What Domingo Ulloa's Braceros Means to Me

Through SAAM's "Creating American Stories" program, DC public school students respond to works of art on view at the museum

Amaia Noursi on June 13, 2019

Domingo Ulloa, Braceros, 1960, oil on masonite, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Eugene Iredale and Julia Yoo, 2014.20

SAAM's Education Department works closely with 600 8th-grade students from DC public schools. We visit their classrooms and (thanks to a fleet of dedicated docents) they visit our galleries. Each student then writes a creative response to an artwork of their choosing from SAAM's permanent collection. These individual creative acts give us a view into the hearts and minds, worries and dreams of this population of future voters, community leaders, parents, and entrepreneurs. We've chosen two to share on our blog; we began with Myles Bell on Mark Bradford's Amendment #8,  and are now honored to present Amaia Noursi—who shared her work at SAAM—writing about Domingo Ulloa's Braceros.

A Q&A with Amaia Noursi

How did the painting Braceros inspire you?

I got inspired by the painting Braceros when seeing all the different faces with more or less the same expressions, but I saw it as something I can work with and expand on. I thought it would be great to incorporate a mystery with what I had, going beyond expectations and pitching in something new. Plus there was an odd mood hovering over these painted souls.

What was your writing process?

At first I had to decide what I was going to write: I had figured it would be a mystery but I couldn’t make it longer than a page, which, as a writer, I know is very hard. How to write a mystery in less than a page? You can't. Unless… it's just an unknown mystery and not a full-on narrative with a case. So I made it a hanging mystery. What the mystery was, how it affected the Braceros and what would happen. So I was able to explain that knowing a bit about the troubles they faced.

What value did you see in engaging with artwork in both English and US History?

So here’s the thing, I love writing, especially narratives and I love English class. I also find US history quite interesting. Plus it's not only US history, but it's also Mexican history just as much. I am Mexican, too. This allowed me to mix all these traits and things together which I found challenging and exciting, n adventure I’d be willing to go on. I thought I would be able to put these things together in a way no one has done before and add a bit of my touch to it.

What are your thoughts about giving voice to the poem in the museum’s auditorium?

I think it was important for people to express their pieces as they saw them in their head. For me, I don’t think it would’ve made a difference to be read by someone else, aside from the Spanish parts and emphasizing The Tale.

A. Noursi reading her work at SAAM

Amaia Noursi reading her work in response to Braceros by Domingo Ulloa

The History Written Here by Amaia Noursi

       What happened here? What happened fifty years ago that still dwells over us all like fog above a mountainous road. Mis compañeros and I have suffered the telling of The Tale. We sat through it like little children sit through a scary movie for the first time, but don't leave because they want to show their friends they were not scared. The story makes those hairs on the back of your neck that don't stand up when thunder crackles above your soul, stand up.

       My friend Ricardo had an uncle who was there the time It happened. The day was sunny, but the Masters were not. The Tale tells of the hundreds of Mexicans who stood on this same ground fifty years ago. Who everyday did the same as we did, and nothing more. Who had no freedom or chance to leave the camp. We were sheep herded and enclosed ready for slaughter. Ricardo's uncle lived to tell the first Tale told. He died soon after, the last of the survivors.

       Today we look beyond the barriers, into the horizon where the spirits dwell. While we pick the crops we don't even get to eat, the Tale replays over and over in our head. No pause buttons or other stories. Just the Tale. It is not spoken of except on the day of the Telling. But what happened here fifty years ago sank into the soil, our soil. It haunts us every time, not knowing exactly when or if it will happen again. 

A drawing of a room with a figure inside and rain outside

Detail of a drawing by Amaia Noursi


Learn more about SAAM's Education Department's rich offering of programs for visitors of all ages.