Refugee Art is a blog edited by Rev. Dr. Helen T. Boursier, also known as “Pastora Helena,” to share the testimonies of refugee mothers and children through their mixed media art reflections. I have had the privilege of being a volunteer chaplain in various capacities and contexts with immigrants seeking asylum since August 2014, which has included facilitating art as pastoral care for asylum seekers. Most of the art participants are fleeing from the “Northern Triangle” which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Artist Statement: Refugee Mothers & Children Seeking Asylum
The artwork was created by refugee women and children seeking asylum in the U.S. while they were detained in the GEO for-profit immigrant family detention facility located in Karnes City, Texas between March 15, 2015 and Dec. 6, 2016 as part of a pastoral care ministry of presence [“art therapy”] facilitated by volunteer chaplains twice a month. The art sessions were not art for art’s sake. Rev. Dr. Helen T. Boursier, Ph.D. developed the art/reflection methodology which she set against a backdrop of trauma theory and art therapy practices. More than 5,000 mothers and children participated over the two-year span of the ministry. The detention center gave Boursier permission to photograph, and the camera was itemized on the equipment list each time the art team checked in/out through security. The facility has a full set of the digital images. HIPPA guidelines were followed for individual privacy, as well as the detention center’s guidelines about not showing the space or place. The families who gave “Pastora Helena” permission to photograph, reproduce, and distribute their artwork for three explicit reasons: (1) To facilitate better pastoral care bilingually and cross-culturally for the art ministry itself; (2) To foster the continued backing of the individuals and churches that donated art supplies for the all-volunteer ministry; (3) To raise social consciousness and public support regarding refugee families seeking asylum. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) cancelled the security clearances of the volunteer chaplains and discontinued the art ministry Dec. 15, 2016.
Insights from the art/reflections are included in Boursier’s The Ethics of Hospitality: An Interfaith Response to U.S. Immigration Policies (Lexington Books, February 2019) and Desperately Seeking Asylum: Testimonies of Trauma, Courage, and Love (Rowman & Littlefield, December 2019).
These refugee families desire to share their experiences of trauma, courage, and faith seeking asylum because they want the world to know about the violence and suffering in their homelands–their catalyst for seeking safety in the U.S. They have come to the U.S., not because they want a so-called “better life” for their children. They come so that their children might have bare life, for to remain in their countries (or to return) probably would mean death. They are here because they need safe asylum.
Each Monday blog post features artwork created by refugee mothers and children as they express their experiences as immigrants seeking asylum. Each blog post also will include a translated poetic reflection of one of their personal testimonies of why they made the difficult decision to leave their homeland, their experiences during the treacherous journey through Mexico, their asylum-seeking process in the U.S., and their hopes and dreams for their children’s safe future. Their stories also will resonate with their amazing faith in God and that confidence that God has “a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) and does, in fact, desire good things for them.