Without ever revealing a face, photographer Lupita Murillo Tinnen creates powerful portraits of undocumented students. The obscured faces suggest the invisibility of their personal plight and the precariousness that their undocumented status creates. Using the students’ rooms as a lens to view their Americanized identities, Tinnen creates poignant images of lives constantly threatened by joblessness and deportation. Tinnen puts a human face on the statistics and titles each image with the student’s academic interest and the age they were brought to the U.S. This work is presented against the backdrop of pending legislation: the Development, Relief & Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that would provide a pathway to citizenship.
Throughout Tinnen’s photographic career, the subject of her work has been the Mexican immigrant and undocumented community. It is special to her because her parents are Mexican immigrants. While she was raised in American culture, she was also raised in an undocumented culture and her parents lived in fear for many years.
The focus of this current body of work is on undocumented college students. Year after year, thousands of law-abiding high school students, who are undocumented, graduate without being able to plan for the future, and others are removed from their homes to countries they barely know. Tinnen is passionate about the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and uses her photography to give these undocumented students an identity.
The DREAM Act is a bipartisan proposal, which would create a pathway to citizenship for thousands of young students who were brought to the United States years ago as infants and young children and through no fault of their own, are undocumented. Tinnen is photographing some of these undocumented students in their bedrooms, which is the place where they feel safest. Each of these otherwise law-abiding students came to the United States from different countries at different ages and they all want to be allowed an opportunity to pursue a pathway to be American. The United States, for many, is the only country they know. Through the details and objects found in the bedrooms, these photos show how they are American in every sense except unlike the average American student, once these undocumented students graduate from college, they will be unable to obtain a job. Tinnen has chosen not to show their faces so as not to disclose their true identity yet she wants to show their existence. All of the students she photographed have demonstrated a commitment to hard work and are currently attending various colleges around North Texas. These educated students want nothing more than to be able to contribute to the only country they know and love.