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Talk: Sanctuary In Chicago and Centro Sin Fronteras

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In tandem with the exhibition Andrea Bowers, the MCA presents Talk: Sanctuary in Chicago and Centro Sin Fronteras.


Established in 1986, Centro Sin Fronteras is a Chicago-based grassroots activist organization that champions the rights of workers and laborers. Led by Pastor Emma Lozano, the organization works with community members to bring attention to workers’ rights.

Within the Bowers exhibition, Centro Sin Fronteras is presenting objects selected from their archive and a history of their work. Along with activist Elvira Arellano, their community organizing work was the focus of Bowers's film Sanctuary.

For this discussion, Arellano and Lozano join Borderless magazine co-founder Michelle Kanaar and Chicago-based artist Jonathan Michael Castillo for a discussion around sanctuary in Chicago, the organization’s legacy, and their ongoing activism.

En conjunto con la exposición Andrea Bowers, el museo MCA presenta la discusion Sancturaio en Chicago y Centro Sin Fronteras.

Establecido en 1986, Centro Sin Fronteras es una organización activista basada en Chicago que defiende los derechos de los trabajadores y trabajadoras. Dirigida por la pastora Emma Lozano, la organización trabaja con miembros de la comunidad para llamar la atención sobre los derechos de los trabajadores.

Dentro de la exposición Andrea Bowers, Centro Sin Fronteras presenta selecciones de objetos de sus archivos para narrar sus orígenes e historia. Junto con la activista Elvira Arellano, su activismo comunitario es el tema central del cortometraje Sanctuary producido por Bowers.

Para esta discusión, Arellano y Lozano se unen con la cofundadora de la revista Borderless, Michelle Kanaar, y al artista basado en Chicago, Jonathan Michael Castillo, para una discusión sobre el santuario en Chicago, el legado de la organización y su activismo continuo.


GIBRAN VILLALOBOS: Hi, everybody. My name is Gibran Villalobos and I am Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. And I want to thank you for joining us tonight for our talk, Sanctuary in Chicago and Centro Sin Fronteras. I want to right away let you know that this program is being translated by Moira Pujols and Luchi Feuerstein and their caption services provided by Cathy Rajcan.

To listen to this program in your selected language, be sure to click on the globe located at the bottom of your screen here. It has a little globe that says where you can pick your language. If you’re joining us on Facebook, closed captioning is available in Spanish as well. And feel free to join us on Zoom so that you can join in on the chat. The link is going to be put in the chat. If you have any questions, feel free to message us via chat and we will be able to assist you.



GIBRAN VILLALOBOS: —a center without borders.


GIBRAN VILLALOBOS: —condition the future by recognizing where we stand today, and we recognize that we’re an unceded territory of the Council of the Three Fires— Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi. Our worldviews continue to change as we collectively imagine a more liberated future. I invite you to always learn more about the land that you all stand on.

As we continue our thinking about the future, I want to invite you to our upcoming programs. On Tuesday, February 15, Art and Activism in Latin America. We will be joined by two artists collectives, Frente 3 de Fevereiro from Brazil, Iconoclasistas from Argentina, in a conversation moderated by Professor Jennifer Ponce de León. For more on this, visit our website, mcachicago.org.

Tonight’s program focuses on presenting the work of activists and artists. The big question here is, how do artists prime space for activists and activism to take place in our society? Inspired by the exhibition, Andrea Bowers, currently on view at the MCA, you will find a selection of the pieces from Centro Sin Fronteras from their historic archive, available within the exhibition. I hope you can join us and come to the galleries to witness some of the material that they shared with us.

Now I want to get the conversation going. And I’m going to pass it on to Michelle Kanaar, who is co-founder of the journal Borderless. So thank you for joining us, and I’ll be around in case you have any questions. And stick around for videos presented by Jonathan Castillo at the end of our talk today. Keep the chat going, drop your questions in the chat, and, Michelle, take it away.

MICHELLE KANAAR: OK. Hi, everybody. It’s good to be here. I’m Michelle Kanaar. I’m the art director and co-founder of Borderless magazine. We are a nonprofit newsroom covering immigrant communities and people of color. And we are working to dismantle the racist coverage that has been happening for a long time and reimagine immigration journalism for a more just and equitable future.

So I think, let's get started. I'm going to go ahead and introduce everybody. So we have Emma Lozano here. [LAUGHS] I like the wave. So hold on here. Emma is a community grassroots activist and pastor at United Lincoln Methodist Church in Pilsen. In 1987, she founded the grassroots organization Centro Sin Fronteras for undocumented families. Today, she continues to provide front line resources to immigrant families and challenge immigration policies, both at the local and national level.

We also have here, hopefully, Elvira Arellano. Elvira helped spark the sanctuary movement in 2006— hi— when she decided to shelter from deportation at a local church with her son, who is a US citizen. This choice set a precedent, prompting churches in other states to also provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. And for years now, she’s been working as an organizer and championing immigration reform.

And then, last but certainly not least, is Jonathan Michael Castillo— there we go— who is a visual artist, photographer, and educator based in Chicago. His work has been featured in international journals as well as public art installations. And today he’s going to be talking about his recent exhibition at Columbia College entitled, Unaccompanied.

So we’re going to start out first hearing a little bit more from Emma. Emma, I wanted to know if you could tell us more about your involvement in providing sanctuary for Elvira back in 2006, and how this fits more broadly into the work of Centro Sin Fronteras?

EMMA LOZANO: Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much, Michelle. And thank you for this opportunity.

First and foremost, I’m a pastor, so I ask God to bless us, and to give me a way to accurately tell our history, and to honor those who have participated in the history of Pueblo Sin Fronteras. And at least understand why I became the founder of Pueblo Sin Fronteras.

People who know me can attest that I always feel others are probably more equipped, or educated, or better suited for leadership, but that I will fill a space in the fight for equality that’s empty. My brother Rudy would always say there are no great men or women in the world, just great challenges that ordinary people must take on. So I come from a family where my parents were migrant workers. They worked in the field.

