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Photo: Ariel Sinha, Shirien Damra, Stat Phillips
The #ImmigrantsAreEssential campaign is the product of Resilience Force and the National Immigration Law Center. Graphic: Ariel Sinha, Shirien Damra, Stat Phillips

Immigrant essential workers honored in new D.C. art installation highlighting their stories

The exhibit, part of the #ImmigrantsAreEssential campaign, brings home why immigrants need protections going forward in the U.S.

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Just over a year ago, Resilience Force, the national initiative designed to transform America’s response to disasters and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) joined up to launch the #ImmigrantsAreEssential campaign.

The campaign’s objective was to highlight the crucial role of immigrants in protecting and supporting the nation’s communities throughout the pandemic. Through the use of eye-catching and compelling videos, murals, billboards and ads, #ImmigrantsAreEssential has already reached millions of Americans.

To kick off Immigrant Heritage Month, the two organizations have partnered with Paola Mendoza, a prominent artist and activist, to continue the campaign through an installation at the Roost in Washington D.C.

Mendoza’s exhibition ran from June 1 to June 8, and told the timely stories of just a few of the millions of immigrants in the U.S. who were deemed essential during the pandemic, but are still waiting on citizenship and other legal protections. 

AL DÍA sat down with Saket Soni, the executive director of Resilience Force to learn more about the campaign and the narratives behind the artwork.

Soni explained that the campaign was designed to ensure that politicians are aware of the valuable contributions of immigrants and that they take the necessary steps to protect them.

#ImmigrantsAreEssential was created to demand protections and relief for the workers forced to carry the burden of keeping the country afloat while putting their health at risk.

“Our campaign integrates across social and traditional media channels that have effectively worked to reach millions of people to raise awareness of these conditions and the changes that need to be made to protect our communities,” Soni said.

The Resilience Force and NILC teams first promoted the campaign across Florida. Billboards were displayed before the 2020 November election, and murals were placed in Miami’s Wynwood and Little Haiti communities.

The organizations were able to purchase a full-page ad in the Washington Post, which called for citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants prior to Biden’s inauguration in January 2021.

Additionally, 300 posters and ads were set up at bike-share docking stations in D.C. The #ImmigrantsAreEssential campaign’s outreach included public art in 10 different U.S. cities, consisting of billboards in Dallas, TX and digital bus shelters in D.C, which served to drive a much needed cultural shift in the way society views immigrants.

When the teams partnered with Mendoza for the heritage month installation, the artwork highlighted specific New York immigrant workers who lost their lives during the pandemic.

Mendoza used photographs provided by family members to illustrate their faces and energy.

Fedelina Lugasan, Mario Hernández Enríquez, Moisés Hernández Delgado, Yimel Alvarado, Juan Ramos, Ofelia Tapia Alonso were depicted in vibrant color and honored not only for their work, but also for their irreplaceable impact on their families, communities and the nation.

Undocumented immigrants just like Lugasan, Enríquez, Delgado, Alvarado, Ramos and Alonso put themselves in harms way at grocery stores and other essential food businesses so the rest of the nation could continue to eat during quarantine.

They got sick while providing services for us, like cleaning our homes, offices and hospitals. They became infected while teaching our children, cooking our take-out orders and taking care of our own sick loved ones. 

“They were so much more than their work though. They were fathers, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, lovers, children. They were full of music and laughter, courage and dreams. They gave up so much leaving their home countries and coming to a place that didn’t always welcome them. They fought so bravely to make a better future for their families,” the campaign website reads.

Each portrait in Mendoza’s exhibit, named Immigrants Are Essential, has an accompanying QR code that you scan to access an oral history told by the family.

“We chose to work with Paola due to her constantly thoughtful work tackling complex issues like poverty and immigration. She has done an incredible job calling attention to and celebrating the lives of those we lost due to the pandemic,” said Soni.

The #ImmigrantsAreEssential campaign won the “Best Integrated Campaign” at the 13th Annual Shorty Awards.

“It means so much to us that this campaign was so widely received and impacted so many,” said Soni.

As a result of this widespread outreach, the audience and demand for immigrant justice and protection has increased, and politicians have begun to take action.

For instance, Senator Padilla and Representative Castro have introduced the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act.

“I hope lawmakers took the time to visit this exhibit and returned to their desks understanding that immigrant essential workers are already Americans. It's time to recognize them,” Soni said.

If the general public did not realize it before, it is absolutely evident now, that immigrants have been, and always will be essential. It’s time that our policies and laws reflect that affirmation.

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