Exploring Puerto Rico’s identity as both foreign and domestic

The Film installation merges Disney, NASA, and climate grief with Puerto Rican diaspora

Photo Olivia Johnson

Dazibao is home to a series of video and Super8 images featuring Walt Disney World and NASA space shuttles. The layered visuals explore Puerto Rico’s unique relationship to Florida and the United States. 

The exhibit, Foreign in a Domestic Sense, is a collaboration between artists Sofía Gallisá Muriente and Natalia Lassalle-Morillo. The name comes from the oxymoron used by the United States Supreme Court in 1901 as part of the ruling sanction to U.S. colonization identifying Puerto Rico as an “unincorporated possession.” The installation, which uses four screens to weave together images, video, and interviews, is currently on display at Dazibao, an art center and non-profit organization dedicated to contemporary image practices.

“[Foreign in a Domestic Sense] is such a poetic and ironic phrase,” said Gallisá Muriente, an artist who’s practice centers on excavating imagined and archived history. “This inherent contradiction is so typical of a lot of the language that has defined U.S. colonialism of Puerto Rico legally on paper. There’s all of this doublespeak and it was interesting to use that contradiction or use that tension between the foreign and the domestic, the strangeness and the familiarity.”

Photo Olivia Johnson

The project began from the artists’ mutual curiosity surrounding the Puerto Rican community that is quickly emerging in Central Florida. Lassalle-Morillo explained that the first migration of Puerto Ricans to Florida are known as “DisneyRicans” when a large portion of the population moved to work at Walt Disney World. In addition, many Puerto Ricans were migrating to work as engineers in the space industry. 

Lasalle-Morillo, a visual artist and filmmaker, explained that there is a special relationship between Puerto Rico and Florida. As a child, she and her family almost exclusively traveled to Orlando, Florida. 

“There's this connection and this imaginary relationship between these two places,” she said. “And after Hurricane Maria in 2017, a large number of the people who were displaced and emigrated from Puerto Rico went to Central Florida, particularly Orlando, Tampa, and Kissimmee.”

While living in California, Lasalle-Morillo spent a lot of time travelling and experienced a lot of layovers in Orlando. There was a growing number of Puerto Rican people arriving at the airport and she became curious about the emerging community in Florida. Unlike the New York community, often called Nuyoricans, the Orlando community was emerging in front of her eyes. 

“I became really curious as to what people were doing and how people were moving. How are people existing in Orlando?” said Lasalle-Morillo.

Eventually, Lassalle-Morillo and Gallisá Muriente started sharing news articles with each other that showed Puerto Ricans recreating their culture in Orlando. Their mutual curiosity led them to develop Foreign in a Domestic Sense

“We were very clear from the beginning that we didn't want to do a documentary of Puerto Ricans in Florida,” she said. “We wanted to use [this exhibit] as an opportunity to research, to be in contact and in conversation with people. But also to experiment with different methodologies and forms of making images.” 

The exhibit also features a series of interviews. The artists reached out to friends and family to share stories of migrating to Florida, many of which were directly connected to the economic crisis that has been unfolding in Puerto Rico. Gallisá Muriente explained that it was a clear reflection of the current crisis in Puerto Rico. Some people migrated for better employment and salary opportunities, special education, medical treatment, or a sense of community in Queer space.

“It reflected something very current and that was important and interesting to us to understand - a changing profile of migration,” said Gallisá Muriente. “We kept talking about how to some degree, this combination of factors mixed with the context of the places that these people were moving to, was inevitably forming a Puerto Ricanness of the future. It was developing, expanding, and evolving our shared identity and so we wanted to know what that was becoming.”

“Sofïa and Natalia wanted to get to know this community in Florida and I think that really sincere, authentic approach shows in their work," said Emma-Kate Guimond, exhibition and special project coordination at Dazibao. “It's deep, and it's developed in lots of different directions."

Foreign in a Domestic Sense will be on display at Dazibao until March 30.

Visitors can also experience Foreign in a Domestic Sense online. La Viewing Room also features additional imagery, information, and news articles that add context to the exhibit.