And my father was born in Mexico and my mom and [SPANISH] in the valley. And my dad ended up being a steelworker. In the first five years of my life we lived in Hammond, Indiana in a Black community. And that's where I learned how to speak English.

And we were loved there. My doctor was Black, my teacher was Black. And we were just very well— we were respected in that community. And then when we moved to Pilsen, it was a European immigrant community. Not so loved.

And I witnessed the first attack of white supremacy at age five where we’re Mexicans moving into Pilsen where, for the first time they’re seeing Mexicanos, I guess. Swastikas were painted on our door. And when I saw that symbol and I looked at my dad’s face, I knew that this was a threatening message.

But my dad turned around and with his body language and his stare, he was able to tell them that they shouldn’t really mess with us. There was never, like, a conversation, like, about Nazis or a Mexican Revolution, just my dad’s reaction and some paint to cover it up was really that lesson for me. And then we attended Cooper School, which was a school where they didn’t allow you to speak Spanish in the ‘50s.

So it was another time where— and then I say this because I think it’s important for us to know that we’re in a time where there’s really a movement for white supremacy, and we still living— people that are still very, very affected by European colonization. And those things are still very much prevalent in the institutions that we are in. So as we built Pueblo Sin Fronteras, it was on the north side— I had left Pilsen— and it was something that needed to be done, and people were ready.

We moved into another neighborhood that was now mostly Latino, but had been a Polish community before. The park was named Kosciuszko, and the school— I mean the school was named Kosciuszko and the park was named Pulaski. But the community had changed and the struggles have changed.

And we were fighting to relieve overcrowding and to get our— to really understand. So we opened up a center in the community, and it called Centro Sin Fronteras. But the people were the Pueblo, so was Pueblo Sin Fronteras that derived from the name of the chance that when we were in Pilsen we would march for social justice issues and for amnesty for the immigrants so that they could live here legally. Because when you really think about it, half of the United States was originally in Mexico, because how could we be illegal in the United States. But that’s what it was, and it came out of that kind of stuff.

So as we move forward in the struggle, and we got involved in bilingual education to relieve the overcrowding, the electoral campaign of Harold Washington, my brother Rudy getting assassinated. And he’d always ask me, you’re living on the north side now, you should organize there. And then the opportunity came and I did.

And we started organizing there. And that’s where I met the now Pastora Jacobita Cortez and I met other people in the struggle. Julie Contreras, Ceci, the Mariposa, as I call them, and all the people that are composed Pueblo Sin Fronteras. But the issue is always legalization.

How do we legalize these families? How do we get them so that they could live lives with dignity and they don’t have to be afraid of being separated? So that was always— we had to go back to that. And that was Rudy’s issue, my brother Rudy’s issue, my dad’s issue. We deserve to be treated with equality.

And I’ll just go back to this one other history lesson that I learned from my dad. I came home in the third grade— English only Peter Cooper School here in Pilsen— and then I come home and he, always with a smile, mija, what did you learn today? And I go, oh, dad Dad, the American heroes at the Alamo, David Bowie, Daniel Boone, these guys, like the Mexican army came and they killed them all, but they were brave and they fought.

And my dad said, when I sent you to school this morning, you were smart. And I don’t send you to school to be stupid. So sit down. And he told me the history.

And I’ll never forget the look on his face of how he was disappointed in me. And I was being taught something that he believed was contrary to the history that he knew. And he told me the true history, and he told me tomorrow to tell my teacher. Of course, I couldn’t.

And then, there were some exaggerations. And he said, first, he told the truth. He said, Mexico— Texas was part of Mexico. And they had come and they basically said, we’re independent from Mexico. We’re now Texas and we own it. And now they brought in their slaves and that was illegal.

And he goes, you could not own slaves in Mexico. So there was a confrontation and they were killed. He goes, your gringo American heroes were killed. He goes, but it was only three Mexicans, one night, and we took them all out and we freed all the women and the children, and go tell your teacher that. Well, I never did that.

But it challenged me to really look into what was really happening to our community. And then as we grew older, we saw that we have to fight for bilingual education and things like that. But it was really during the Harold Washington election that we really saw how unidad could happen and get some victories done.

And then we were able to get— for the first time in the history that I ever lived— where if you were a non-citizen, even undocumented, you could vote in an election. And that was a local school council election. So Centro Sin Fronteras took power in that community and built these assemblies.

We won all the seats, even though Congressman Rostenkowski ran his precinct captains. We just won it because we were able, with our shear numbers and when we were given a chance to organize, raise our consciousness, and fight for our kids and our families, we were able to win that election. So that gave us a tremendous amount of confidence.

And then we started to work on immigration issues and try to win cases of people that were in deportation, and just stand up for the immigrant. And then there was the amnesty in the '90s, and we were able to assist people get the classes and that. But I think the main issue is [SPANISH].

When we met Elvira, we met all of these families that were fighting to stay here, that they found themselves in deportation, and Elvira was willing to help build, along with Julie Contreras and other members of the families, Doris, and Francisca, and all of them, we’re going to build an organization of mixed status families. We have US citizen kids and we should not be ripped away from them. We have the right to have a family.

That was an amazing struggle and it was an amazing organization of people. And Elvira was fundamental in building that. And then, at the time, in 2006, we were fighting for immigration. People changed the word from amnesty to reform and it was just a constant. But it was the same thing— keep our families together.

And then in 2006, we got a private bill for Elvira. And then we had the largest mobilizations in the history of the United States, where immigrant families came out, Latinos came out, Boricuas came out, struggling with us because we had made those alliances with them and we fought to get the Navy out of Vieques. So we had built the unity that was necessary for this moment in time where citizen, non-citizen, undocumented all marched together and they were the largest mobilizations in the history of the United States, and they were led by Elvira Arellano, a single mom who was fighting her own deportation, who decided she would not leave, that she would tell the government, basically, talk to the hand. I’m not going, I’m not a criminal.

