Monica Enriquez-Enriquez, Media Activism and the Politics of Representation

Lexi White

Queer and Feminist Film

Group 4 Post

In dealing with the complex narratives of citizenship, sexuality, and migration, Monica Enriquez-Enriquez’s work provides essential representations for queer asylum, but also highlights the important function of digital technologies, communities, and arts with regards to creating visibility and representation for historically silenced and marginalized populations, particularly queer migrants and asylum seekers.  Her installation fragments of migration, a Spanish-English video project, combines video and audio in depicting interviews with four transgender women from Mexico and one from El Salvador who are seeking asylum.    This project in particular, questions the asylum as a United States institution largely based on gender identity and sexual identity. It depicts the normative narratives that characterize the asylum process which yield violence and exclusion for queer migrants.  Further, it creates what Enriquez calls a “collective counter-narrative” to the institutionalized narrative produced the Department of Homeland Security.

In an online interview Enriquez-Enriquez discusses how this project and her work in general allow for very real and personal emotions to be made public.  Enriquez-Enriquez suggests that when this happens, representations can “serve as a common point to resist oppression, racism, state violence, xenophobia, and queer phobia as a community or as a set of communities coming together.” While reading this, I am particularly interested in thinking about documentary and other media representations as creative tools of activism.  In “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum,” author Rachel Lewis claims, “to be visible is to be in the realm of popular culture” (Lewis 428).  Lewis engages with the relationship between LGBT human discourses and rights, and more broadly, media advocacy.  I would agree with Lewis in that media is increasingly being used as a tool for human rights activism and globalizing social justice movements.  Lewis suggests, “Human rights organizations are repeatedly turning towards global communication networks in order to obtain and promote visible human rights victories” (Lewis 427). NGOs, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the NCLR all have used mini-documentaries to both document and distribute queer asylum cases in the United States.

While on the one hand, I recognize the manner by which documentary serves as a vehicle for enhancing representation, visibility as well as creating space where the personal can become political, I question whether or not there is a politics of exclusion present within the realm of documentary advocacy, distribution, and representation itself.  If the claim that to be visible is to be in the realm of popular culture is true, it is important to consider how documentary advocacy for queer asylum seekers can become more visible.  Who has access to these films?  Who gets represented? Is language itself a barrier in terms of terms of accurately representing and depicting the identities and needs of queer migrants and asylum seekers in a globalizing world?  How do we avoid universalizing certain identities and experiences while depicting them?  While more cinematic films like “Unveiled” enhance visual representation in the realm of popular culture, they do not always “build communities in the flesh” as Enriquez-Enriquez aims to do through real representation.  Likewise, advocacy documentaries do not always pervade “mainstream” audiences and venues.  Enriquez-Enriquez expresses recognition of the limits of certain types of media advocacy.  In an online interview, she admits having struggled and continuing to struggle with the concept of digital technologies, New Media, interactivity, and online communities because of issues of access and marginalization.  I question whether or not some of these mini-documentary video projects actually have enough of a following and platform to yield palpable political change.  According to Timothy Randazzo in “Social and Legal Barriers” Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States,” to some extent, they do.  Randazzo argues that documentary work by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and its Asylum Program have recently been the deciding factor in several successful asylum cases and in combating anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States. I do, however, believe many of these organizations have extremely limited resources in addition to limits in their capacity to reach out to and represent a diverse range of queer asylum seekers and allies both nationwide and globally.

Crossing Borders in the Digital and Flesh: Monica Enriquez-Enriquez!” Interview. Weblog post. Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. Margaret Rhee, Apr. 2010. Web. Apr. 2013.

Lewis, Rachel (2010).  “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum.”  International Feminist Journal of Politics, 12:3, 424-443.

