Photojournalist Rachel Woolf’s exhibit “Deported: An American Division,” which examines the impact of immigration policy on a local family, opened Tuesday at Weill Hall. Woolf’s photography depicts Lourdes Salazar Bautista and her family’s deportation from the United States to Mexico in 2017. The images capture the days before Bautista’s deportation hearing in Detroit and images of the family in Toluca, Mexico after their forced return.
Woolf won the Art Works Projects’ 2018 Emerging Lens Mentorship Program competition, which allowed her to put together her exhibition. Art Works Projects focuses on educating the public about human rights and social justice issues through visual art.
Woolf met Bautista through a friend during Bautista’s campaign to stay in the United States. Bautista was searching for someone to tell her story of fighting deportation, and Woolf, a photojournalist, met with her to photograph her experience. Woolf remained in touch with Bautista after she left the U.S. and visited her in Mexico.
“My favorite thing is to connect with people and that’s what I love about doing this sort of work,” Woolf said. “What’s challenging is seeing the people you start to care about hurting in a way that I wish I could do more. I think the most challenging is that all I can do it limited to a point. I can do everything I can and she is still in Mexico.”
Bautista has lived in Ann Arbor for the past 20 years with her three children, Pamela, 19, Lourdes, 16, nicknamed “Lulys,” and Bryan, 14, who were all born in the United States. After their permission to remain in the U.S. was denied, Bautista was forced to return to Mexico with her two youngest children. There, Bautista reunited with her husband, Luis Quintana Chaparro, who was deported in 2010. Lulys stayed in Mexico for one year and returned to the U.S. to be with her older sister Pamela, who chose to continue her education at Michigan State University.
The exhibit consisted of four panels of Woolf’s photographs and direct quotes from Bautista and her family members. One image showed Bryan’s schoolteacher wiping tears from his face as he waited in the airport security line to Mexico. Others depicted Pamela embracing her mother, Bautista and her husband cooking in a small kitchen and Bryan throwing old schoolwork into a fire in anticipation of his mom’s deportation.
Woolf said she hopes that by looking at the photographs viewers will understand the positive characteristics of Bautista and her family.
“The hardest thing is that a lot of times it’s a preconceived notion that being an undocumented immigrant comes with a bad connotation, so I want someone to look at this and see that Lourdes and her family are wonderful people that are doing the best they can in a difficult situation,” Woolf said.
Hannah Smotrich, associate professor in the School of Art & Design, designed the exhibit and collaborated with Public Policy professors Ann Lin and Fabiana Silva to give the photographs historical and political context. The exhibit included a timeline of changing immigration law enforcement policies from former president Ronald Reagan through President Donald Trump, as well as a graph representing the number of undocumented immigrants over several decades.
“I’m interested in how we can embed information in ways that allow you to access it at different levels,” Smotrich said. “I’ve done a fair amount of exhibition work with narrative, all of which have another layer of intent…the goal is not only to work on a visual level, but also to inform, whether it’s a social justice oriented story or just understanding a particular person’s story in a larger societal context.”
Kinesiology sophomore Rachel Rodriguez attended the event for her Latino/a American Studies class on Literature of the Undocumented. Rodriguez said she hoped the exhibit would raise awareness of the challenges undocumented individuals face.
“I just hope more people become aware of what’s going on with other individuals,” Rodriguez said. “Some people have the privilege to stay in this country and to have documentation and apply to jobs, internships, schools. I just hope people are aware that undocumented people also try in this country.”
Similarly, LSA junior Gabriela Paniagua noted the importance of bringing attention to these issues.
“I think this art and this exhibit really brings to light all the sacrifices people have to make to just make sure their children get what they deserve,” Paniagua said. “Looking around, there is a diverse group of people here having conversations about this art. I think exhibits like this and conversations like this — creating a discussion — can’t be bad. It’s good to be talking about the current policy going on right now. Real families are being affected by it.”