

Alicia Grullon, “Breaking” (still), (2019) single channel video

Instagram is a funny world. On August 31, I scrolled through the usual array of selfies, art snaps, fuzzy kittens, and birthday greetings to see artist Alicia Grullon speaking into a mic in front of United-Nations-logoed wallpaper. Given Grullon’s activist and community organizing work, it didn’t seem out of step for her to be testifying before the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) but my double take was inspired by the placard in front of her mic which identified her as UNCHR representative Jaklin Caal Maquin.

I put the sound on and heard Grullon declare, in the guise of Maquin, with photo-snapping sounds in the background, that she is “stepping in” for Charlie Yaxley, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, due to the failure of the world to appropriately address the migration crisis at the southern US border. By taking on this persona, Grullon focuses pointedly on the political and economic conditions surrounding decision making at the UN — particularly where and why UN Peacekeeping forces are called into address emergency situations. More importantly, she creates a version of reality that is also a glimpse of a better world.

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**Breaking** on IGTV. My name is Jakelin Caal Maquin, stepping in for global spokesperson Charlie Yaxley from the UN High Commission for Refugees. In light of the increasing violence enacted by the current government of the United States on its southern border —aimed not only at migrants, but also those who seek to help them— 190 member countries have recommended enacting existing Security Council resolutions, as follows, activating the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping operations on the US-Mexico border: Security Council Resolution 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict; security council resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict, and security council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security of the UN Charter in accordance to chapter 8. UN peacekeepers have been mandated to play a catalytic role to protect and promote human rights. Peacekeepers will work on establishing 100 refugee camps at the US and Mexico border providing food, shelter, and necessary medical attention, including trauma care…||…The UN global leadership in New York has failed to adapt and undertake the measures required to operate in a time of climatic emergency, fascism, settler-colonialism and capitalist violence. As such, the 188 member nations have decided to enact a new resolution, 83073, which will transfer leadership of the United Nations to indigenous and aboriginal peoples in countries of 5 continents…||

A post shared by Alicia Grullon (@aliciagrullon) on

Having posted this official-looking missive on IGTV, Grullon announces that UN Peacekeeping forces were deployed to the border due to the unending violence, extrajudicial detention of migrants, and child imprisonment enacted by the United States government, which, she points out, is aimed not only at migrants themselves but also at those who try to help them. Maquin, whose name is borrowed to honor the 4-year-old Guatemalan child who died of the flu in a US detention prison, flatly intones:

190 member countries have recommended enacting existing Security Council resolutions, as follows, activating the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping operations on the US-Mexico border: Security Council Resolution 1694 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict; security council resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict, and security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security of the UN Charter in accordance to chapter 8.

In siting these existing resolutions and mimicking the official languages of the UN, Grullon-cum-Maquin asserts the obvious fact that the US is in clear violation of all of these resolutions and yet, there is no UN action. Why? Grullon brings back a dead child to address this question, and confronts us with the realities of global power dynamics within the United Nations. The Security Council, which holds outsized authority within these processes, is stacked with nations most responsible for the economic, environmental, and social issues that force migration.

Alicia Grullon, image from a performance from several years ago, “Illegal Death” (2007) traditional C-print, 9″ x 13″, reenactment of undocumented worker found frozen to death in forest in Long Island

The intensity of the resulting artwork relies on both the performance of UN semiotics, and the poignancy of its details. In the post, Grullon enacts the rituals of invented, yet possible UN action to create a reality she wants to see in the world. She doesn’t stop at the possible, however, and imagines another reality entirely, inventing a new resolution, number 83073, which “will transfer leadership of the UN to indigenous and aboriginal people in countries on 5 continents …”

Through this modest, yet highly accessible public performance, Grullon portrays a potential, transformational world, an alternative to the brutality of current US policy. Influenced by artists working on public access television, Grullon allows Maquin to take over her Instagram account to grant us the imagination to see the future otherwise, and give us hope that in performing this potentiality, we might achieve it in reality.

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