With the Multi-media ’39 Inside,’ the Plight of Undocumented Migrants is Told



On July 23rd, 2017, a blisteringly hot day in San Antonio, the local police identified a suspicious semi-trailer in a Walmart parking lot. Inside, they found 39 undocumented migrants, eight of them dead. A ninth person later died at the hospital.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio said at the time that the event proved “the plight of immigrants looking for a better life and victims of human trafficking.”

For Austin-based composer José Martínez, the horrific event proved the catalyst for “39 Inside,” his multi-media piece for chamber ensemble, electronics, video and dancers.

Martínez describes the 33-minute performance as “a grim submersion into the issue of undocumented migration that will take the audience closer to the experiences lived only by those who dare to take this perilous journey; one that might end in deportation or death.”

Martínez debuted “39 Inside” earlier this year as part of the Cohen New Works Festival at the University of Texas, garnering considerable positive buzz.

Now, “39 Inside” will be performed as part of a free concert entitled “Migration.” Also on the program is Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.

“Migration” is at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. While the concert is free, registration through Eventbrite is required.

The only scenery element in the show is a scrim-covered rectangular structure, a theatrical representation of a tracker-trailer truck. Video with footage of actual events and abstractions is projected on the side of the structure and dancers enact a version of the dire story. Music played by the chamber ensemble intermeshes with computer-made sounds and is laced with prerecorded first-person accounts in Spanish.

“My big goal is to make people do the journey with us as we play the piece — make them feel as if they are there with them in the trailer and as they are being arrested,” says  Martínez. “Nevertheless, once it’s done, we all can just go home, and get on with our lives. But hopefully, I planted a seed so next time they see something they try to look at it with different eyes.”

Born and raised in Colombia, Martínez holds a degree from Universidad Nacional de Colombia in both percussion and composition, and a master’s in composition from the University of Missouri. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in composition at UT’s Butler School of Music.

Related: José Martínez: Music from things that shouldn’t be together, but are

“I have always said ’39 Inside’ is not a political statement in terms of supporting one side or the other,” Martínez says.

“Instead ’39 Inside’ is about learning more about how and why people do this. Yes, we all ‘know’ why, but in reality there are a lot of details on the ‘how’ that are gruesome, and make you admire what people go through to just have a change to achieve a better life.”


Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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