Resistance Art: Bronwynn ’21 and Maeve ’20

On July 25, 2020, Bronwynn Woodsworth ’21 and Maeve Atkinson joined Kgomotso Magagula ’21 for a live resistance guide and Q&A session. Both Bronwynn and Maeve expressed that art contributes significantly to social justice movements. Art allows for a visual representation of the frustration, anger and can proactively denote the motive behind social justice movements. There is a proactive sense of advocacy that art allows individuals to express when words are hard to find. Bronwynn and Maeve briefly talk about the mud stencilling activity that has been incorporated as part of ongoing programming for the Hostile Terrain 94 team at St. Olaf.

“The idea [for the mud stenciling activity] came about because we are talking about a subject that is both temporary and permanent.”


Mud stenciling also took place at St. Olaf last year when Nicolas Lampert visited the college to engage and explore environmental activism. When talking about the choice in design, Maeve highlighted that the “footprints give space to those that we know and those that we don’t.” They connect to the purpose of the Hostile Terrain 94 project by emphasizing the humanity of migrant lives that have intentionally been made invisible by policies and increasing violence at the border and beyond. The footprints, such as the toe tags, are an effort to show that their lives will always remain in memory and deserve to be honored.

“Art as advocacy can also be a place for people to process what has happened to them.”


When asked about why Hostile Terrain 94 was specifically important to them, Maeve highlighted that is has been an opportunity to get involved by learning and doing. It is a chance for more people to think about it, recognize their complacency in the structural violence at the border and actively go against the systems that continue to subject migrants to the harsh conditions of the Sonoran Desert.

Watch full conversation below

Bronwynn and Maeve put together and instructional video and how-to guide for all wanting to participate in mud stenciling. #HT94_ART

El Proceso de Migración en California

Students in Spanish 232 participated in their final presentations and explored the process of migration in California. The presentation (in Spanish) features a section connecting the work by Jason de Leon with content and context explored in the spring course. Professor Carla Manzoni elaborates:

The class and final presentations: The “Latinx Experiences in the U.S.” class is a wonderful opportunity to show our communities from a different perspective; it connects with many life experiences while also reflects on the systems that create social inequities. Challenging in nature, this intermediate language course that also counts towards Multi-Cultural Domestic requires both the development of linguistic skills and in-depth comprehension. The main idea behind the final oral project is to provide a space for students to approach a topic of their interest through the lens of the course.

This presentation: For this synthetic and thorough end-of-semester reflection in a second language, the students developed the skills needed to contextualize and present well formulated and articulated ideas. Students connected with the exhibition via the individual stories behind the toe-tags while also establishing patterns that help us understand both the personal experiences and the system that put Latinx in disadvantage. This presentation is a great addition to the exhibition.

In Spanish: There is something incredibly powerful and empathic about giving the voice-less (and body-less) a voice in their own language, Spanish. The untranslated voice is not only more visceral, immediate, and tangible, it also reflects on how the class cultivates a culture of allyship and promotes the development of (inter)cultural humility.”

Students, Sandra, Jordanne and Kate explain how they chose their topic:

“We chose our topic because of some parallels that Kate noticed between The Land of Open Graves text for her anthropology course and our Spanish class. She presented the Undocumented Migrantion project to our group which she also learned about during Anthropology. We felt it connected really well to the story of Francisco Jimenez who crossed the border in the 1950s. We additionally felt that a striking comparison was drawn to the structural violence of crossing today and during the 50s.”

Atrapada by Lesly Ramos

Artist Statement:

Lesly Ramos (b. 1997) is an undocumented Mexican artist raised in Chicago. She was brought to the U.S. at the age of 5 months & has not returned. Strongly believing that art is a form of healing from traumatic & systemic oppression, she pursued a B.A. in Studio Arts with a concentration in Latin America from St. Olaf College.

Lesly is passionate about raising awareness concerning issues within the Mexican immigrant community & in her neighborhood- Little Village (often referred to as the Mexico of the Midwest)- & exploring her own complex identity. She primarily works with digital illustrations, graphics, &
media elements, but recently has worked with 2D elements.

She hopes to lead an art non-profit that provides undocumented youth a space to explore their creative energy while serving their community needs through art-making. In her free time, she likes to bake + rate coffee shops + dreams of starting her own youtube channel for the 500000+ time.