And this was very important for the movement and for the people to identify with this mother. And that happened. And then, when she was unable to get the private bill because truth have it that Senator Durbin decided he wasn’t going to help her anymore, and he just didn’t reintroduce the bill. And Elvira found herself now in deportation.

And she just decided, after a lot of conversations and options-- she could have run away to another state, she could have done a lot of things-- but if she wanted to fight, that the option was sanctuary in the church. And that's what she decided. And she then-- my husband, Reverend Slim Coleman was the pastor-- he granted her that sanctuary and she took it. And that's the sanctuary movement that was born, different from the one in the '80s where [INAUDIBLE].

And they’d be fugitives. You would just hide them in your churches. No, Elvira, and the community, and the congregation, and the Boricuas that lived there came to stand guard in front of the church to say, this is a mother. And Elvira said, I’m here. I’m not hiding. Don’t try to arrest anybody else asking them where I am. I’m here in my church.

And if you want to rip me from the arms of my son, in my church, then the whole world will see what hypocrites you truly are. And that was really the battle. And later, Elvira gets deported. But we’re going to have her tell her story. But I wanted to open it with that because I think we’re living in a time where people need to make a choice.

That’s why I love the video we saw first with Rosalba, that she says, we got to take a stand. We’ve got to make a choice. Which side are you on?

And it really is, are you on the side of equality, or you're on the side of white supremacy? Because privileged people that still think they dominate and continue that colonization mentality, or are you going to challenge that? And I think that that's where we are at Centro Sin Fronteras is still alive, [SPANISH], and our campaign right to family. And we've been everywhere, protesting, doing what we need to do in order to raise this issue.

And we’re asking everybody listening to be part of the fight, to make a choice. Which side are you on? And then, I’d like to hand it over again to Michelle if she wants to introduce Elvira. But I think Elvira has a beautiful story to tell. Thank you.

MICHELLE KANAAR: Thank you so much for that, Emma. Yes, I wanted to hand it over to Elvira. Elvira, [SPANISH SPEECH]

MICHELLE KANAAR THROUGH INTERPRETER: Elvira, can you please speak to us about your experience in 2006 when you had to go to San Albert church for sanctuary? And also, tell us how that influences, still, your life today. Should I ask the question again?





ELVIRA ARELLANO THROUGH INTERPRETER: I want to be able to hear the translation. I can’t hear it in English.



ELVIRA ARELLANO THROUGH INTERPRETER: Good evening. My name is Elvira Arellano. For me, it’s a great honor to share with you. I feel very blessed and lucky to have met—


ELVIRA ARELLANO THROUGH INTERPRETER: —the Methodist church, St Albert and now Lincoln. But really, for me, everything started when I was arrested at the airport raid in 2002. I was working on December 10th when they started a raid looking for possible terrorists. And that’s where I was arrested among those people, more than 34 employees that were working at O’Hare and Midway Airport.

For me, I felt, then, that the world was falling apart. I thought I was going to be deported. My son was then three years old. And I thought, what am I going to do if they deport me to Mexico? How am I going to provide for my son as a single mother?

I saw that things were turning so difficult. And while I was at the detention center, I reflected on what to do. And that’s when I was told that I was going to be charged federally for having used a false Social Security number to work at a federal institution and that there was going to be a possibility that I would go for three years, up to three years, at a federal facility.

And I wondered, what would I do? How am I going to end up in a federal prison, when the only thing I’ve done is to provide for my son, to be a good mother? I work every day. It was very difficult for me to think of the possibility that I would be criminalized for just working.

I remember that day that the federal judge allowed me out on an I bond, where I couldn’t move to another state. I couldn’t leave the country. And I had to attend court whenever I was asked to be there. And they also assigned me a lawyer. I didn’t have resources for a private attorney.

So I was out that very day at about 8:00 PM. And on the way home, I started to get phone calls from co-workers, family members. They asked me to be careful, because they were raiding airports.

And finally, I said to them, I’m actually on my way home. Fortunately, my son was able to stay with the baby sitter. And I then picked up my son. And the next day, I started to knock on doors.

I went to the Mexican consulate. And unfortunately, they told us that they couldn’t do anything for us, that if they deported me, I was just going to have to leave the country. I went to speak to my attorney. My attorney said, you can’t talk to anybody.

Don’t talk to the media. Don’t talk to anybody, because otherwise, the prosecutor will use it against you. I started to get phone calls from the media. And at the beginning, I didn’t want to speak, because I was very afraid.

I thought, no, I can’t speak to anybody. But then, I eventually spoke with some of the Spanish language media. And they said to me, if you speak, just tell your story. Somebody will be able to help you that way, you and other arrestees.

I saw that other families had been at the detention center like me. And thank God I was able to be freed and that I was able to be with my son. However, I needed to do something to help those mothers and fathers that was still detained. That’s why I decided to speak to the media.

And I remember being contacted for a press conference the next day. And at that press conference, I met— it was very difficult to speak with the media. But I did it. I thought of helping other families. And I also wanted to.

After a few days, I was able to talk to other organizations. Emma Lozano, my pastor, and other people in the community started to support me. And that’s how it all started, December 19, 2002. That’s when we had the first protest at O’Hare.

And that’s where I met the congregation of the Methodist church. I asked them what church they belong to. And they said that they were from St Albert. I saw that they had a Virgin of Guadalupe with them.

They invited me to the church, and I went next Sunday. I liked it very much, because they spoke about immigration reform. They talked about families. They talked about the fact that there were other workers struggling, that they were other families that were also challenging deportation proceedings, even with American husbands or wives.

And I thought, the only thing I have is my son. I’m going to fight. I’m going to fight for him, and I’m going to fight for other people who are just like me. And I’m going to fight for my son.

I knew that I wasn’t by myself, that the church had opened their arms and their doors to me. And we came together to organize for a protest march in Washington. I would always have my son with me at those protests here, there, and everywhere.

