We had a great evening with Crossing the BLVD (W.W. Norton) authors Judith Sloan and Warren Lehrer. Crossing the BLVD: strangers, neighbors, aliens in a new America is a multi media documentation including a book, photographs, a CD, website and performance that captures the stories of immigrants and refugees who now live in Queens, NY.
Last year, Judith came to UnionDocs to present excerpts of the book and CD and to talk about their methodology in documenting these stories. This time, Judith presented a 40 minute excerpt of her performance that combines a projection of Warren’s portraits and photo montages of Queens, and Sloan’s musical and spoken word audio tracks with a live and incredibly moving performance of these people’s stories in how they came to the United States. Some were legal, some were illegal but every person’s story reveals the hardships one must go through to have freedom. Camilo Perdomo, asylee and now permanent legal resident, came to the U.S from Colombia escaping anti-gay vigilantes. He joined Judith and Warren in a discussion post performance.
Crossing the BLVD, project was started in 1999. Holding up the book, Judith told us “What’s unique about this project is that captures the year and half before 9/11 and the year and half after. It is really a slice of American history.” Camilo added his thoughts on the book “This spectacular thing has its own life. It is alive”.
When asked how he and his husband are doing now, Camilo said with assuredness “We are fine. We are safe.” He then, however, presented us with some ridiculous, frustrating and somewhat comical stories. Camilo has had to be conscious of his appearance – from not wearing yellow, checkered or anything ‘unmanly’ when he returns to Columbia to visit family, to having to change his green card photo to show him with a beard since this is the way he looks on his renewed passport photo. If he looks different that his photo – having no facial hair for example “I am stopped by security checkpoint at JFK and I fear that I have to go into the little room and get questioned… So now I am stuck with a beard.”
Camilo says “Just like our founding fathers.” Warren jokes. Camilo is now living with his husband Juan Carlos, who’s story was also featured in Crossing the BLVD book and performance, and finished his masters degree in law at Fordham University. Camilo, who went from many years of concealing his sexual identity to having to reveal everything and prove he was ‘really, truly gay’ to the DA in order to be granted asylum, stood in front of our crowd at UnionDocs in his checkered blazer and red cloth lapel “I am so proud. I was sitting in the back corner (during Judith’s performance) thinking ‘oh no, they are all going to know I’m gay and I have to go up there and show my face and speak. But then I remember this is art and it is a cultural proposal. In Colombia, they curse against something that is normal life here. You always are getting more comfortable with who you are. And I feel that (strength) every time I go back to Colombia to see my family”.
“There is a xenophobia – being afraid of the other,” Warren said as one of the big issues he and Judith were tackling throughout the project, “However (in Queens) there is no majority. What does this mean?”
“We didn’t have to travel. We used our metro cards to see the world.” Judith said and then went on to sum up what Crossing the BLVD is in essence, “We’ve learned a lot about being human from meeting these people.” As she flipped through the book showing us photos and written stories, she said “We are human beings. We have great capacity to become touched if we open our minds.” Warren, Camilo and the audience all nodded in agreement.
The Crossing the BLVD book is being used in colleges and universities and in schools as well as being a general trade publication. To purchase the book and CD go to the website.
Judith Sloan is now working with kids in a Queens highschool and developing a new performance called YO MISS! Teaching Inside the Cultural Divide
You can read more about it in the recent NYTimes article here