The Power of Portraiture: Prof. Lizbeth De La Cruz and Baruch College Students Humanize Deportation Through Art

The bustling heart of New York City may seem a far cry from the remote deserts and rivers that mark the boundaries between nations, but Dr. Lizbeth De La Cruz, a newly appointed Assistant Professor in Baruch College’s Black and Latino Studies Department, has spent years working on a project that bridges communities and distance through the power of art and storytelling. Her latest endeavor, The El Paso del Norte mural project, captures transnational migration narratives, freshly illuminating the intricacies of U.S.-Mexico migration policies and their impacts on individuals’ lives.

Soon to span a vast canvas of concrete along the Rio Grande, also known as Río Bravo in Mexico, the mural vividly portrays the diverse experiences of Latinx and Black migrants—each with a unique story of migration, incarceration, or deportation. This project, according to Professor De La Cruz, is “not just about creating art; it’s about telling stories that need to be heard, about humanizing the dehumanized.”

The mural features thirteen large portraits, each ten feet by ten feet, bringing to life the faces and voices of deported veterans, asylum seekers, and undocumented youth drawn from the archives of Humanizing Deportation, a community based digital audio storytelling platform. By depicting the Rio Grande/Río Bravo not just as a geographical marker but as a symbol of ongoing socio-political strife, this project endeavors to capture the pathos of the often-faceless statistics of migration.

Equally poignant is the project’s harnessing of the collective efforts of Baruch students, almost 90% of whom are either the children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves. De La Cruz emphasizes the importance of this collaboration: “It’s about layering the skills these students are going to be able to use later on in life—to say, ‘I understand this on a different level than just indifferently studying it. I understand it emotionally.” Students from her classes on the “U.S.- Mexican Border” and “Latinx Communities in the U.S” have been directly involved in painting the portraits, making steady progress each week, turning theoretical knowledge into practical, empathetic application.

A unique aspect of the mural is its interactive component. QR codes accompany each portrait and link to detailed stories of the individuals depicted, allowing passersby to hear directly from the migrants in their own voices. “This digital narrative is crucial,” De La Cruz notes, “because it turns passive observers into active listeners, bridging the distance between the subject of the mural and the viewer.”

By focusing on deported U.S. military veterans and families affected by migration policies, the mural also ventures into the darker sides of the United States’ policies on citizenship, challenging viewers to reconsider the human cost of stringent immigration laws and the realities of deportation. The inclusion of diverse narratives, from young activists to veterans, invites a broader discourse on citizenship, community, and belonging, especially poignant in an election year in which immigration is a hot issue.

With the mural’s installation set for May 2nd, Professor De La Cruz’s vision is nearing its most critical phase—bringing the collaborative creation to fruition at the border itself. In this endeavor, Professor Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana extends an open invitation for all to experience the mural and to engage with the stories it tells.

“Yes, these are stories of extreme hardship,” she said, “but I think they also say something about the enduring spirit of these storytellers to overcome barriers, both physical and metaphorical.” Her project too underscores the indispensable role of art in education as well as advocacy. Once installed, they will provide a site where the personal impacts of migration policies are drawn up in sharp relief against the impersonal landscapes that bear witness to them.

The Road Less Traveled: How a Weissman Philosophy Major Became a Tech Executive

When Kimberly Bloomston chose to major in philosophy at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, she was planting the seeds for a future in an unlikely field—technology. Today, as the Chief Product Officer at LiveRamp, a growing San Francisco-based data and marketing company, Bloomston’s path exemplifies how a degree traditionally seen as abstract and frivolous can profoundly impact the disposition of future leaders and the fast-paced industries they join.

Graduating from Baruch in 2005, Bloomston’s plunge into syllogisms and metaphysical systems was sparked by an intrinsic curiosity about human behavior and the nature of thought that she started exploring in high school. “I was young and full of teenage angst, so what can I say? I just found it fascinating.” This intrigue only grew as she took more courses in college—first at Nassau Community and then at Baruch. It was her terminal degree.

Bloomston still credits her philosophical training with laying the foundation for her critical thinking and problem-solving skills. “I began to see philosophy as so foundational to how we change as humans and grow as humans and work as humans,” she noted, emphasizing the discipline’s comprehensive scope. These skills, too often classified as over-specialized and impractical, translated seamlessly into her career, especially in roles that required understanding the inner workings of complex systems and improving the web of human interactions that make them up. 

Her first significant role after college involved training programs in retail operations, where she quickly advanced to VP of Operations. Bloomston’s ability to connect with staff and enhance operational efficiency was surprisingly influenced more by her background in the humanities than anything else. “There was so much of what I learned at Baruch that helped me think carefully about how to connect with people, and how you teach them to think differently without losing what’s special about what they already have. It’s a whole way of communicating, a way of thinking about thinking. That’s the best way I can describe it.”

At LiveRamp, Kimberly has likewise leveraged the essence of critique to bring innovations to yet unarticulated industry-wide dilemmas. “I’ve made my career by being a divergent thinker, by questioning why things are happening the way that they are at any given moment and how to improve them. For me, it’s all about having a unique perspective, having a critical eye for things so that I can form that perspective, and drawing on information, whether it’s the text that’s in front of me, knowing how to use that text to do research, or to think about what’s surrounding that text, or what exactly has informed that text.” 

Bloomston credits her initial ignorance about a philosophy degree’s real-world applications. “Honestly, just not knowing about job prospects was helpful for me. I was able to be like, ‘Yeah, I can focus on this and I’ll be fine.’ It never even occurred to me that it would be a problem” she laughed, acknowledging how her background allowed her to take risks and explore opportunities she might have otherwise avoided based only on the taken for granted truisms of career advice.

Even now, after nearly 20 years of experience in the tech industry, Bloomston insists that the skills she developed through studying philosophy—critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and effective written and verbal communication—are more vital than ever for our evolving relationship to the digital world. “When you see something like generative AI pop up everywhere, you have to be able to understand the context of how that can actually change thinking and transform human behavior. The framing of ideas in this way is so central to being able to work in software.” Her distinct trajectory speaks to the enduring relevance of the humanities in understanding and shaping even the technological landscape. Proof: a degree in philosophy can be as practical as it is enlightening.