5/06/2020 Jenny Gumbert

Research Fair: F&M Senior Shares Undocumented Immigrant Experience Through Art

For Luis F. Garcia-Herrera, the process of creating his senior research project at Franklin & Marshall College has been bittersweet. 

Inspired by his status as an undocumented immigrant, the senior chemistry major and studio art minor was eager to present his art installation this semester. But then COVID-19 arrived in the United States and everything changed. 

“I was so excited to invite all my friends and family to attend the show,” Garcia-Herrera said. “I would give my mother updates about my project every time I spoke with her. Having told her about everything and then hearing about the cancellation of the art show left me really heartbroken.”

  • "I didn't want to leave my mom," -- Garcia with the exhibit that he wanted to show. "I didn't want to leave my mom," -- Garcia with the exhibit that he wanted to show.

Garcia-Herrera was eager to build and present his powerful project, which he hoped would serve as an opportunity to showcase his art and “give a voice to those who needed it.”

His open room installation would have been designed and furnished to resemble his childhood living room, allowing people to literally walk inside his experience. Real family photos would have been edited so that anyone in the image who was undocumented would have their eyes censored. Of the three walls, one would have been constructed to resemble a front porch from the outside and the door would open revealing a set of bars, preventing people from entering or leaving.

“The purpose of having family members with censored eyes was to show anonymity,” Garcia-Herrera explained. “There are many undocumented citizens in the U.S. who feel the need to be hidden because they are afraid that bringing too much attention can pose danger to their families and lives.”

Garcia-Herrera elaborated on his personal experiences, saying, “When we are inside our own homes, it feels like we are under house arrest. We never truly feel a sense of liberty stepping outside because of all the danger. We cannot truly feel ‘at home’ knowing that we can be removed from our ‘homes.’”

Though a chemistry major, Garcia has always been creative and credits his first studio art class at Franklin & Marshall with helping him to fully realize that passion. The numerous guest presenters at F&M, such as the 2019 Conrad Nelson presenter Pepón Osario and Mueller Fellow Sandra Cisneros, also have been of great inspiration. And professors like John Holmgren, associate professor of art and chair of art & art history, have been valuable guides. The admiration is mutual. 

“Luis is a driven individual who works hard and makes corrections to his work when needed,” Holmgren said. “He is a pleasure to work with and is the kind of student who makes me a better educator.”

Though Garcia-Herrera plans to create a career in chemistry, there’s no doubt that he will continue to pursue his passion for art. And, hopefully, someday soon he can properly share his art and experiences with the world. 

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