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by Roberta Carasso

“Illegal Games, Loaded Dice”,
handmade boat/cement/acrylic/
stell/blue lights, installation, 1999.

"Illegal Games, Labyrinth
Entrance", installation with
light bulbs/wood, 1999.

"Illegal Games, I.D. Yo-Yo"
installation with 180 yo yos/wood/
acrylic/mirrors/black lights, 1999

"Illegal Games, Wheel of Fortune:
The American Dream," installation, 1999.
(CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County) Anaida Hernandez, known for her art on Human Rights, creates an impressive socio-political interactive installation in casino format on the subject of immigration, particularly on illegal immigration. Her intent is to simulate seriously, but with a layer of humor, the experiences of newly-arrived immigrants in the throes of becoming part of a foreign society. Hernandez, herself an American citizen who emigrated from Puerto Rico, addresses a myriad of cultural obstacles from language, to credit cards, to the many hurdles governments erect.

Presented as a metaphorical multi-media game, Illegal Games looks at issues of exchanging one heritage for another. Immigration, as expressed here, is part risk, part luck, part cleverness, and part persistance. The new rules are not given in advance, but must be acquired. If the rules are not understood the newcomer can easily be the loser. Immigration, in short, can be a crap-shoot.

Divided into a labyrinth of three rooms, Hernandez designed a lively casino where one finds assorted games and hand-painted symbols. Its purpose is to readily involve the participants/immigrants, extending to having them devise their own rules and finding ways to deal with and beat the system.

Flashing lights and colored symbols herald the starting point. First, one must pad through a darkened tunnel, symbol of the initial risk one takes. The first room, Yo-Yo ID, deals with the identity of self. The room is covered with mirrors and, from the ceiling, hang 180 yo-yos. Mirrors call to mind the multiplicity of being an immigrant, provide endless exposure of one’s identity, and make each participant conscious of his/her every movement.

The yo-yos are another form of identity. On one wooden side Hernandez paints symbols of success, such as golf clubs, lips, or an image of a bank. On the other side is an eye that forever watches the immigrant. Yo in Spanish means I, the individual. “Yo-yo” implies a double identity, juggling one’s heritage and acquiring a new persona. Viewers play with the toys, observe the symbols on each of the yo-yos, and contemplate their meaning. In a moment of fun, the message is deciphered.

The second room is Wheel of Fortune: The American Dream. All immigrants, no matter where they are from, come to a new land with a dream. A five-foot wide Wheel of Fortune is prominent. People spin the wheel and receive a chip of the symbol where the wheel stopped, and bring it to the betting table. The idea is to match the symbol on the wheel with the one on the table. The irony is that, even when one first gets an appealing symbol, the second chip can lead to something disastrous.

Symbols, for Hernandez, are the great equalizer. Everyone understands pictures, even when they do not understand language. These symbols refer to Power, Justice, Pleasure, Freedom, etc., and can be interpreted differently depending on what that symbol stands for in different cultures. Inherent in the casino’s design is that people would naturally give it their own cultural meaning.

Passing through a red room with dark violet lights, one enters the third room, Loaded Dice. Somewhat changed by the experience in the previous two rooms, the immigrant/participant finds a large hand-built cement row boat, replete with map, on which is a crap table and two wooden dice. The boat, with eight steel legs and four hands, represents the journey immigrants take, always with loaded dice, and always with the possibility of sinking.

On each die is painted symbols of transportation, how one would travel--by skateboard, horse, bike, car, etc. The other die has symbols of where one might go and what may happen. The two dice are rolled on the crap table, and the fate of the immigrant is sealed.

It is truly remarkable to see artists continue to address compelling issues of intellect and passion in such daring fashion long after they have achieved an international reputation. The Poiriers demonstrate that they are not subject to resting on their laurels.