Date of Graduation

Winter 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


International & Multicultural Education EdD

First Advisor

Emma Fuentes

Second Advisor

Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales

Third Advisor

Shabnam Koirala-Azad


This study investigated the role art played in the lives of nine undocumented college students at different universities in Northern California. The purpose of this qualitative inquiry was to examine how undocumented college students use art as a mechanism of resistance and activation of the political self related to their immigration status. This scholarship comes at the heels of the first year in office of the 45th president of the United States, who ran on a platform, in part, of anti-immigrant rhetoric. Much of the activism around undocumented immigrant rights has used art as a mechanism for collective action, allyship, and reimagining the migrant person.

This research focused on personal narrative and participant-made artwork through an original conceptual framework called Visual Testimonio, which is formed by three pillars: testimonio, art as resistance strategy, and Critical Race Theory. Less about the classically defined arts, Visual Testimonio embraces the figurative visual: creative, vulnerable work that is moved into a public sphere, stories that are shouted, acted, and sculpted so that oppressed viewpoints are considered and marginalized folks are seen.

Four key ideas emerged from this project. One, for undocumented people, making and sharing self-reflective art is innately political. Art offers the maker a mechanism for taking control of the narrative regarding immigrant people—especially in a time of political fear and turmoil. Secondly, creating art can have emotional and mental health benefits for undocumented students dealing with trauma, stress, fear, and uncertainty. It can serve to channel rage. The participants showed how they have used art for self and communal care. Third, Visual Testimonio allows for the creation of sanctuary as a reflexive resistance strategy. The centering of immigrant art can create a haven through shared stories. Lastly, the art done by undocumented people should serve as valuable primary texts of a lived experience. They are historical artifacts in the making. A recent surge of creative activity around immigrant rights is in reaction to the oppressive system that threatens millions of people. If Critical Race Theory is the lens through which stories are examined and testimonio is the heart of the matter, the arts are the hands that form new, more just realities. In a time of political and social persecution, this study presents dispatches from the spiritual front lines of the immigrant rights movement.


Hispanic American studies

Included in

Art Education Commons