Art Shelter show to feature works of local migrant laborers

Nathan Oster

“We Are More Than Our Labor,” an art show featuring the works of Big Horn County’s migrant workers, will be presented Saturday, Aug. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Art Shelter, which is located east of Shell off U.S. Highway 14.

The organizer of the show is Eduardo Burgos. A native of Emblem and a 2018 graduate of Greybull High School, Burgos is going to be a senior this fall at Swarthmore College, where he’s majoring in medical anthropology.

Burgos been carrying out a grant-based community project this summer with migrant workers from Big Horn County who have been creating art pieces that represent their life histories — both in their home countries and in Wyoming. Among the themes they’ve covered are colonization in the Americas, life in their home countries, stories of migration and life, work and health in Wyoming.

The art show will showcase the work that they have been doing this summer while bringing visibility to this community and providing the general public with the space and ability to understand their unique challenges with employment and how these lead to poor health.

“Art is a great tool for communication that breaks language barriers and often silences vulnerable voices,” said Burgos.

There is no charge to attend the event.

For those who might be new to the community, the Art Shelter is located at 1664 U.S. Highway 14.

Burgos said he chose to major in medical anthropology because the field seeks to humanize health and medicine by understanding the historical, social and political forces that lead to poor health.

“Being undocumented and seeking medical attention was always a struggle for my family and countless other families in Big Horn County,” he said. “There are unique challenges migrants face in seeking care and unique employment factors that shape migrant health.

“For example, working in the agricultural sector involves long days in the sun, often for more than 10 hours. This debilitates the body and this continuous stress eventually leads to illness. Additionally, a lack of legal status creates barriers for people seeking care. Migrants are regularly turned away from medical facilities due to legal status.

“When health professionals interact with migrant patients, it is important for them to understand the migrant worker experience and shape their treatment plans in a way that aligns with their specific needs. This could mean advocating for better and more just working conditions, therefore approaching poor health from its root cause and decreasing the prevalence of poor health in the migrant community.”

The community-based project that he designed aims to increase a sense of community within the migrant workers through art that represents their experiences. The arts-based wellness sessions provide migrant workers with the space to rest, to learn of the forces that produce poor health, and to gain a sense of self confidence.

“My goal is for migrant workers to shift the blame of their poor health away from themselves and towards larger structural forces that they have no control over,” said Burgos.

Through this grant-based program, Burgos has brought immigration attorneys from the ACLU of Wyoming and the Mexican Consulate to the area to provide individual conferences for migrant workers.

“I have also been doing anthropological research by collecting life histories and illness narratives from migrant workers in Big Horn County for the completion of my senior thesis this upcoming academic year,” he said. “These were collected through participant-observation as I worked with migrant workers weeding fields and through informal interviews. 

“The main goal of the program is to bring visibility to the experiences of migrant workers in hopes that local decision makers will use their power to allocate resources to this community and improve their health. For example, setting regulations on the heavy use of pesticides/herbicides that migrant workers work with on a regular basis. We often forget the people that labor for us to have fresh produce on our tables. Driving through towns like Emblem, Burlington, and the back roads of Powell/Ralston, we often ignore the needs of these people, but these workers are more than their labor. Reducing people to the work they produce is inhumane and allows for injustices to continue to be unacknowledged and justified. This is my community’s call for visibility, respect, and action. “

Last semester, Burgos received a highly competitive national fellowship, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, which provides funding, mentorship, and related resources as he continues his education toward obtaining a PhD in anthropology.

He hopes to complete a JD-PhD program and eventually working in the public health sector advocating for the rights of migrants to affordable and proper medical attention.