350 Words: Lupita Murillo Tinnen’s “American Dream”

by Colette Copeland October 13, 2011

"Age 13, Electrical Engineering," Archival giclée print, 30"x40", 2009

“I’m living the dream.” This phrase (which is usually uttered with more than a hint of sarcasm by a person of privilege) refers to the idea that everyone regardless of social class or race should have access to freedom and the opportunity for success. In Lupita Murillo Tinnen’s photographic exhibition at Collin College, she shows how the American Dream is thwarted for so many. The digital color portraits depict the lives and accomplishments of undocumented college students.

These students have grown up in the United States and have gone to school here. They pursue majors in nursing, marketing, criminal justice, engineering and human services, knowing that they will not be allowed to work in their respective fields*. They live in fear of deportment. For most, there is a sense of displacement, of not belonging, for their country of origin is not their home.

"Five-Day Fasting," (Diptych) Two Archival Pigment Prints, 24"x20" each, 2010

Tinnen chose to photograph the students in the safe haven of their bedrooms. The subjects’ identities are hidden with their gazes averted or their faces turned from the camera. Each photograph’s title includes the year the student came to the U.S., as well his/her college major. Tinnen digitally composites some images, including text stating the student’s accomplishments and dreams, and a map of his/her native country.

"Age 15, Human Services/Photography," Archival Pigment Print, 20"x24", 2009

In thinking about how the work functions as both document and art, I asked the artist how she navigated between the two worlds. She responded that this was her first body of work in which the primary goal was to raise awareness, affecting social change. For me, the most powerful “art” works are the “straight” photographs like the above portrait of the student lying on the bed, facing the wall. However, the straight portraits do not tell the whole story. As a tool for activism, the digital collages are more holistic, imparting important information to the viewers.

"Age 3, Marketing," Archival giclée print 30"x40", 2010

Tinnen’s work ruptures the stereotypes surrounding the children of illegal immigrants. She gives them a voice.

My name is __________________. I may not exist, but I will leave my mark.” Age 2, Mechanical Engineering

The message is one of hope and perseverance. This is important work and Tinnen handles it with a photographer’s eye, full of grace and compassion.

*Editor’s Note: Texas was the first of thirteen states to pass legislation under which undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. The proposed Dream Act, yet to pass, would create a path to legal immigration status for eligible undocumented children through a college education or military service.

Lupita Murillo Tinnen: American Dream
The Arts Gallery at Collin College

Through  October 13, 2011


Multi-media artist Colette Copeland recently relocated to Dallas from Philadelphia. She writes for Afterimage—Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism and Ceramics: Art and Perception Magazine. Her work can be found at www.colettecopeland.com.



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