- Carly Tagen-Dye
"Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded" Spotlights NYC’s Immigrant Workers and Community
Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded, showing in MoMA PS1’s Homeroom space through January 3, 2022, is more than an art exhibition. Created in collaboration with members of the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition and the Street Vendor Project, among others, Nuevayorkinos is a showcase and honoring of immigrant communities, culture and contributions in Queens, and the resistance present within them.
The exhibit is an expansion of Nuevayorkinos, a project created by filmmaker and archivist Djali Brown-Cepeda. This digital archive aims to preserve the long history of Latinx culture and migration in New York through photographs and stories submitted by the public. As gentrification continues to displace Black and Latinx residents around the city, Nuevayorkinos also serves as a “love letter to OG ÑYC,” as their Instagram bio states.
The MoMA PS1 exhibit extends this work through the lens of the coronavirus pandemic. During the height of COVID-19, essential immigrant workers were excluded from state and federal relief programs. Nuevayorkinos spotlights the laborers, organizers and activists who helped launch the 2021 Excluded Workers Fund, which is now the largest economic assistance program for immigrant workers. The fund provides payment to low income workers and workers ineligible for unemployment benefits due to immigration status.
Upon entering the gallery, visitors are greeted by the soft strum of guitarrón melding into protest chants, bellowed in English and Spanish. Banners and artwork created by street vendors, and portraits of strikers and activists, line the walls. A chair and bookshelf rest underneath a window, where viewers are encouraged to sit and flip through a curated collection of books about Latinx culture, immigration reform and history. Testimonies from members of Make the Road New York, the state’s largest immigrant-led grassroots organization, along with informational fliers about the #RightToRecord and rights during ICE raids, hang on a nearby bulletin board.
Perhaps the most moving part of Nuevayorkinos is the multi-media aspect. A screen in the gallery's corner plays three videos on repeat, all recorded during protests in Queens over the past year. Bilingual subtitles allow viewers to join organizers in the midst of the movement. An advocate screams her frustrations about the essential workers who have been excluded from pandemic aid. A woman washes an elder worker’s feet in a respectful ritual. The calls and cries from the street, mixed in with salsa music and people dancing, blur the lines between activism and celebration. Nuevayorkinos highlights the importance of both.
Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded is a must-see show for everyone in the city. The exhibit beautifully balances the realities of laborer’s lives with tributes to their cultures and contributions, highlighting the complicated reality of immigrant life. Moreover, at Nuevayorkinos’s core is love: love both for and by the communities who are the backbone of New York City, who keep the boroughs running, but are so rarely recognized.
To reserve tickets, visit www.moma.org.
Photos by Carly Tagen-Dye
Exhibition Photos by Edwin Ortiz Jr.