3 Questions

3 Questions With Momentos Studios Founder JC Ramirez

How the ‘community-first’ creative organization uses ‘artivism’ to reshape immigrant narratives in New Mexico

In the new short documentary Dignity Not Detention, from Albuquerque-based Momentos Studios in collaboration with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, the team shines a light on inhumane living conditions for individuals in detention centers operated by private prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The center played a vital role in lobbying Senate Bill 145, which sought to prohibit public entities from entering into agreements to incarcerate people for federal civil immigration violations and to terminate existing ones. The bill died in committee. But the work didn’t stop there: Momentos Studios also showcased a series of four art pieces, for which it commissioned immigrant youth, and created an immersive AR experience that transformed youth into superheroes by telling their stories through comics. We caught up with community leader and studio founder JC Ramirez, a native of Aguascalientes, Mexico, to learn more about how he uses artivism—or activism through art—to work against inhumane immigration policies and practices. Watch the documentary on YouTube. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Evan Chandler)

I was really intrigued by this concept of ‘artivism.’ How do you blend that world between art and activism when it comes to these topics that can be so personal, dark and traumatizing for a lot of people?

When the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center reached out to me the first year to create some canvas pieces using that term ‘artivism,’ I realized that’s kind of exactly what I’ve been doing my whole life: trying to create art and trying to share these stories. It was the perfect fit. Using the creative skills that I’ve kind of gathered over the years of my schooling, and everything I’ve been involved with, I created four pieces. And that’s kind of how we got started with Momentos Studios, which means ‘moments.’

We wanted to share important moments going on in our community and people’s lives. It is a deep, hard-to-talk-about subject. The way we thought to make it more digestible for people was to make it through art and share their stories as if they were superheroes, because they really are. They have that resilience and those superpowers to keep them going through all conditions that can happen to them. It was just listening to some stories and creating these places for people to get attracted to and come check out and then read the bio, with a superhero origin story through that lens of art.

Using film and art is an interesting medium to deliver the message. Given the role you’ve played in influencing legislation, do you believe this is a more effective way to reach people as opposed to lobbying, for example?

I do believe art and film and any creative outlet is easier for people to get their eyes on at least. That’s not to say that all the legal stuff isn’t working too, but I would say art is a good spearhead for this bigger message that we want to share with others. It’s fun. It’s easy to take in, and it’s easy to share with friends to get the word out. We will continue trying to share through different outlets. I feel like films are a more personal way because you can see the people’s reactions when they’re telling their own stories. So I definitely think it’s a strong carrier to share those messages.

How do you create that connection with people who are coming to the United States to be able to share those stories? I would imagine there can be a lot of fear behind detailing those experiences.

That is something even while editing I have to take it in and think, ‘This is someone’s real life story. These are all their hardships, but they’re here now, what can they do now?’ And that’s kind of what keeps me going, and it’s also the part that we want to share with others. This could happen to anyone. Being an immigrant myself, that could have happened to me. So I want to really just focus on what’s going to be a little light that’s going to keep me or someone else going to want to better their lives. Visiting these detention centers and talking to the refugees, it’s not a place for someone running away to keep themselves alive. That place makes them want to harm themselves; so anything would be better than being stuck in a detention center. This community is here, and there’s going to be more people from all around the world trying to better themselves, and however we can make the process better to bring people in and create a diverse community is going to help everyone in the long run.

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