My American Non-Standard

April 28, 2023

¡Hola desde Nueva York! As the spring fully kicks in and we prepare for summer, the ideas of freedom and liberation are very alive for me.

In the studio ready for spring!

In my nineteen years in New York City, I have to admit that I’ve never visited the statue of Liberty. I was just ‘too busy!’…

A tourist in my own city

Recently, research for a new project activated my desire and curiosity to visit the statue. After immersing in documentaries and reading, to truly understand what made this sculpture so iconic – to capture her ‘code’ in service of awareness and overflowing self-expression – I decided to head over to witness her live and take a stroll to Ellis Island, to learn about the OG process of immigration.

Lady Liberty in her full glory, April 2023

As I became a tourist in my own city, and nervously prepared for my ‘trip’ in the New York Harbor (just 30 mins. from my home), I reflected on what it means for me to be free, especially in this country. To me, a Panamanian who witnessed radical political transitions in my country from the 80’s to the early ’00’s (from a military dictatorship to a democracy, from a colony to receiving back the canal), all things American were of the ultimate standard, because they stood for happiness and freedom.

Visiting Ellis Island, the architecture and the spirit of the place reminded me of the former Canal Zone – I could smell the American government. I remembered my experience as an intern at the canal – following in the footsteps of two previous generations of my family – when American standards and systems had been implemented in Panama, with the aim to build and run the canal effectively.

Inside the Ellis Island hospital

Now, on the hard hat tour, going through the remains of the immigration hospital, I understood how through their design, they successfully prevented the spread of infectious diseases during the days that Ellis Island welcomed the new incoming labor force to the United States. A big part of the American influence in Panama was to sanitize against Yellow Fever (Malaria), in order to complete the construction of the canal, a task the French had failed at. I could feel the code or spirit of American design as it was felt in Panama.

To the left, one of Ellis Island’s first hospital buildings, a mental ward, with intervention by French artist JR. To the right, the Panama Canal zone, circa 1910, with mosquito proof porches. Although the buildings are do not have the same purpose, I could not help but feel the resemblance to their American standard.

I found myself at the confluence of my creative influences/topics: water, freedom, New York, history and immigration.

In my view, the American essence is about creative disruption, optimization and scale. This deeply influenced my view of the world and of myself, informing the pursuit of my very own American dream.


Ideal Identities + Breaking out the Box

Yet, TV and print media embedded and created a standard for the ideal vision of an identity. For me, the number one American citizen was not the President or the First Lady, but Barbie and Ken hanging out in their perfect, idyllic and colorful toy world.

Archivismo process:  analysis of the key essential visual elements of the 1959 Barbie by Mattel Inc.

As a Latinx Woman living in contemporary United States, I know that, this is not a true representation, What I love about New York is its diversity, which is needed for this city to thrive, especially in the creative industry. Still, although I know I bring so much to the teams and projects I work on, as well as to my creative and personal circles, I found myself questioning the freedom of my Panamanian identity, comparing myself to the ‘ideal standard’ and trying to fit it.

Personas / Barbie. 2014 Digital Print

In my Personas series, I engage in research through performance images that influence my creative potential. It is a transposition (you can also call it role playing), bringing a character into my own story.

When working with clients, I’m actively doing this, in order to understand their needs and view. Allowing myself to become Barbie within my own story (as seen in the photograph from 2014), allowed me to get out of the framing of the standard Barbie meant for women like me, who do not feel or look like her, but embody our own version of feminine power.

I asked: what does it take to become Barbie within my own story or life? And that’s what led the performance research.

After thinking about Barbie and Lady Liberty, I reflected on the polarizing extremes of a female image in the United States: a larger than life, immigrant (French), neo-Classical standard, exuding stoic power, representing freedom, supported by a steel structure structure. Then, a very small toy that travels and has a multitude of costumes, a different body build and is made out of plastic. So what do these extremely different symbologies say about the female identity in the US?

Golden Dream Barbie (#1874, 1980)

What both the monument and the toy have in common is that they draw on the influence of the Sun archetype, Lady Liberty inspired by Roman goddess Libertas and the sun god, Sol Invictus (Helios), (notice her 7 point crown or aura beaming like the sun, to  the 7 continents and 7 seas)  and campy Barbie by the California sun. These American symbols, in my view, are portraying women shining: big or small, made of copper or plastic, green or tanned and blonde hair. The message: that women who shine have time to have a blast (not just be busy)!  And to be aware of the power they have within the systems they live in.

Libertas and Sol Invictus references

On a mission for personal liberation from institutional and interpersonal oppression, I used the standard to gain insight into my non-standard. How did I ‘shine’ as a Panamanian immigrant and Latinx woman in the US?

Is it time to reframe your standard?


Stay tuned for the upcoming  Map Your CodeTM online workshop. Send a note if you are interested in this workshop, which will prompt you to find a framework of images that give you the power and support you in the development of a personal narrative that inspires your very own inner-alchemy (or inner-change). More details to come soon!