Randazzo, Timothy.  “Social and Legal Barriers: Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States.”  Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings.  Eds. Eithne Luibheid and Lionel Cantú Jr.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

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4 thoughts on “Monica Enriquez-Enriquez, Media Activism and the Politics of Representation

  1. Kareli Lizarraga

    I think that your analysis of Monica Enriquez-Enriquez’s work is extremely accurate and captures the themes that she attempts to address. In the story-telling techniques that she uses, she allows every single individual to re-tell their whole narrative or parts of it with a level of agency that is often stripped from them. Queer individuals are very aware of the story that they must tell in order to have their sexual identity be identified. They must mold their narratives in order to fit a Western perspective of what it means to be a queer person even though this at times is difficult considering the social and cultural structures of their place of origin. The “collective counter-narrative” that Monica creates in her work attempts to bring to light the often-accepted images that the Department of Homeland Security and the United States attempt to spread. Most of the individuals in her work still feel a sense of being outsiders and being unsafe even after the process of searching for asylum is over.

    One of the best aspects of Enriquez-Enriquez’s work is that it does not “feel” like a documentary. The credibility of the people whose lives she features is not dependent on a particular format to attain credibility or be considered important; like you mention in your blog post, her work depicts private stories that do not have a space traditionally and would otherwise go unheard. Through her work she directly fights the stereotype of the United States acting as an exemplary model of liberalism and human rights when it comes to the treatment of queer individuals when in reality those that have come to this country have had to suffer traumatic events.

    Great job, Lexi!

  2. jtolan1990

    I think your questions about the potential exclusion present in documentary are really interesting. Since my final project kind of sort of taps into these problems in a different way, I’m inclined to agree with you that it does seem to largely present a very particular set of storylines. Only certain people actually have access to film making and those people are largely educated, relatively wealthy, mostly white, able-bodied, etc. At the same time, as Enriquez-Enriquez exemplifies and as people like DIVA during the AIDS crisis also make clear, living in an age of greater technological access and reproducibility serves to remove a lot of those barriers. Even if it’s an old camera, it can still record. Again, not everyone has access to these things, but it is hardly the same type of privilege that it was 50 years ago. The other major advantage for access now is the existence of the internet and file sharing platforms like youtube. Getting your work out into the public sphere is actually a comparably very easy process.

    The bigger question for me is like, the acceptability of the narratives that still make it through. And I think Enriquez-Enriquez recognized that, that asylum-seeking queer woman have the ability to express their stories but not necessarily the ability or even desire to express those stories in a way that is desirable to the general populace.

  3. wednesdaywild

    I like that you raise the issue of the efficacy of activist art. This type of art is designed to have more concrete effects than a lot of other modes of production, so it makes sense to assess it with this function in mind. It often seems art dealing with marginal issues is also marginalized, primarily reaching those in the insider community of the artist, who are more likely to have preexisting awareness of the political concerns that the art addresses. Activist art made by less visible members of society is usually exhibited in smaller, more local spaces (to give Philly examples: the Slought Foundation and the International House) and usually does not reach those larger institutions (like the Philadelphia Museum of Art) where they could affect wider and perhaps more diverse audiences. In what becomes a frustrating cycle, the art circulates in spaces that are inhabited by people who are often already on the same page. However, I think that even if the work of Enriquez-Enriquez and other artists like her do not gain mainstream recognition in the short term or lead to rapid change, their work is extremely important in creating a historical record of lives that run counter to the narratives of social institutions like the Department of Homeland Security. In this regard, simply asserting oneself and one’s story by making art is enough. Future generations will look back and be informed by what these documents reveal, and hopefully use that to further their own causes.

  4. channabach

    You make a wonderful point about the “politics of exclusion present within the realm of documentary advocacy, distribution, and representation itself”. Language barriers, modes of representation, whose voice and definitions are privileged, and power relations are all key factors here, which you nicely note.

    Say more about the contrast you see between Mónica’s work and Unveiled. You’re correct to notice a divergence between the type of mainstream cinema appeal of Unveiled versus the “activism in the flesh” quality of Mónica’s work. Why is this distinction important? What does each mode offer, and what are each modes’ limitations?

    This post falls short of the required word count for this assignment. For future assignments, make sure to follow all directions and complete all requirements to avoid losing points.

    I know you were unable to attend any of our class events with Mónica, which limits the material you have to write about. In her in-class guest lecture and two local events she addressed a lot of the issues you raise here. But for not going to those, you did a pretty good job of introducing her work.

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