Washington D.C. Week of Action
The Leave No One Behind Mural Project (LNOBMP) is a participatory multi-site, multi-mural, mural making and digital storytelling project that fuses the arts with community political advocacy to visualize the stories of immigrants dismissed from conversations surrounding the future of U.S. childhood arrivals. The project implements a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) method to facilitate engagement with community organizers, mural installation efforts, and calls to action. We created safe spaces for community engagement, advocacy, and healing through low to no cost mural installations.
The project was created in response to the growing numbers of immigrants that entered the U.S. as minors (‘childhood arrivals’) forcibly returned to their country of birth. Amidst a political climate and immigrant rights efforts that exclude deported childhood arrivals, the LNOBMP calls for the inclusion of previously deported childhood arrivals in discussions about immigration, specifically those regarding repatriation efforts.
The project makes the case that childhood arrivals experience an entirely U.S. upbringing with exclusive ties to this country, reinforced by strong cultural and social identity. We argue that displacing childhood arrivals to a country foreign to them can cause significant emotional harm. The project proposes an inclusive approach to current debates surrounding the future of childhood arrivals and urges us to leave no one behind.
The project is co-directed by Robert Vivar, Jennifer Martinez-Medina, and Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana, who joined forces in January of 2021 to set in motion a plan to keep the Biden-Harris administration accountable to their campaign promises of
1) halting the forcible separation of families through deportation and
2) repatriating deported U.S. veterans within their first 100 days in office.
The project began its efforts by commissioning thematic murals created by lead artist Javier Salazar Rojas, a deported permanent resident from Oakland, CA, currently residing in Tijuana, Mexico. Each mural provokes a narrative linked to the experiences of deported dreamers, deported veterans, veterans who passed away in exile, voluntary returned, and undocumented childhood arrivals. The murals center on the stories of U.S. childhood arrivals who spent most of their young and early adult lives in the U.S.
As the conversation surrounding the deportation of U.S. childhood arrivals is not singular, the mural project needed to reflect diverse realities. We have elaborated seven thematic murals that portray deported, and returned immigrant communities, deported veterans, deported veterans who have passed away in exile, a mural honoring the womxn that continue to knit families together across borders, a family reunification mural, and a Black deported veterans mural.
The murals center immigrant stories through quick response (QR) codes that, when scanned, lead audiences to a digital archive where audiences can view, read, and listen to a range of testimonies. These testimonies are presented in various forms, including digital storytelling, letters, podcasts, and interviews.
The project was founded with six objectives in mind:
2) coalition building,
3) community engagement,
5) political advocacy, and
6) currency of care.
Together, the framework implemented for the project has supported the creation of seven thematic murals with 85 storytellers representing 11 countries
Weaving the Movement Across Borders
The Leave No One Behind Mural Project became a tool to expand our message beyond the network of followers on Facebook and Instagram and into real action on the ground. The coalition centered efforts around real people and stories that could resonate with the public and engage the community.
The installment of murals became the outlet to make everyone an activist and organizer—including storytellers (particularly for those who have been deported) and their families, activist organizations, artists, academics, and public figures. Installation events were made accessible to physical and virtual audiences bringing symbolic meaning to how the mural project defied borders. The virtual element coupled with real-life concerned people on the ground knitted a strong awareness foundation.
Our coalition is asking the current administration to:
- Support the Veteran Service and Recognition Act, H.R. 4569
- End family separations and provide an avenue for family reunification
- Support the legalization of Childhood Arrivals and Dreamers in the U.S. This includes those previously deported or who returned to their countries of birth.
- Pass the New Way Forward Act proposed by Representative Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (IL-40)
- Correct the injustice of deporting veterans by supporting H.R. 1182 Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act
Inclusivity and centering storytelling as healing
Our project is driven by a commitment to inclusivity and providing opportunities to heal through storytelling.
When people hear about deported veterans, they immediately react with anger and confusion. Deported veterans serve as an oxymoron, and the power of the phrase gives us an avenue by which to discuss the punitive immigration system. Suddenly people wonder why a veteran could end up deported and are immediately interested in knowing more about ways they can support veterans’ return to the U.S. Additionally, there seems to be a lack of public awareness specifically about deported veterans. The narratives about deported veterans helped build a window to recognize how many others were expelled from the U.S. despite serving or showing a deep commitment and belonging to the country. Yet, as we acknowledge that deportation is not exclusive to immigrant veterans, our approach to identifying stories relies on highlighting other groups who can be considered childhood arrivals.
Healing by centering stories
Often, deportation is a scarlet letter through the psychological stress imposed on communities who feel powerless, stripped from their identity and mobility. To best facilitate this dynamic, we targeted mural installations in the communities where storytellers were deported. We emphasized centering stories and breaking the silence by sharing testimony to drive healing. In her seminal book, Borderlands, the queer-Xicana writer Gloria Anzaldua called the Frontera an open wound. Her metaphor for the collective pain and trauma caused by colonization, violence, and racial and ethnic othering offered a bridge to speak of vulnerability, despair, rage, and knowledge. In working through the pain and emotionality triggered by deportation and the enduring challenges that arise in collective organizing to push for change, we envision this project as an opportunity to create space for communities to begin speaking on the topic and begin pathways of healing. Mural installation events created open dialogue between communities through platicas. Fierros, Delgado, and Bernal (2016) describe platicas as an act where knowledge is exchanged, constructed, and theorized. In all of our events, we made an effort to host storytellers depicted in the murals or their immediate families as speakers. Often, other community members would join and offer their own experiences living in interlocking systems of oppression that stem from racism, anti-Blackness, sexism, nativism, and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In creating a space for healing and actively calling on organizers and participants to take up space, these mural installation events also empowered storytellers to give words to their grievances and rethink deportation and family separation not as a given but as a nation-state practice that can be stopped. These murals became a place where storytellers, their families, and communities could reclaim their stories. We intended for the collective voices and attendees to create communities of care that sought to empower each other while healing.
The Leave No One Behind Mural Project is a multi-sited public art project backed by a coalition urging the Biden-Harris administration and Congress to enact immigration policy to protect Childhood Arrivals, repatriate Deported Veterans, end family separation, and reunite families.
The project seeks to uplift the stories of thirty-three Deported Veterans, Dreamers, Childhood Arrivals, and permanent residents currently left our of President Biden’s Immigration Reform. The donations will be used to pay mural installations at several key locations across the United States, with a final mural posted by Deported Veteran advocates Cesar Nunez and Jesus Manuel Valenzuela in Washington, DC.
"Bring back those who had OUR back"