” My intention behind this piece was not only to bring awareness about this issue that impacts millions but also forcing people, from St. Olaf, to accept that someone like me has shared that space and is part of the community. So issues that impact the undocumented community should be embodied by St. Olaf because there are still plenty of undocumented students on campus and alumni. How can people that embody “community” at St. Olaf use their privilege to take action on and off-campus. To summarize, I want to make this issue personal to St. Olaf. “

Explore more of Lesly’s work on her website

Reading Tools by Or Pansky ’20 and Kgomotso Magagula ’21

The exploration of some the themes in Land of Open Graves below aims to assist readers as they dive into Jason De León’s work. The engagement below has been adapted from notes for an Introduction to Anthropology Course.

Hybrid Collectif 

In the Land of Open Graves, Jason De León attempts to contextualize the complexity of the United States’ migration policy of Prevention Through Deterrence (PDT), through the theoretical insights of Michel Callon and John Law. According to Callon and Law “agency is an emergency property created by the interaction of many heterogeneous components known as actants (those are sources of action that can be human or nonhuman)” (De León 2015: 39). Agency is constructed through complex relationships between people or objects coalescing together. The PTD policy executed by the U.S leverages the topography of the Southern border, pushing migrants into the edges of the wall in areas that construction has not occurred yet, but the terrain is the one that physically prevents migrants from managing to cross the border. By using the concept of the hybrid collectif, De León exemplifies how first, humans come to be decentered, and second, the US government displaces responsibility upon the environment for the deaths that occur in the desert, although they continuously use tracking technology to identify many migrants that are later found dead. 


Jason De León understands this concept through the writing of Achille Mbembe, defining the necropolitical as an expression of sovereignty. Namely, Mbembe argues that the ultimate expression of sovereignty is the ability to dictate who may live and who may die (De León 2015: 66-67). This can be understood through a hierarchy of those that are deemed to live and those who are relegated to the realm of the dying. In this sense, Prevention Through Deterrence (PTD), is utilized by the United States to express its sovereignty, marking migrants to the realm of death through making use of the hybrid collectif (namely all those human and non-human actors that form agency) to move their migration routes towards the desert where they have to face conditions that are meant to deter them from crossing into the United States through death. 

Structural Violence

Structural violence is violence exerted systematically and thus indirectly by everyone who belongs to a certain social order. This provokes discomfort in a moral economy that is still geared to pinning praise or blame on individual actors. Structural violence as a concept is intended to inform the study machinery of oppression which results from the exercise of power embedded in the institutions of a community or culture. In the Land of Open Graves, Jason De León recognizes the difficulty in assigning responsibility and/or blame for the outcomes of immigration policies as they are deemed separate from individual policymakers. The framing in mainstream media, and in practice, is that border crossing is an individual choice made by migrants and thus U.S authorities are exempt from being held accountable for the death of people choosing to cross through the existing border structures. The people who die in the desert, regardless of the circumstances, are seen as “illegal” noncitizens who broke US law (De León 2015: 26-27). It is important to remember that legality does not equate justice. Jason De León’s engagement of the temporal changes in immigration policies calls attention to the racial/ethnic constructs that have defined US history. This highlights that the policies applied at the US/Mexico border are grounded in the demands of whiteness and cannot be removed from the conceptualization of WHO is considered “American.” 

Method of Ethnography

Jason De León uses multiple anthropological frameworks to produce the ethnographical work of the Land of Open Graves. These include archaeology, linguistics, cultural, biological and visual anthropology. These methods aim to describe the experience when crossing the border, how it is done and who, systematically, is marked for life or death. The fieldwork in the Land of Open Graves provides experiential and subjective information. Through the long-term, immersive perspective we are granted a highly contextual text.

We will continue to update this resource through the summer.

A Villainous Nature: The Effect of American Policy on South-Border Immigration

A video with voiceovers of a collection of excerpts from Jason de León’s book The Land of Open Graves. The video shows a typical path traveled by migrants in the Sonoran Desert. They were put together as part of a presentation about the pedagogy of lived theology at the 2019 American Academy of Religion conference by Bronwynn Woodsworth ‘21, Maeve Atkinson ‘20, and Prof. Kelly Figueroa-Ray.

Reading by Maeve Atkinson and Bronwynn Woodsworth