When Mexican Labor is Wanted, but Their Presence is Not

The unimposing exhibition by Ramiro Gómez stood on the first floor of the Mana Contemporary in contrast with the modernist and conceptual arts found in the upper-level studios.

The artist, born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents, uses brown cardboard and acrylics to portray working Mexicans as they perform housecleaning duties or yard work. His characters are usually in the background, practically faceless, and holding a work tool in their hands. Ramiro takes it further by setting up these cardboard people in affluent towns and suburbs in California, where immigrant labor is so routine and overlooked that only the artwork can prompt residents to do a double-take and perhaps consider the plight of the laborer.

Here in Chicago, Ramiro painted those settings of privilege: a dining room, some sort of doctor’s office, and a residential swimming pool, all of which need cleaning. The cool part was that the artist cut out the workers from the scenery in order to emphasize their invisibility. The glaring message in Ramiro’s art is that immigrant labor is highly solicited everywhere, but the immigrants themselves and their humanity is unwanted, erased and even criminalized. And how normal and paradoxical this all is.

He forces a conversation in public, and more importantly, among those who employ immigrants.

Ramiro Gomez’ exhibition was part of “Pilsen Day” on November 8th by the Chicago Humanities Festival.


Photos by Jackie Serrato

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