I decided I did not want to go to federal prison. And that’s why I was so thankful to get so much support from the community and from the congregation. I received three years of probation, which I finished with success.


ELVIRA ARELLANO THROUGH INTERPRETER: Fortunately [INAUDIBLE]. both at the Senate and the Congress so that I could stay. That allowed me to have a Social Security number, a work permit, so that I could work within the law. I have at least a temporary protection. That's thanks to the fact that I decided to fight, that I decided to raise up, that I decided to do it, and with the support of communities and churches and organizations.

There were other families struggling as well as I was. I did not feel that I was alone. And the very thought that other families could benefit from my fighting to change our lives, that’s how we started Familias Latinas Bonitas, 35 families. Like our pastor Emma said, they mentioned Francisca Lino who was also in sanctuary for several years, Dolores Aguirre whose case has not yet been solved, and other families that were able to win their cases, other families that were, however, deported.

The most important thing was that we decided to fight. And that was when I decided to take sanctuary at the church. Again, Walter Foreman, my pastor, helped me. Emma Lozano, my pastor also. And [INAUDIBLE], associate pastor in our church, Methodist church, in Humboldt Park as well.

Jacobita Cortez was also my pastor. She was the one that stayed with me at the sanctuary. It wasn’t easy to be there, because I received a lot of support from the community. Yes, people from high schools, the universities, colleges.

Community youth would come to the church to listen to the story, to listen to the families that were fighting for immigration reform, families that fight for family unit. And that’s how we were able to keep that fight for a year, a year of sanctuary and a year of resistance, thanks to Congressman Luis Gutierrez and the whole Puerto Rican community.

Roberto Maldonado then had part of city council now. But then had another auction. In the government, also, we had leaders of the Puerto Rican community. I’m very thankful to the community of Humboldt Park, José Lopez and so many others, people that supported us, people that were telling us, you are right.

You are a hard working mother. And that’s why we support you. You’re not stealing from anybody. You’re not killing anybody. You haven’t done anything wrong.

The only thing you’ve done is work to give your son a better life. And that’s what kept me fighting, that support. At the beginning, my parents in Mexico didn’t agree with what I was doing.

My father would say, you have to respect the law. You have to follow the law. My mom would say the same. I said, I am fighting for my child’s future, for him to have a better life in this country.

And eventually, they gave me their support as well. I’m so thankful for all the support I’ve received. We continue to fight for immigration reform. We continue to fight for justice for all.

I have a Social Security number, a driver’s license, and a work permit. So I have temporary protection, which in this pandemic, is difficult for so many. People have suffered because they don’t have those benefits that I have.

Many people lost their jobs. They don’t have unemployment security. And many people got sick. The most important thing is for us to continue to fight.

Thank you. I’m sorry to interrupt, but we need to hear from Jonathan as well. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Thank you so much.

MICHELLE KANAAR: OK, we’re going to switch gears now and hear a little bit from Jonathan. I wanted to ask Jonathan, you have that exhibition right now happening at Columbia College, called Unaccompanied. And so I wanted to hear a little bit more about the work that you have included there. And also, how that fits into this discussion that we’re having about sanctuary and right to family. So if you can tell us more about that, thank you.

JONATHAN MICHAEL CASTILLO: Thank you very much, Michelle. Yeah, the work is actually, it came down in December. So it was up recently. So we’re going to show some photographs of the installation and some of the work from the project.

But the work will be up on my website at some point soon. So this project that I’ve been working on very recently, actually, the last couple of years, I think is very connected to these issues that have already been discussed. Through this fellowship that I got, it’s the fellowship connected with Heartland Alliance and Columbia College Chicago.

And I was able to get, through the fellowship, I was given access to several programs that Heartland Alliance runs. They’re a non-profit organization that does a lot of anti-poverty and social justice work. And one of the things that they do is they run these shelters that take care of unaccompanied children.

The shelters are actually run through— they’re contracted with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. And they take care of children that arrived in the United States without their parents, until they can be reunited with a family sponsor or a non-family sponsor. So that runs the gamut from everything from Central American kids that we typically see on the news, when we think of immigration crises at the border, to kids from China and India, who also end up coming over the border of Mexico and make very long and difficult journeys as well, not speaking English, not speaking Spanish, and making a very similar journey.

And more recently, these shelters have been taking care of a lot of kids from Afghanistan. So there’s kids that have ended up in these shelters through the kind of downstream results of 20 years of failed foreign policy. These kids that are in the shelters now from Afghanistan, they’re in a really tough situation, particularly because they have no family here. And so there’s no one to take care of them.

There’s no family to resettle them with. So they’re looking to get these kids resettled with long term foster care. And so these shelters exist to take care of kids that end up in the US without parents, however that happens.

So unfortunately, during the Trump administration, that included the family separations that we read about in the news. Those kids that were forcibly taken from their parents ended up in these shelters as well, which is not what anyone who works in these shelters would have wanted. But their job is just to take care of these kids when they arrive.

So the work you’re seeing currently is a collection of images done with different strategies. There’s the images in the frames or interior photographs of the space of the shelters themselves. So some of them are photographs of the kids rooms, like along image on the left and the one in the middle, and then images of the facilities themselves.

I'll show you a close up of the images in a minute. But [AUDIO OUT] And then all of the kind of colorful stuff surrounding these-- [AUDIO OUT].

MICHELLE KANAAR: Hey, Jonathan. You’re cutting up, cutting out a little bit.

JONATHAN MICHAEL CASTILLO: I kind of wanted this work to both, as well [AUDIO OUT]

MICHELLE KANAAR: Could you try turning your video off? Oh, I think that might help. Did we lose—

MAN: We might have lost Jonathan Castillo.



MAN: You’re back.

JONATHAN MICHAEL CASTILLO: Sorry about that. My Wi-Fi decided to be spotty at just the perfect moment. So the colorful stuff in the background that’s kind of on that wallpaper, that stuff is all things that the kids have made themselves that are stand ins, both for the kids themselves, because it’s literally the written words of these children. But it also talks about the relationship that these kids have with the staff members there.

