Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
April 30, 2017

Zombie Trumps at the Border: Risk Goes Both Ways

Photo by Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas. A potential trump cleaning windshields

How do you mourn the loss of a dream when it has returned to you undead and monstrous?

Verónica G. Cárdenas, whose series “A Trump,” captures undocumented and “potentially undocumented” immigrants wearing Trump masks while going about their daily routines, writes that her subjects “adopt the most powerful persona in the world in order to feel more empowered themselves.” The power they appropriate, however, is not the hopeful, productive power of world-making but the apocalyptic, terrible power of world-undoing.

The tight grip of the motorist’s hands on the steering wheel as a trump leans in, swiping a squeegee across his windshield, embodies this threat. Through it, the photograph simultaneously parodies the racist anti-immigrant fear which fueled Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency and the anxieties felt by liberals at that surge of xenophobic nationalism. Is the monster here the migrant or the trump?

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Cárdenas’ photographs of trumps harvesting bok choy, bagging carrots, making and serving tacos introduce that monstrous threat into the food chain itself. In the one above, a trump delivers tacos to two brown-skinned young men seated at a folding table. The men, backlit and shadowed, seem to cringe at their encounter with the trump’s open mouth and prominent teeth. And well they should. Whatever their citizenship, one bite—one word—from the trump could turn them too into the border’s undead.

Photo by Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas. A DACA student, or potential trump attending The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Cárdenas’ photograph of a “Dreamer” waiting to cross a street on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus likewise shows not a dream deferred or killed off, but living-dead and in a purgatorial state. The student herself is suspended, waiting for the light to change and for the looming disaster of policy change. Trumped but not in-our-faces like the windshield washer, she is both harmless and threatening, but at risk and risky. When the walk sign changes, what sort of future will she walk into?

Photo by Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas. A young potential trump collecting cans in a landfill.

My first impulse is to hope that Cárdenas’s post-apocalyptic “A young potential trump collecting cans in a landfill,” above, does not represent our future. Such hope is immediately dashed, though, as I remember that this child and his potato sack bag are the present, not the future. This is the world Trump lives in—the world of American carnage—and it’s the world we all live in. Most importantly, it’s the world this Trumped boy lives in, and we can’t blame Trump alone for that.

Perhaps it’s time we realized that—represented by Trump masks—we are the corrupting, infectious, corporeal threat on the border.

— Christa Olson | @christajolson

Photos by Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas. Photo 1: A potential trump cleaning windshields; Photo 2A trump serving tacos at a corner taco stand; Photo 3: A DACA student, or potential trump attending The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Photo 4: A young potential trump collecting cans in a landfill.

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