The Mission Arts Performance Project, MAPP is an interdisciplinary artistic project that every two months gathers artists to perform or present for free in public and private spaces at The Mission District in San Francisco. In June 2013 the organizers of MAPP decided to dedicate the event to issues of displacement, in response to the gentrification that the traditionally Latino neighborhood had been undergoing for years. I was invited to create a piece and I decided to create a public installation that would include old shoes and stories about displacement from around the world. To do the piece, I decided to ask for stories to friends that lived in different cities or countries and to local friends for shoes. I called, emailed and sent Facebook messages individually to approximately 70 people. A few days later I had 40 stories and approximately 50 pairs of shoes.
When asked to write about displacement, many friends asked what I meant by that. I explained that the displacement could be from the body or the soul, meaning that the stories could talk about being taken away or marginalized from a place or a loved one. During the years people have thought that the installation refers to displacement as in a shift of locations, movement or immigration, but displacement is really about been denied or dispossessed of basic rights; right to education, food and shelter, the right to one’s culture or identity, family, etc.
the 40 stories that I received were all different, that first time I mounted the piece I had pretty much stories that showed 40 ways to be displaced. I understood that the concept and the experience of displacement was broad and had many shapes and shades. The stories spoke about gentrification, dictatorships, immigration, exile, poverty, about how the cities displaced the countryside, Los desaparecidos, occupation, death, violence, abuse and more. Now that I have received 120 stories there are a couple of them that coincide, for example the ones on immigration, always share a hint of nostalgia for what has been left behind and evoke the hardships of adjusting to a new place and sometimes a new language and often, remind us of experiences of discrimination and pressure towards assimilation that immigrants face. Some stories also talk between each other, there is one story about a family that was exiled from Chile and one story that talks about someone’s family members who lived in exile and how it felt to live in Chile without them. These two stories tell both sides of the experience of exile and it is a beautiful opportunity to understand it from different perspectives. There is also a pattern in the stories that talk about dictatorships, some are some from Chile, Guatemala and Poland, but they share the same desolation, the same pain and loss. The stories about diasporas from Puerto Rico, Palestine or the Hmong community, always open a dialog about identity and about belonging. The ones about Desaparecidos, always talk about the same open wound and the mourning families have not been able to do.
“Three years after the arrest and disappearance in 1981 of my father, stepmother, sister-in-law, 18-month old sister to of my daughters (10 and 9 years old) by Guatemalan security forces, my two surviving daughters, myself and other relatives left Guatemala ignoring if someday we could return. Fearful that the security forces and death squads would prevent us from leaving, we did not inform anyone – except close relatives – that we will fled our country with the intention of arriving in the United States. Due to the violence that prevails in our country we have not been able to return to Guatemala.”
Adriana Portillo Bartow
“As the Longko (leader, chief) of my people, I had to pay with jail, defending my community. The government accused me without cause applying the antiterrorist law against me as a Mapuche in the year 2000. They used false witnesses. They presented 140 witnesses in total, some of them, protected witnesses, so they didn’t have to say who they were. They did 3 trails and couldn’t prove anything, until the fourth trial, which was a political trial. They sent me 5 years to prison. I had to serve those 5 years. After leaving prison I sued the state of Chile in InterAmerican court in Costa Rica and I won, the trial took 14 years. They said to me that the beneficiaries of the reparations could only be my family members, but as a chief I demanded that my community could also receive the reparations, with that, health and education programs were implemented in my community and we also demanded that the historic land that had been stolen would be returned to us. When returning the land, they have just have given us back empty lots of land.
When we had the trial they lied, saying that there were no more Mapuche in jail, but there where 15 brothers in prison accused of being terrorists. They have implemented very strict laws against us because they do not want to return our lands to us. Me and my brothers think that we must continue fighting for our lands. I want to demonstrate that we are not terrorists, that we can do business and programs.
There is an expression that our people say:
‘If one falls, 10 will stand up, if 10 fall, 100 will stand up, if 100 fall, 1000 will stand up’ MARICHI WEU (10 times we will triumph)”
Longko Aniceto Norin
The installation has grown, it has now 120 stories, this includes stories from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Spain, the United States, Egypt, Brazil, Palestine, Argentina, Poland, Bulgaria, Serbia, El Pais Vasco, Catalunya and the Mapuche territory. They talk about violence, narcos, being Asian-American in the United States, the Japanese concentration camps, about being Afro-descendant, being a student in a for profit system of education, about Katrina in New Orleans, about an earthquake in Santiago, about the poor health system in Chiloe, about sexual assault, about the death of mother’s children and children’s mothers, about the jungle, the sea, cities, about indigenous rights, about imprisonment and much more. The installation has also come to include several languages, such as Nahuatl, Bulgarian, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Mapudungun, Totonaca and Catalan.
After presenting the installation for the first time, I noticed how thankful people were of reading other people’s stories and I also was impressed of how thankful people that wrote stories were about writing and hearing that their stories were appreciated and found to be meaningful. That is why I decided to continue to show the installation and travel with it. Installing has been a different experience in each place, but it has always brought interest in people to read the stories. The stories are sad stories, but there seems to be an identification with other people’s sadness and relief in being reminded that being sad is legitimate in a society that tries to impose happiness and success. When talking about displacement there is inherent pain, but telling those stories is an act of resistance, primarily because stories of displacement are not generally shared, and they try to be made invisible and minimized and secondly because if they are shared, they are not shared in first person. The fact that the writing is done by those that have been displaced develops in the reader a level of empathy that is not found when they read stories in third person. During these 5 years, the installation has been in Ixhuatlan de Madero and Poza Rica in Veracruz, San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, Santiago, Chile, Guatemala, Guatemala, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Berkeley in the United States. It will be in Verona, Milan and La Puglia in Italy in June 2018.
The stories that are submitted are left as they are and if they are translated, the translations try to be as exact as possible, to keep the sentiment expressed in the original language. Most stories have been submitted digitally, but while the installation is being shown, people can write by hand their stories, since there is always pen and paper available. Approximately 18 stories have been written in sight. There also a couple of drawings created by 11 years old children, that include their own words. The stories can be anonymous or can have the person’s name.
More information and pictures about Underneath the Soles can be found at the following links. Yours stories can also be submitted digitally at firstname.lastname@example.org
For information about Ximena Soza’s writings and artwork, as well as her complete biography in English and Spanish, see her website