And that while no— and I think that while no one that sees these shelters, and I think when you look at the photographs, you’ll get this sense that no one would want to live there. And no child would want to be there. And we would never want our children or ourselves to have to live in a facility like this. I think I wanted to kind of tell a really nuanced story and also talk about how, that while there’s those issues, and there’s certainly these kids that are experiencing, have experienced and are experiencing trauma, there are elements of joy going on at these shelters. These kids are still kids.

And there are people who really deeply care about these kids and are doing their absolute best to take care of them in these less-than-ideal scenarios. So if we could go to the next slide, I can show another example. This is another kind of example of the installation.

And then if we go to the next one, there’s some close ups of some of the crafts. So this is a letter, some artwork and some words that were written to a staff member from one of the kids. And then the pinata was made by a group of girls that were all young pregnant girls that were in another facility. Go to the next slide, please.

Some more artwork from one of the kids. There’s some humor in some of these. And to the next slide. And I’ll leave this here for a second if people want to read it.

But when I was photographing in these spaces, well first, to be allowed in was a long process. But I had to really make sure that I was very careful not to identify who these kids are. Many of them are— all of them are very vulnerable children, many of them who are potentially victims of human trafficking.

So you know, I can’t photograph them. I can’t publish any full names or identification that would allow someone to find them. So that was all things that had to be considered when I navigated this fellowship and made this work. Go to the next slide, please.

So some of these photographs, these are photographs that I made of the interiors of the facilities. So this is a bunch of bags that are packed with clothes and shoes and toothbrush and toothpaste and all the kinds of things the kids would need when they arrive in the shelters. But this photograph was actually made in the summer of 2020 when the Trump administration used title 42 to keep all migrants out of the country due to the pandemic.

So they used this obscure public health code as a way to keep people out of the country. So these are all bags that would have gone to children that would have been being cared for in these shelters, but instead were pushed back from the border and told to remain in Mexico and weren’t even allowed to put their asylum claims forward or anything like that. If you go to the next slide, this is taken at the same time.

This is a room where they would store belongings that belong to the kids. It seemed my initial kind of thought was like, they take the stuff away from these kids and put them in these rooms. And there’s good reason. This is a group home setting.

These kids are all living in a group environment. If one kid arrives with an iPad, and another doesn’t, it kind of sets up these unequal dynamics in the space and can create jealousy and problems. And you don’t want a kid who’s got a favorite toy having that taken by another kid or damaged in some kind of disagreement between kids, because kids will be kids.

So they really encourage the children to just put everything in a bag. It’s going to stay in this locked room until you’re resettled and moved somewhere else. If there’s a favorite t-shirt or a favorite stuffed animal that really needs to be with one of these kids, agreements can be come too so that the kids will have access to those things. It’s not a hard and fast rule.

But it’s sort of like, everyone’s here at these facilities. These kids are all here. And everyone’s on this equal setting is kind of how they try to do it, another less-than-ideal scenario.

If we go to the next slide, this is the food pantry with these really large industrial cans to kind of give them a sense of the scale at which these shelters operate and the number of kids that they’re caring for. Next slide, please. This is a detail from a room. These spaces are converted nursing homes.

So this is one in Bronzeville, I think, normally can hold and take care of about 300, 350 kids, 4 floors of this building. And so when I was photographing in this space, this was occupied by a young man from India at the time. And next slide.

These are some of the pinatas I mentioned earlier in progress at the facility in Inglewood, which is a little house. It’s very small. They only take care of about 10 to 15 kids at a time. And at the time I was there photographing these, it was all young pregnant girls between the ages of 13 to 17.

Next slide, please. Another photograph from the same facility in Inglewood. And you can see some sonograms and a book about becoming a new mother and some knitted hats that this one young woman was making. And this photograph was, a lot of the time when I go to make these photographs, I would have to make them when kids were not in certain parts of the facility. They would let me over into other parts.

And this particular photograph, I actually made it with this young woman. I kind of talked to her about what I wanted to do and told her that I’d like to make some photographs with your sonograms. And we kind of arranged them together and worked through this, because it was one of the more personal specific moments of making imagery in this space. And this has, it’s all been a big learning process for me on this journey about learning about socially-engaged work and how to navigate these things ethically and what have you.

So next slide. This is another bunk bed from the same facility with artwork from this young woman. And some people may recognize this. Some people may not. But that’s a pregnancy pillow. So that’s for being able to lay down comfortably in bed.

MICHELLE KANAAR: Jonathan, if you don’t mind, I’d actually like to transition to talk a little bit more about what you’re saying about this socially-engaged work, if that’s OK. If we can open the— because I see that we’re kind of running short on time.


MICHELLE KANAAR: Cool, thank you. So yeah, I mean, I love that you touched on that. And I think this kind of work is so important. And I wanted to bring Emma in as well, because Emma, I know you and I have talked a lot about the role of art in documenting and amplifying la lucha, the struggle. I feel like you say that to me all the time. But I’d also like to hear from you both about what you think the role art can play in reimagining a different future and bringing people to action.

EMMA LOZANO: Historically, art has been used, whether it’s in the form of a corrido or in the form of a message, a mural, et cetera has been used throughout our history of struggle. I remember, like a viewer in front, back in the day when my dad was a union worker for the steel company. They were on strike.

And his buddy would come out and pull out a guitar. And they would say, otro corrido. Because sing the songs of struggle, whether they’d be in English or Spanish. But it’s always been part of it.

And I think the videos that we showed in the beginning are that. They’re art. And it shows the suffering of the people. But it also brings people together that identify with it so that they can struggle for justice. Right now, we have the right to family video. Hopefully, maybe at the end, we could watch it.

But this one talks about how we’ve already created a bill. We’ve written it ourselves for ourselves during a time when crisis, when people are being separated from their families. We talk about kids at the border, the human rights violations in the world today is right here in the USA.

