Last night in Philadelphia, large yellow letters painted along Callowhill Street in front of a discreet redbrick building which houses the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s field office for Enforcement and Removal Operation — basically the hub of deportations in the area. The letters spelled out: We Are Human Beings, Risking Our Lives, For Our Families & Our Futures.
The display was designed by Michelle Angela Ortiz as part of her “Familias Separadas” project, a series of five, temporary, public art installations calling attention to the many families whose lives have been shattered by deportations. Monday night’s event was joined by family members and leaders of Juntos, an advocacy group based in Philadelphia that is dedicated to protecting the human rights of Latino immigrants.
“I wanted to shift the focus from the statistics and numbers of people that have been deported and have others see the individual father, mother or brother who has been torn apart from their families,” says Ortiz, “The temporary image that will eventually fade reflects the fading presence of the person who has been deported.”
My project reflects the stories of immigrant families that have found Philadelphia to be a safe place to provide a better future for their children. Very much like the Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants that made their way to the city, walking the same streets through this city, these families see this new home as a place of progress. The immigrant families involved in the project have seen this place as a safe haven, where their children will grow to be the next generation of Philadelphians (like myself/ a child of immigrants) that will contribute to the livelihood and fabric of this city. Philadelphia is a sanctuary for immigrants and honoring their contributions to the growth of the city is crucial especially during the current national anti-immigrant climate. For these reasons, this project is important because it offers a platform to tell the stories of our undocumented immigrant communities that are often unheard in our city.