REGRESA A MÍ / COME BACK TO ME
At a botanica inside the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet, we came across a votive candle, or veladora, stamped with the message: “Regresa A Mi / Come Back to Me”.
Veladoras typically picture Catholic saints as well as iconography taken from pre-colonial American and African spiritual traditions, and are with prayers and rituals that the candle can be used for -- they are used by people when confronting odds that seem insurmountable, to ask for strength and derive power during situations that require hope, faith, but also endurance, action.
At the time, we had been supporting immigrant-rights efforts in Santa Ana, collaborating with groups like Resilience OC who had been organizing families and local residents to push for the release of community-members detained by ICE – and, were feeling a need to articulate the demand for reunification of migrant families and loved ones, and stand in solidarity with ongoing struggles against inhumane deportation + detention policies.
We read the candle’s message in relation to this context: in relation to claims being made for family-members to be released from detention, to be allowed to return home, and we thought about the possibility of issuing a call to abolish the systems that continue to tear our families and communities apart, using this vernacular form for communicating hope, wishes, desire – a form of appeal that stands outside of established social-political channels and looks to non-material channels to enlist accomplices through/from other (metaphysical) realms.
We set out to mobilize this resonance by producing a custom series of prayer candles that borrow the form and iconography of silkscreened veladoras, and likewise include a prayer/message narrating a clear demand, as well as instructions for how they can be used by those who light them to incite change in their lives and those of their communities.
Our silkscreened candles all had the same image on their fronts: an image of hands divided by a bar, framed by the phrase “Regresa a mi / Return to me” (See draft Below). On the backs an equal number include a recitation/ incantation we wrote in English and Spanish. Some were also printed with the testimony of a migrant detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center -- which we collected in partnership with the immigrant-rights organization “Freedom for Immigrants”. The candles are white – a color used to purify and protect in Mexican curanderismo/brujeria -- with dark blue ink -- a color associated with healing, reconciliation, and best intentions.
In total, we produced 130 of these custom candles to localize the polemic of immigration-enforcement/detention within the context of San Diego; since at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, migrants are held in “housing units” comprised of approximately 130 detainees.
For the opening of the exhibition, the public was invited to activate the sculpture, by taking part in a ceremonial lighting of all 130 candles, and issuing a collective call for liberation of migrant peoples and the abolishment of the carceral state.