MTV’s “Beyond the Wall” Brings Intersectionality to the Election Season

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, MTV unveiled “Beyond the Wall,” the newest component of it’s Elect This campaign, in New York’s Herald Square.

While the interactive video installation only ran for one day, the videos on immigration, identity, and diversity featuring activists and artists such as Diane Guerrero, Brenda Abdelall, and Cristina Alonzo can be viewed online, alongside relevant petitions, informational materials, and polling place information. In launching the 10 by 35 foot video installation on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, MTV demonstrated how neocolonialism and imperialism continue to shape migration and mobility in the Americas. Late capitalism, globalization, and other forms of economic and political violence forcibly dispossess people of their lands and drive migration northward. Indigenous immigrants in particular face a unique set of challenges, including isolation as they often speak neither English nor Spanish, greater vulnerability to ICE raids, and racism, sexism, and social stigma. Issues of immigration and belonging in America cannot be boiled down to a single narrative or experience.

This is why I love that intersectionality is at the core of this project. Some immigrants in the campaign, like Diane Guerrero, come from families with mixed documentation status; others are refugees. For many, religion affects how they are perceived and treated in the United States. As a Muslim woman, Abdelall explains, she is racialized and marked as something “Other” than American. Our experiences as immigrants, children of immigrants, and “diverse” Americans are shaped by our intersectional identities and backgrounds. I, for one, am glad MTV gets that.

The project certainly falls short in some ways. Its language of “inclusion” comes at the expense of a more liberatory politics of change. Diane Guerrero, speaking on her childhood as the daughter of deported parents, says:

I hear people tell me that my story is different from the American story. Being the daughter of immigrants is a very American story. And I want to be part of this narrative, whether people like it or not.

This call to become “part of” an American story – rather than challenging the narrative of one America itself – evokes the melting pot ideology that has been so harmful for communities who refuse or are unable to assimilate. Some of us cannot, as hard as we try, be part of the narrative because the narrative in and of itself is designed to exclude those who do not fit neatly into white, xenophobic and heteronormative ideas about who belongs and who counts as “American” – just like the border wall itself.

That being said, I do think there’s something to be said about storytelling as a powerful tool to highlight – and undo – the harms of anti-immigrant rhetoric. You can watch Guerrero’s full video below. Check out the website to find where you can register to vote, learn how to challenge biases in your community, and see more videos.

Header image via Zimbio

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

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