You wouldn’t believe it, but they’ve built a time machine. 

But this isn’t the kind of time machine you would see in “Back to The Future,” “Avengers: End Game,” or even “Meet The Robinsons.” This time machine is a kite.

The Rasquache Collective –– Ann Altstatt, Federico Cuatlacutl, Karina Monroy, and Kyle Lane-McKinley ––  created the exhibit “Border Bordados: A Rasquache Time Machine” to express their stance against Trump-era immigration politics. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) featured the Rasquache Collective as panelists at a virtual event about the time machine on April 25.   

The word Rasquache, of Mesoamerican roots, was originally laced with negative connotations and was widely used to describe something as lower class. The definition was later reclaimed by an artistic movement that now defines it as defiant and inventive. It’s a form of art that uses recycled materials.

This exhibit is part of UC Santa Cruz’s “Beyond the World’s End,” an exhibition that adopts the end-of-the-world narratives that surround environmental and social justice crises to create art and represent how particular populations are affected by these catastrophes. Offering a visualization of these narratives is a way to reveal the injustices that marginalized populations face. 

“When we travel to the future with a Rasquache time machine, we are reminded that the current state of mind cannot last forever, and that our communities hold the tools to exceed survival,” the artists wrote in the exhibit. “We have seen the future and we have known what it means to thrive.” 

By incorporating recycled materials into the tradition of kite-making from across Mesoamerica, viewers propelled the past into the future. Embellished with messages and questions of resistance, the Rasquache Time Machine comments on political conflict at the U.S.-Mexico border. In Mesoamerican tradition, kites were used as a form of communication with loved ones who have passed on. A kite would be adorned with messages and flown high above in hopes that it would reach them. 

Decorated in Spanish and English, one kite reads, “What will you have given up to aid the children?” with a faded orange background, hanging from the ceiling of the MAH. Another reads, “What skills will have helped your community survive?” with a fuchsia border around the translated words. The artists encourage the viewers to reflect on these questions and their place in the communities they come from. 

Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Arts & History.

During their panel discussion, Rasquache Collective artist Monroy mentioned that in the process of making the kite there was a lot of thought and conversation about people who have crossed the border and have been unable to go back to visit their family. 

The story of this time machine begins in Charlottesville, Virginia, with Fredrico Cuatlacutl, an artist with the collective. He arrived at the University of Virginia in 2017 on the same Friday that a neo-Nazi protest broke out. In response, he began studying the weaponization of culture, concentrating on the tiki torches used at those rallies and referencing his own Mesoamerican cultural tradition of kite making. 

“I was thinking about materiality, and using that as a way to bring into the studio and produce ways of resisting, and also thinking about how a community can engage with this kind of process,” Cuatlacutl said. “I was thinking about deconstructing the tiki torch and using that same material to build these traditional kites that I grew up making in Mexico.”

Lane-McKinley, a fellow panelist and artist with the Rasquache Collective, mentioned that the pandemic gave families who have never struggled to communicate an understanding of how families dealing with immigration laws have lived. 

Cuatlacutl shares a similar sentiment. In embracing the narrative of his culture and the traditions that accompany it, his artistic intent for this time machine was born.  

“The more we look at these communities on both sides of the border, the more we learn [about] these resilient mechanisms that they’ve constructed and built,” Cuatlacutl said in the panel. “The ability to build these kinds of cultural ecosystems and time machines as a way to self preserve, as a way to build resiliency as a way to resist, as a way to embody being the other.” 

The Rasquache Collective and MAH are hosting a kite-making event on May 9 at Cowell Beach to fly kites and mark the end of the exhibition. For more information, click here.