Diag protest reading raises money for migrants on U.S.-Mexico border

Wednesday, September 4, 2019 - 10:04pm

A crowd gathers to watch and listen to the Writers for Migrant Justice protest with public poetry readings on the Diag Wednesday evening.

A crowd gathers to watch and listen to the Writers for Migrant Justice protest with public poetry readings on the Diag Wednesday evening. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

More than 50 students, faculty, poets and community organizers gathered in the Diag Wednesday evening for a protest reading and fundraising event through the national movement Writers for Migrant Justice. The movement is comprised of poets who joined together to raise money for organizations providing financial, legal and medical aid to detained or formerly-detained migrants.The open-air event featured 16 speakers performing original poetry and literature, including poets and writers who were both students and faculty members.

Writers for Migrant Justice partnered with Immigrant Families Together, an organization that provides legal and financial support for those affected by immigrant issues, and the local organization One Michigan for Immigrant Rights, which provides support to immigrant communities through “organizing, education, and empowerment.”

Sumita Chakraborty, Michigan Writers for Migrant Justice co-organizer and Helen Zell Writers’ Program visiting professor in poetry, opened the event by explaining the group’s background and its mission within a national context.

“This started as a nationwide movement when a few poets got together and thought, ‘Hey, while America has always been a fairly inhospitable place to a bunch of varieties of people, this is an especially cruel and brutal period of time in America for folks who are migrants seeking refuge and immigrants and racial minorities,’” Chakraborty said. “We wanted to raise some money to benefit some organizations that were directly targeting and trying to ameliorate the worst effects of this.”

Brittany Rogers, one of the evening’s performers, teaches in Detroit Public Schools in addition to her work as a poet. Rogers commented on the urgency of donating money to organizations that support immigrant communities.

 “A lot of our students come from migrant families,” Rogers said. “Seeing how our students are affected by (immigration issues) is one of the hardest things for us to watch.”

Samantha Magdaleno, director of One Michigan, elaborated on the continued necessity of the local support to immigrant communities her organization provides. 

“A lot of folks, since (immigration issues are) popular on the news now, they’re like ‘I want to do something, I want to get involved in it,’” Magdaleno said. “And all this money is going to new (organizations), who are kind of thinking they’re reinventing the wheel, right — but we’ve been doing this work, and we’ve been having strategies in place, and we have these connections.”

Many of the poems and short literature pieces focused on themes regarding migration, oppression, cultural belonging, undocumented experiences and first-generation experiences in the United States. 

 LSA sophomore Hannah Martin attended the event and said she particularly resonated with one poet’s commentary on the absurdity of referring to a human being as “illegal.”

“How can you be that when you’re everything this country’s built on?” Martin said. “That was a very, very powerful piece that I would love to hear again.”

The group hosted more than 40 similar fundraising events across the country on Sept. 4, with the goal of raising $5,000. By the time the final speaker performed at the University of Michigan event, Michigan Writers for Migrant Justice had raised nearly $2,000.