They separated Elvira from her son on the streets of California. They put automatic weapons to our heads. And they took her away and handcuffed her, deported her. And they didn’t ever ask, who is going to be— take care of this kid? They didn’t know who we were. They couldn’t care less.

This is the United States that’s doing that to US citizen kids. Can you imagine what they would do to an Afghan child? The war over there ended. And then all of the people that were in Afghan that want to come to this country must come to this country, because they’re in danger.

But then you’re going to deport Miguel Perez Jr, who fought in Afghanistan for this constitution and this flag. You see the hypocrisy. So art is necessary in order to bring out the truth.

And it’s— our art is one thing I say, it lasts an eternity. I could talk to you right now, and it’s gone. But art is a message that lasts forever for that moment, for that time, for that lucha. And it leaves a message for all those that are living or experiencing an injustice, that there is a way.

And you know, when you see the butterfly going over the barbed wires from the border, that’s the Mariposa that’s free. And that’s what we’re trying to get is that freedom to be like that Mariposa. Why do we have to stay separated from our families? Why do we have to take this? Why can’t we be free?

And those images have always been for us. Chuy Negrete, we lost him this year. But he always sang corridos of the lucha, just like Rosalba, now Valdez from our church. He does the same thing. The pictures, the photographs, the images, all of that is important for our lucha.

MICHELLE KANAAR: Jonathan, do you have anything to add?

JONATHAN MICHAEL CASTILLO: I mean, I think artwork has this role of laying the groundwork, often, for conversation, so that conversation then will often spur people into more concrete kind of activism. And so I think that it’s all connected. I don’t think that it’s— and it’s not that artwork can’t be activism itself, or that even just making things aware isn’t a form of activism. It’s, I think, a very large sliding scale of where things lie.

But I think someone like Emma, definitely, she’s looking to— she’s trying to change things from the outside. She’s not in the government working in a position where she has— aside from getting people elected, then you are. But there’s these different ways of introducing change.

And I think having people be vocal and active and visible on the outside of a system is really important. And then I think having, and then doing the hard work of getting people elected and getting people inside of the system or getting people hired to work in these facilities and take care of kids or what have you, is also really, really important. So that you can have people in all aspects of society who care about these issues in those different kinds of roles that can affect change.

MICHELLE KANAAR: I think it’s really interesting how you talk about that setting the foundation for the dialogue. And it makes me think about just getting away from the politics. And I wonder, for both of you, Emma, I wonder if you feel that you can get people kind of behind this movement more, because you have religion. You have your church and the members who come there, who often then get involved in these movements with you.

And the same thing with art. If that seems like a more accessible way to bring people in and get them civically engaged. I don’t know. Is that something that you all have found? Or—

EMMA LOZANO: We are a people of faith. By and large, the Latino community is a people of faith. So you go where the people are and their beliefs, et cetera. So we can congregate and bring— but we also have the obligation or the responsibility also to challenge the church. We have to challenge the church for sanctuary.

Why weren’t they doing what we were doing? Why weren’t they opening the churches and challenging the government? Why are you separating these families? You know, it’s one thing to be on the side and have a verbal position. But it’s different when there’s action that is also included in it.

And with Elvira and sanctuary, we were able to do that. But we also have to challenge the churches that are, right now, basically white supremacist churches, using the Bible to basically say that this is theirs and their privilege and et cetera, and distorting it, because— And so the role of the church is very important in this time, as it was during the time when Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and the slavery was happening the Abolition movement. Always the faith, the art, all of this coming together is necessary to use all these elements in order to reach the goal, which is the victory.

And right now, I think we have to ask people, which side are you on? Because we’ve come into that situation now, where people are challenging voters rights, making it difficult for Black and brown people to vote. And that is because somebody’s fighting for the privilege to stay with the white supremacy.

And we have to be on the side of equality, regardless of what color we are. We have to be on the side of equality. That’s what it teaches us. And whatever religion or— and especially in the Bible, of the oppressed people of the poor. When Jesus Christ met the man who was rich, he said, leave everything. Give that to the poor, and follow me. Pick up my cross and follow me, meaning we got to go and struggle. We got to challenge and do what’s right.

So I believe that that’s where we are in the movement now. And it’s becoming so clear that people need to— there’s a lot of people that are working with the government and inside the government and trying to change from the inside. But the elements from the outside, it really is the time for people to mobilize and to energize this movement so that we can really make some clear change and that we could have these families be put back together.

MICHELLE KANAAR: Thank you. And I just want to reiterate what’s in the chat. If you all have any questions, please go ahead and put them in the chat. And we are getting close to the time that we need to wrap up.

But I’m going to let Jonathan, if you have anything to add. And then I also wanted to ask you both, what are some action items that you can give to people? I know at the end of one of your videos, Emma, you said be the change. Register to vote. If you all have any other action items that you can give people to leave this talk with.

EMMA LOZANO: I definitely want to tell people, first and foremost, look in the chat. If you can participate, become a member of Right to Family, we are fighting for the right to keep our families together. Everybody has the right to raise their children and surround them with love and not be separated from them because of broken immigration laws.

We have a stalemate or whatever it is, what they’re calling it. But the Build Back Better was supposed to include this, and it’s not getting through. And families are still— 12 million people are still in the shadows. Kids are in cages, and that’s wrong.

And we need to take a side. And we need to register the vote. We need to make sure that we’re prepared to run the candidates that are going to be able to meet those challenges that we find today.

We have a book. We’re asking everybody, Elvira’s Faith, to if you can purchase the book, it’s also in the chat so that you can help us raise the money to continue to mobilize, agitate, organize our communities so that we can stand up and best defend ourselves and recruit allies and members of our organization to the fight. So we’re asking everybody to participate, to make a commitment. There is no victory that has been won that’s worth a damn without having commitment, investment, discipline, and sacrifice.

And if you’re willing to do that, we’re asking you to be a member of Right to Family, because our families have a right to be together. And there’s millions and millions that are living in the shadow. And if anything proved by the pandemic, some people died because they couldn’t even prove they were essential workers, because their employers would not give them the letters that they needed to get the vaccine.

