If you read my Washington, DC photo blog, please bear with what starts out as repetition. I’m indebted to Marie McC of Alexandria Daily Photo for taking me to see this mural She featured it in the making on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8, and I posted briefly about it on Picturing Washington on Sept. 15.
The mural is in the Chirilagua (a.k.a. Arlandria) neighborhood in Alexandria, Va., and it touched me deeply. The more I look at it, the more I am caught up in its symbolism. I talked about a couple of details on the Picturing Washington post, but I’d like to go into the mural in more depth here.
I am an immigrant too, and the mural brought home to me something I’d not ever stopped to reflect on: that I am a very privileged immigrant compared with those who came across the border with nothing and did the menial jobs no one else wanted. In contrast, I came to the United States from a secure and comfortable life in the United Kingdom to a place in graduate school, a teaching assistantship to help pay my way, and a secure future (as far as any future can be secure) based on my British and American education.
Every interpretation is just that—an interpretation. Art speaks to most of us on some level or other, whether or not we can articulate what we feel. What I get out of this piece of art may not be what you get out of it. That’s for you to look and determine.
Starting in the upper left corner, we have flying saucers. What do we make of them? Perhaps that those who can contribute come not just from many countries, but also from many universes? Our minds should not be closed to those worlds we don’t yet understand? I don’t know.
Dominant are two motifs. First is the pair of men, one bearing a “Welcome” sign, the other with a handful of dollars. Welcome to the land flowing with milk and honey. The riches beckon and the people come, one after another, surmounting difficulty (the drainpipe) to enter the promised land. See how small they are in comparison with the symbols of riches? And see how small they are compared to the huge hotel? Many of those little people will end up there—not as pampered guests, but as those serving them. Their future is to be the maids who change the beds and scrub the bathrooms, the doormen, the bellboys, the dishwashers in the hotel kitchens.
The second motif: Three planes fly towards the promised land. Are they simply bringing more immigrants? Perhaps. But I think the fact that there are three is significant. Are they the three planes that caused the destruction of 911, reminding us that we are not the inviolable promised land? We are threatened. All those who seek our shores do not have good intentions.