GUARDA L@S NIÑ@S
ROBERT ERIC SHOEMAKER
In June of 2018, Americans learned about the US-Mexico border prisons that were separating and detaining families and children. We had known for the duration of 45’s presidency (so far) that we adults would be plagued by his irrational, racist, sexist, egomaniacal behavior, but to imagine that children were being equally plagued to their physical detriment was too much. That children were being held captive and caged, in the country we lived in [no longer / or ever / our country] was too much to imagine. As I heard the Washington Post audio footage of children crying for their mamas, subjected to shame and pain that they had not yet developed words for, I imagined it.
Viscerally, I could do nothing but respond, as an artist, with agony. I wrote a furious poem. But the poem was not enough, and so I created a performance intended to be iterated across time for the duration of the imprisonments.
I first performed this poem with a co-performer at Naropa University. We methodically placed paper children in a miniature cage, examining them as we did so, and a slideshow of photos from I.C.E. cages played behind us, and my recorded poem with audio from the border played.
It was not enough. The most recent iteration was performed at the University of Louisville. I printed protest posters, played a recording of my poem on loop along with school children singing “Nosotros Venceremos / We Shall Overcome” on loop, and invited participants to enter the print space, view the prints in semi-darkness, and interact with me and with a digital map highlighting all of the I.C.E. detainment camps. The map was searchable by detainees.
This performance will not end until all children at the borders of America with the rest of the world are free. Nothing can be enough, not so long as children are held in cages in our midst. Not so long as prisons unreasonably hold children. Not so long as xenophobia runs prisons.
Cages come in different shapes.