And not that they didn’t want to get the vaccine, they couldn’t get the vaccine, because they didn’t meet the criteria of all the tiers that they presented. So they died because of discrimination. They died of neglect. They died of ignorance.

And that’s got to stop. So we’re telling everybody, be a part of the struggle. Which side are you on?

So for action items, I think it can take a lot of forms. It can be something really small. You know, Heartland Alliance has these shelters. And I technically was classified as a volunteer to get in there. So for my fellowship, the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship, I had to become a volunteer, which involved going through a background check and some training and all this stuff.

But then I was allowed in. So there’s opportunities to volunteer, potentially, at these facilities. If you’re an artist and you want to do an art project with the kids. If you have— they’ll bring in people who, with therapy dogs and to help the kids while they’re there.

There’s all kinds of different opportunities. The kids will take them out on field trips and take them to places so to museums and what have you. So you might not even realize a group that looks like a school group is actually a bunch of kids that are unaccompanied that are on a field trip that are living in a group home here in Chicago.

So you can be involved in really simple ways like that. And you could go so far as signing up and figuring out a way to become a foster parent to a kid who doesn’t have a sponsor, someone, a kid who’s here, who can, instead of be living in a shelter could be living in a home. And it’s a lot more research and a lot longer process and things. But that is something that people do. And it’s not an easy thing to do.

And that’s just dealing with the issue of, in a very real sense, helping and working with kids in an individual and specific way. But you can go as far as running for office and those kinds of things. So I think, find something you can do that doesn’t involve Twitter and Facebook and sitting in your armchair being an armchair activist. Get out and do something meaningful.

MICHELLE KANAAR: I love that. And I love— oh sorry. Emma, were you going to say something?

EMMA LOZANO: Yeah. I was just going to say, many of these kids that come from at least Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, they have family here.


EMMA LOZANO: It’s just reuniting them with their family. They shouldn’t stay in these shelters any longer than they have to, because, and the whole idea is, the shelters are there because the kids are separated from their families. And what we want to get to a point where there’s legalization, so that we don’t separate these kids. And these kids can be with their families legally, and that there’s no separation happening.

And get involved in that. And meanwhile, be a foster parent if you can, and do other things like that. But let’s get to the root of what’s really happening. And let’s make the change there. Let’s make that commitment, that we’re going to do whatever we can to keep the families together.

Once they’re separated, because the law is broken, then let’s fix the law. And I ask everybody to be on board in that, so that we could avoid Salito being separated from his mom, his mom taken away in handcuffs and men with automatic weapons pointing it at her and her pastors. Let’s get away from that, because that’s all wrong. And it’s a waste of our tax dollars to separate Salito from Elvira.

She was never, ever, ever a danger to Homeland Security. She was a mom. And most of them are. And we need— that needs to get changed. And then everything else, the contracts with the government to take care of kids, all of that can end, because kids will be with their parents where they need to be in the first place.

So that’s what we’re asking right now. We’re asking for legalization for the 12 million people living in the shadows, reunification for Hugo and Ceci, for all of those people that were separated and deported, all the veterans that were deported that fought in the US wars that are in other countries, because this country doesn’t respect them, because of white supremacy, and because they’re people of color. And let’s call it what it is and not be afraid to call it what it is.

JONATHAN MICHAEL CASTILLO: You’re certainly right, that I think most of the kids coming from Central America do have family here. And when the system’s working right, they are reunited, it can be a matter of days or just weeks before they’re actually placed with their families, which I think is— there can— I think that’s one of— I think that’s when it works. Ideally, we would never have to have a kid in the shelter, even for a day.

But I mean, being allowed into these shelters and getting to see firsthand what it’s like in the shelters, things came up to me that I had not really considered before. Like there are kids that are part of— that are being trafficked. So how does a kid from India take multiple plane trips across the world, end up in South America or Central America, and make this trip not speaking any of the local language or English, get all the way to the border? All the money that it takes, is involved to move that kid there.

And then they all, and then these kids often will have the same story. And many of them are coming to work here for a better future for themselves and to send money back to their family. And there’s incentives. There’s financial incentives for some kids to come here and for their families to send them.

And our labor and our industry here turns a blind eye to child labor. And I don’t think people are necessarily always aware of that. How do these kids end up working in a chicken farm in Ohio? And do we want to say that it’s OK for one of these kids to be trafficked and then go work in these places in an unseen way in some warehouse or in some industry like that.

So I think the shelters, unfortunately, at the moment, there is a role that they need to vet who these kids are going to to make sure that they’re not being trafficked. And I think finding better solutions, I’m all for it. I don’t think these kids should have to stay in the shelter one second longer than necessary. And if we can find a way to make the shelters irrelevant and unnecessary, that would be perfect. But that’s part of the conversation, I think, to have, and that needs to continue.

MICHELLE KANAAR: Well, thank you both for that. I think it’s certainly a very complicated situation. And definitely, trying to deal with the root of the cause, I think is great, and shortening the stays that these children are having at the shelters, if that is what has to be this temporary solution right now. OK, I’m just going to say that we do have an article on the borderless site that is an As Told To with Emma.

And if you haven't heard of As Told To before, it's kind of, think of Studs Terkel, oral history, straight from Emma in her own words, a little bit more about [SPANISH] and what she's been talking about with the Right to Family campaign. And as everything on our website, it's in English and Spanish.

So I’m going to put the English link here. But if you click on that in our website, you can just click, Leer in Español, or you can click on Español at the top left of our website. So I’ll throw that in here now.

OK, great. And we also have one coming out on Envira in a couple of weeks. We had to postpone, unfortunately, because both she and I got COVID. But we are recovering. So yeah, I don’t know, I hope that, honestly, what I hope a lot of you take away from this is that you get involved. And then you help make this change.

