The ART of Citizenship Mural Project is a partnership between Young Artist Movement, Arts Council New Orleans and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve. The project was organized around a new PBS documentary on the Chinese Exclusion Act, which chronicles the history of Chinese immigration to the United States and the impact of the 1882 federal law that specifically singled out a group of people and excluded them from immigration and citizenship. Although the law is not well-known today, its broad and long-lasting consequences continue to affect our national understanding of immigration, race and nationality, and American identity. Using that historical moment as a jumping off point, local artist Ayo Scott and youth interns examined how these topics–immigration, labor, civil rights activism–continue to shape our national identity, all through facilitated dialogues, field trips, historical research, and guest speakers. Over 100 youth and community members helped contribute to the mural during a community paint day.
“The ART of Citizenship” Mural Meaning
Designed by Ayo Scott and Young Artist Movement Interns
The mural depicts a Chinese grandmother, sitting sturdily with the weight of her history behind her. The framed images in the top left corner reflect the poor treatment of Chinese in America. The mask represents the history of the “paper sons and daughters,” the false identities that Chinese people adopted in the face of discriminatory immigration policies. The woman’s grandson gazes up at her. On the table between grandmother and grandson, the flame of the Statue of Liberty burns the Chinese Exclusion Act in the background. The American flag drips with blood, signifying a history of cruelty that has yet to be acknowledged in our history books. At the top right is an image of hope: the phoenix carries an olive branch signifying our vision for our country to be reborn as a nation that values peace and inclusion for all people. The framed image next to the phoenix is inspired by a United Nations image that portrays a group of children playing together.
The image at the bottom center is the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was built in large part by Chinese laborers. In the official photo of the railroad’s completion, only White men were allowed to pose. The bottom left is therefore an homage to those Chinese laborers whose efforts were erased by politicians of the day. The toy train extending outward from the transcontinental railroad photograph carries gold bricks and poppy flowers. It also carries a bowl of Ya-Ka-Mein, a local New Orleans dish influenced by Chinese immigrants who resided near Tulane and Loyola and later the French Quarter from the 1880s to the 1970s. On the bottom right is the “race to freedom,” showing Uncle Sam, a White male, making it to the end swiftly while a series of obstacles blocks the path of minorities. The child inside the cage shows the brutal practice of family separation that is ongoing today, and to which we must demand an end.
Congratulations to the Young Artist Movement youth interns for their hard work and beautiful mural!