A friend of mine lived in New York his whole life, but spent that time in a Chinese American community where he only spoke
Chinese. After his first visit to Mexico, he was stopped by border police while attempting to return to the U.S. When communication barriers created difficulties, the guards expressed skepticism about his U.S. citizenship. His papers, which supposedly granted him the same status as any other American, ended up being a barrier because the language he uses in his experience as an American is different than theirs.
For Americans who do not use English in their everyday lives, the United States is a borderlands barricading them from full participation in citizenship. Most of us cannot imagine this ordeal and believe, deep down, if an individual speaks unconventional English, they cannot be an American.
“Sin Papeles” collects language from articles about immigration,
revealing the pronunciation of words as a way to abstract terms familiar to native speakers to share the experience a non-native speaker has with them. A barrier both metaphorically and literally in the gallery space for viewers, the piece forces viewers to question their own assumption of access or highlights their experience lacking it.