The Adelante Lab, an academic team within the School of Public Health, hosted a presentation in the Michigan League on Saturday for the opening of the ICE in the Heartland art exhibit. The exhibition featured student spoken word and visual artwork inspired by the Adelante Lab’s research on the effects of worksite immigration raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in immigrant and mixed-status communities living in Texas, Iowa, Ohio, Nebraska and Tennessee.
The exhibition on Saturday aimed to showcase the lasting effects of immigration raids, in which ICE agents target workplaces that employ undocumented workers. Through their artwork, artists aimed to illustrate the chaos and separation of families caused by the raids.
Dr. William Lopez, a clinical assistant professor at the School of Public Health who leads the Adelante Lab, discussed why the Adelante Lab planned the event in an interview with The Michigan Daily prior to the opening of the exhibition. Lopez said the Adelante Lab hoped to show the viability of discussing the effects of large-scale worksite immigration raids through visual art.
“Creating art is simply energizing in a way that’s really important to keep the movements going,” Lopez said. “And it’s really important to be able to have something that energizes us to keep going, but also that tells a very rich story about our communities.”
Lopez and Nicole Novak, an assistant research professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, researched the use of immigration raids prior to the Trump presidency. Lopez said he hoped the Trump administration would end this practice and described feeling disappointed when they did not, citing large-scale raids in Iowa and Texas in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Lopez opened the event by thanking the Carceral State Project — an interdisciplinary project within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts that attempts to address mass incarceration, policing and immigration detention in Michigan — for the funding of their second wave of research into how communities respond to raids and survive persecution.
Public Health senior Kaveh Ashtari was the first to perform and shared a spoken word piece he had prepared. Ashtari told a story of returning home to the U.S. after visiting Iran, the place where his family is from.
“I exited the plane,” Ashtari said. “‘Okay, it’s time to lay low and keep quiet. If I can get through customs without any trouble, I’ll be okay.’ As I had a full beard and was wearing a Persian necklace, I was taking a significant risk. These elements could cause me to be stopped for questioning, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to be true to who I was. As I approached the customs gate, my heart began to beat faster. Bump-bump. Bump-bump.”
Rackham student Jasmine Donald shared a spoken word piece on the categorization and stereotype of “the strong Black woman.”
“Bang,” Donald said. “Bang. That’s the sound of my first time having to be something that I’m not: the strong, Black woman. A myth, truth, a blessing, a curse, both. Since I was a little girl, I have been given the knowledge that I am a strong Black woman and to be anything other is a weakness. Being the strong Black woman has helped me in my life, but has also caused much harm in my life. Being the strong Black woman means I can’t feel pain. It means I don’t ask for help. I take on too much and don’t say no. To be a strong Black woman means I sacrifice myself.”
LSA senior Aissa Cabrales presented her psychology honors thesis, which examines the impact of raids on faith responders — members of the local parish who oppose the raids and call on ICE to respect places of worship. Cabrales said she found that many faith responders who felt distraught seeing families separated within their own communities found distraction and meaning by participating in church.
“Another (frequent emotional reaction to the raids) that we found was this sense of distraction,” Cabrales said. “They saw their work with these churches as something that was their form of therapy, (or) form of distraction, that gave them a sense of control over the situation.”
Art & Design senior Carolina Jones said she felt moved by the Adelante Lab’s work, specifically its research into how communities come together after hardship. Jones also presented a series of illustrations related to the exhibit’s themes.
The first image, titled “Mrs. X,” displayed a teacher working with two students, with posters that said “Your Voice Matters” and “Tu Voz Importa.” Jones said she wanted to capture leadership in the classroom and the importance of teachers showing support for children who have experienced familial separation.
Jones’ next graphic, titled “Tareas,” displayed a family sitting around their kitchen table, with a mother holding a letter from ICE, a daughter giving the mother coffee and a child doing homework. Standing in front of the audience, Jones further explained the piece and the vision for leadership she saw within it.
“I think every single piece that I did this time, none of these people necessarily chose to be leaders,” Jones said. “They didn’t go like, ‘I am going to be the person that leads the social change movement,’ which is awesome if you do, but I think sometimes when you’re part of these things after trauma, you don’t have a choice but to be a leader … And so, mothers always have to be leaders, whether they like it or not.”
Jones’ last piece, “Interprete,” showed an interpreter with two identical men stemming from the middle of the graphic. One side displayed a Spanish poem full of phrases that Jones Ortiz believed were most commonly translated phrases by a real translator in the Heartland region, and the other side displayed common English phrases, creating a second poem. Jones Ortiz said she wanted to express the difficulty of a language barrier in partnership between the church and the immigrant community.
The art gallery, which includes Jones’ illustrations, will be hung in the League’s first-floor lobby until May 2.
Daily News Reporter Rachel Mintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.