And we don’t have to have family separation. It’s just so important. You’ve heard everything everyone here has to say. And we each can do it in our own way. Whatever way you’re best equipped to do it, whatever that is. But go out and get involved.

And with that, I think I’m passing it. Am I passing it to you, Gibran? Or is it just going— yes, OK. Great, thank you all. Thank you so much to Jonathan and Emma and Elvira. Muchas gracias. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here today.

GIBRAN VILLALOBOS: Thank you, everyone, for joining us. We’re excited to host—

JONATHAN MICHAEL CASTILLO: Thank you for having us. And I really admire all the work you’re doing. I just wanted to say.

EMMA LOZANO: Thank you so much, Jonathan. Thank you.

GIBRAN VILLALOBOS: And for anybody in the audience, if you’d like to view more of the archives from the Centro Sin Fronteras historic archive, it was vast and it was beautiful to go through some of the pieces. Elvira and Francisca Lino helped me pick some of the pieces that are on view at the MCA in the Andrea Bowers exhibition. So please feel free to join us when you can.

We’re going to close out by thanking everybody. I want to thank the MCA AV team for the hard work that they did today in getting our programming to be bilingual as well. I want to thank our captioners, our translation services, and our curatorial assistant, Otez. Thank you so much for your work.

We’re going to close out by showing you some videos that were produced by Jonathan Castillo as part of his project at the Heartland Alliance. Once again, thank you for joining us. And have a good night. Stick around to just watch the videos with us.

DAVID: My name is David. I’m 36 years old. I have been living in this country for the past 35 years. I am Korean, born in South America, born in Brazil, specifically. And I came to this country as a six-month-old baby.

All my life, I thought I was American until I reached about the age of 13. That’s when I found out that I was undocumented. And then as I journeyed my young adulthood as an undocumented person, finally, at the age of 33, I got my green card. And so hopefully, so I will get my US citizenship in about two years. And I’m looking forward to that.

Because of my undocumented status, I had a lot of restrictions. I was never able to leave the country for the fear that, if I would leave this country for a small vacation, then I would not be able to come back, which is the only culture I know. And not only that, but I’ve had my struggles in acquiring my driver’s license and just being able to have the proper documents like driver’s license and a Social Security number for me to make a living.

And it was only until the end of 2012 when the DACA was passed that I was able to have some kind of relief. So as I have been struggling with being undocumented for a majority of my life, three years ago, I finally got my green card. And that was a 10 year process, 10 year application process for me to finally get my green card.

And then, however, for me to get my green card, they told me that I needed to find an American embassy in my birth country, go there, and get my green card interview there. And so the process of my green card journey three years ago, was that I had to buy a one way ticket to Brazil. And if I were to— and if the interview in the American embassy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil didn’t work out, that meant that I’m not coming back to the United States. And that meant that, in my 30s, I will have to learn a new culture, a new language, a new everything.

And so, however, I went. I took that trip. I went there. The process took me about five weeks. And there were so many things that could have gone wrong during my stay there. Like for example, on the week that I was supposed to go get my green card to interview, I was staying with my family in Sao Paolo.

And so we will have to take a 6 hour drive to Rio de Janeiro. However, there were rumors of a trucker strike. And if there’s a trucker strike, that means that there’s no way we could travel to Rio de Janeiro. And that meant that I would miss my interview.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But those are the kind of little variables that could have gone wrong. And finally, when I did get my interview, they told me that I had to get several Brazilian documents, which I have my cousin, my Brazilian, Portuguese-speaking cousin talk for me. And then he was able to get all these last minute documents for me. And then, finally, I was able to finally get my green card approved. And then that ordeal, for five weeks, it was one of the most stressful, tense moments of my life.

SONIA BAJAJ: Hi, my name is Sonia Bajaj. I’m from Chicago, Illinois. And I work at ICRC. So I have really fond memories of one of my kiddos who was assigned to me, who was what we call a tender age participant, which is any child under the age of 12.

And we had actually had a few tender age participants come at once. And it could be a little chaotic at times, but chaotic in a fun way. We are always doing little activities with them. I remember, one time we brought these little wooden cars that you assemble yourself.

And we were all in a group doing that together. And it was just really great seeing the older kids teach the younger kids, and just them collaborating together, which I see a lot of. And I think a misconception that some people might have about immigrant kids at our shelters, just that there’s really big cultural gaps or differences between kids here in the US. But I think I’ve noted a lot of similarities in my time here, just that most kids are really just looking to play and have fun and cooperate with each other and grow with each other.

And I think it’s a beautiful thing. And I think that they are all here struggling through the same thing together. And this is a period in their lives that’s going to affect them forever. And we hope that we’re here to just be a source of support along this journey for them.

I think one of the misconceptions that even I had when I first started was that a lot of the minors that I would be working with came almost exclusively from Central America. But that’s just not the case at all. We’ve had plenty of kids from India we’ve had kids from Brazil. We’ve had kids from parts of Africa.

We’ve had kids from Afghanistan most recently. And their journeys will look very different from a child crossing the border, the southern border. Some of them who are coming from the Middle East will take a flight.

Most recently, they took a flight to Washington DC and then were sent to different cities within the US that had shelters like ours. So each child’s journey will be a little different. And so we try to keep that in mind when we’re meeting with them and following up with them in the long term to make sure that they’re feeling safe in program, because that’s the most important thing.

Yeah, I think a child who’s recently arrived to our shelter, it is a scary experience for them. They don’t know anybody there. They don’t know the language. It’s understandably an adjustment.

And we do our best to make sure that they feel safe when they arrive and that they know that no one here is going to push them to do anything that they’re uncomfortable with. So they’re given all the resources that they need to just get accommodated, bed sheets, things like that, clothes, crocs, shoes, toothbrushes, everything that they need in that first couple of hours to just settle in. And then within the next day or a couple of days, they’ll have an intake. They’ll do an initial intake, and then they’ll do on with their clinician, where they’ll just talk a little bit about their journey and give us some information about identifying a potential sponsor who they would be planning to live with when they got here in the US.