Message from the Director
The other day, a museum member emailed me to tell me about the particularly personal response she had to the exhibition Border Cantos: Richard Misrach | Guillermo Galindo during a casual visit to the museum with a friend. An international journalist and globetrotting culinary expert, she was born in Japan and raised in the United States. She has degrees from Princeton University, New Jersey, and Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, and has lived and worked in England and France as well as in Silicon Valley. I know her as one of those go-to people for tips about great new cookbooks, off-thebeaten- track restaurants, and fine food. But it is what I did not know that counts most. After seeing Border Cantos, she revealed that she grew up as an undocumented immigrant—her family survived on welfare and lived for a time in a trailer park. She received amnesty only in 1986, under the Reagan-era immigration reform act.
Hers is an amazing story, outlined ever so objectively in the comment she left on the Migration Community Quilt in the exhibition. Here, we invite visitors to respond to Border Cantos by relating their family histories of immigration and migration, written on patches of paper and placed onto a global map. Told with few words, these stories tend to be direct and factual, yet they speak volumes about danger and heroism, generational gratitude and success, pride and resilience in spite of great odds and unfathomable cultural distances. They speak to the invisible experiences and resources of this community. Together, the responses are an emotional tidal wave: frankly, it’s hard not to tear up when reading them.
In no particular order, the places cited on the map today alone include: Fiji, Wales, Iran, Tanzania, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan, Alsatia, Poland, India, Columbia, Venezuela, Latvia, Bohemia, Scotland, the Netherlands, Honduras, Cyprus, Sarajevo, Cambodia, Finland, Vietnam, Korea, Russia, Israel, Thailand, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Nepal, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Demographers tell us that over 50% of all adults in San Jose were born in another country, but we may be even more hybrid and global than even imagined. Hundreds of visitors a week share their stories. Nothing speaks more clearly— and more tellingly—than a selection of their words:
• “My mom crossed many years ago.
What other option did she have?
We don’t talk about it much.”
• “My mom is from Japan and went
to America and my dad is from
Tanzania and went to America. My
dog was from Taiwan and went to
• “Both my parents fled Thailand
and Laos during the Vietnam War.
Because of that, they met here
in California. And the reason I am
here. God bless America.”
• “I migrated in 1994 from Mexico
to the United States. I traveled
by walking through the desert at
night and in the day I would wait for
hours. We didn’t have food but I’m
lucky I survived and made it to the
United States with my family.”
• “Made Vietnam. Adopted by Chinese
parents. Raised in the USA.”
• “I came to the U.S. in 2000 as a
graduate student to do my PhD. As
an academic family from Kolkata,
India, our relationship with the U.S.
is long. My parents did their postdocs
here from 1988-90. My sister
and I went to elementary school
here. Today my sister lives and
works in the Silicon Valley. U.S. has
given us the freedom to live our
lives our way.”
• “The most I remember from San
Cristobal, Galápagos, was the way
you could hear the waves along
with the sea lions. I hope I can go
back there, where my family still
• “We are a beautiful gift of our
families’ migration. We are Mexican
+ Irish + Hawaiian= we are
Through the collaborative power of Richard Misrach’s photographs and Guillermo Galindo’s instruments (assemblages of materials cast-off by migrants), Border Cantos has struck a chord for this community. The artworks and visitors’ eager responses jointly underscore the necessity—indeed the humane urgency—of civil dialogue about the tough issue of immigration— a subject that seems to divide us drastically as a nation, particularly in this heated election year. Most importantly, as your stories tell us, Border Cantos triggers our natural capacity for empathy. Do return to see the work again this summer, read the ever-changing Migration Community Quilt, and see the subject through the experiences of others who, too, may be your friends and neighbors.
Oshman Executive Director