Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fill out an application where instead of checking a box for race or gender, you could fill in the blank with an answer that’s more representative of you? This is the approach that Seattle-based teaching artist and cultural worker Carina del Rosario took when developing her interactive project, Passport Series.
Currently on display at the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery at Seattle Central College through February 1, the Passport Series explores the complexities and nuances that categorization presents for those who are disenfranchised. Del Rosario re-frames five questions that are often found on identity applications (Name, Cultural Identity, Dates of Importance, Places of Importance and Gender Identity), and she invites participants to escape categorization by filling out a form with responses that more accurately reflect who they are and how they present themselves to the world.
Participants also get a headshot taken, and del Rosario puts everything together into something resembling a U.S. passport, which is then displayed for others to see. The project provides folks with a different experience in filling out identity applications and encourages viewers and participants to challenge and question how categories regarding identity are used to segregate communities and restrict rights to certain groups, while granting privileges to others.
Del Rosario started the project in 2013 after doing documentary work with transgender people of color. Through the people she’s worked with, she has learned about the challenges they faced in having to deal with official documents. Presenting a form of identity meant using a former name or gender that was assigned to them at birth, thus outing them of their transgender identity and putting them at risk for discrimination or harassment.
One of the folks del Rosario worked with was an immigrant who was able to legally change her name in Washington state, but unfortunately was not able to have that name change be recognized in her home country despite living as a woman for many years. This caused her to be in legal limbo, since her passport still listed her birth name and identified her gender as male. Coincidentally, at this time, there was a large push for Dreamers (undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children) to obtain protection from deportation, and a path to citizenship. Through this, del Rosario saw how crucial official identity documents are in our lives, and she became inspired to create the Passport Series as a way to express self-identity and the most important parts of an individual, in ways that an official identity application could not.
Seeing the diversity represented through the passports forces the viewer to consider and question how one identifies outside of categories set in place by policies. It is obvious how ingrained in our society it is to categorize ourselves through applications, whether for a job or driver’s license – “the sum of whose parts never equal who we are,” Rosario states. The project provides an opportunity for us to think and reflect about identity in a broader context, to think about how something as simple as filling out a form can be so difficult for those who are marginalized.
In addition to the participant passports on display, del Rosario also includes a legislation timeline which lists descriptions and targets groups of historical events that have categorized and marginalized groups of people. This came about after a number of viewers asked during various community events why such categories such as race and gender were being asked on identity applications. The timeline shows how the United States blatantly granted rights to some groups of people, but not others. The marginalization of groups by the government is perpetuated through policies set in place by legislature. By providing this timeline, it explicitly provides historical context for the passports.
The Passport Series provides a safe space for people to reflect on their own struggles with self-identity and allows others to see how we’re all connected outside of categories. As del Rosario says, “Together, we express our shared hope for the time when we are not limited and fragmented by categories, when can all be free to be our whole selves.”
Carina Del Rosario’s Passport Series is currently on display at the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery at Seattle Central College through February 1st.