A multimedia artist and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipient beautifully documented his journey to America using bits and pieces of Mexican road maps, and in the process, perfectly completed the iconic Athenaeum Portrait (the image of George Washington on the dollar bill).
Painted in 1796, three years prior to Washington’s death and one year before the end of his first presidential term, the portrait was never completed until Fidencio Fifield-Perez, who’s undocumented, stepped in to finish the job.
The film “Portrait of a Dreamer” documents how and why Fifield-Perez set out to finish the portrait by recreating what he imagined to be the route his parents took him on at the age of 7 to reach America. It is the latest in an ongoing video series from nonprofit Welcoming America and its San Francisco-based creative agency TBD that spotlights immigrants’ journeys to the U.S. and the contributions they’ve made there.
The film shows how Fifield-Perez uses pieces of maps to document his trek to America via papel picados (Mexican paper cutting). The completed portrait will be on display at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum in May (timed to Welcoming America’s national meeting).
“When I was younger, art would take me out of the reality that I was undocumented and queer,” Fifield-Perez says in the film. He says the finished piece represents how critical immigrants are to the fabric of America.
“I think about the parallel of the portrait and of America representing the journey that all of us are still in,” Fifield-Perez adds, “and by choosing to add another material to this portrait, I see it as an act of freedom.”
TBD founder Rafael Rizuto said in a statement, “As a primarily immigrant creative shop, the sensitivity around inclusion, diversity and acceptance in our community aligns with our beliefs and what it means to be an American immigrant.”
The series of films has been distributed online in celebration of Welcoming America’s 10th anniversary. The stories come at a critical time in America’s history as the Trump administration continues its efforts to end DACA, the Obama-era initiative that has allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country.
“We want people in their community to learn stories about immigrants’ contribution to their communities so we are telling stories of peace in our American experience,” David Lubell, Welcoming America’s founder and founding director, said in a statement.
Welcoming America, which was established in 2009, works to make communities more inclusive and supportive of immigrants. According to the organization, its network includes participation from 200 municipal governments and nonprofit members.