Ellis I-Loaned: Transmigration Series
Geographically Texas is considered part of the Southwestern part of the United States. However, growing up in East Texas I found myself very much a part of the Southeastern region of the country. East Texas is linked to the Southeast in landscape and culture. I was brought up in a place of barbecue, blues, rednecks and rebel flags. Things were pretty much spelled out for every one in black and white.
I received my Associates degree in art from Lon Morris College, located in Jacksonville, Texas. I always knew I would have to leave East Texas to get the education I needed. As a result, I left East Texas and headed to Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. There, I received my BFA in Printmaking and Painting and Drawing. At that point I wanted to leave Texas to get my MFA. I did. And like many African Americans I went north for such opportunities. My northern plight led me to Columbus, Ohio where I received a two-year fellowship to attend The Ohio State University.
When I graduated from The Ohio State University I got my first teaching job at Purdue University. It was a one-year contract. Soon followed a year stench at the University of Nebraska. Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama was my next teaching position. That was three jobs in three years. I was becoming a migrant university worker. To start my fourth year of teaching I arrived at the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA).
I remember when my grandmother asked me about my job teaching at UTPA. I told her it was in South Texas -- in the town of Edinburg. She smiled and said, “That’s in the Rio Grand Valley near Weslaco and McAllen. We used to go down there and pick crops in the 40’s and 50’s.” I was surprised to hear that my grandmother and her family had worked in the Valley. She went on to tell me about all the other places she had been and worked in the Valley and throughout Texas. For the first time I discovered that members of my family used to be a migrant workers. It was late 1950’s early 1960’s when my grandparents had enough land to make their own farm successful. Once they achieved some level of stability on their farm, they stopped doing migrant work.
Most of my students at UTPA come from families that are Hispanic migrant workers. I heard similar stories of their travels in Texas and throughout United States in search of work. They would travel hundreds, and even thousands of miles in search of a job that requires intense manual labor with no worker’s benefits. This was done just so they could earn pennies – and in recent years a few dollars a day.
I began to reflect on all the stories I had heard and realized how “American” these events were. My students at Purdue and Nebraska told me stories of their families doing tenant farming and migrant work as well. They were from families that were predominately white European immigrants. I began my tenth year of teaching at Texas Southern University. As a historically Black university, many of the students at TSU share my common background. So, as my migration continues the stories that I encounter remain same. Inspired by the similarities between all students I have taught, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, my prints show the importance of my journey towards getting an education and teaching. I see such achievements as self-empowerment and intellectual freedom.
The images in my prints depict places I traveled to and people I have met. All of the people are children of recent immigrants to this country. In conjunction to that theme, the prints are also about the importance of Ohio in the network of the Underground Railroad along with immigrants and migrants workers currently residing throughout the Midwest.
The strength of our nation work force has always been deeply rooted in exploitation of new or disenfranchised immigrants. The “Ellis I-Loaned” and “Transmigrations” series are inspired by those immigrants that bypassed Ellis Island to entered United States. Most Americans’ genealogy has a similar immigration and migration journey. Whether it is the German abolitionists in Texas, Chinese in California or the Irish and Italians in the Northeast, they made a new life for themselves in a new land. This ongoing immigration and then migration, is the most common story in all of Americana.