Arts and Entertainment | Art

American dream: Photos document faces of undocumented immigrants

  • DARE TO DREAM | The Chicano Caucus collaborated with Teachers College in April 2013 to create a collection of photographs dedicated to the New York DREAM Act.

A group of eight Columbia students stands in front of Alma Mater on a sunny day. Some hint at a smile, while others stare, challenging their onlookers to question who surrounds them. In the foreground, one of them holds a sign that asks, “Do we look undocumented?” 

In April 2013, the Chicano Caucus collaborated with Teachers College and several organizations from the School of International and Public Affairs to create a collection of photographs that tells the story of the undocumented immigrants in America, which came to the second floor of Casa Hispánica on Oct. 15. To demonstrate support for the New York DREAM Act, volunteers represented Dreamers—immigrants who are undocumented but were brought to the country before they were 16 and are getting a degree or serving in the military. In the end, over 40 images combined to create a powerful installation—“Somos Dreamers”—that concentrates on the humanity of the individuals demonized by some as “aliens.” 

Courtesy of Christian Rivera
DREAMERS | Forty images comprise "Somos Dreamers."

Every Thursday of April 2013, members of the Chicano Caucus displayed the “Somos Dreamers” exhibit at Butler Plaza, raising awareness about the DREAM Act and the issues confronting undocumented students on campus and outside of Morningside Heights. The snapshots also demonstrate the diversity of those affected by the United States’ rigid immigration standards.

“Dreamers aren’t just Mexican,” Trinidad Reyes, CC ’15, said. “Dreamers aren’t just Hispanic. Dreamers aren’t one color.” Reyes also serves as house coordinator for Casa Latina, a special interest community housed in East Campus. 

When the initiative concluded in April, the Chicano Caucus asked Casa Latina to keep the photographs in its house for possible future use. Reyes said that the photos were being kept in a closet until Spanish professor and Casa Latina faculty adviser Juan Pablo Jiménez-Caicedo came and wanted to find a new location for them. 

“I saw those pictures, and they were great pictures to me,” Jiménez-Caicedo said. “They really caught my attention.” So he turned to Casa Hispánica to search for a space, as many of the members of Casa Latina are also pursuing a degree in his department.

Along with the photos, shocking statistics confront viewers, pairing faces and facts to make the concept of immigration less foreign. According to Casa Latina member David Luna, CC ’15, the exhibit’s purpose is “at the very least getting people to think that this isn’t something that’s so far away.” 

And for one Columbian, the issue is too close to home for comfort. Israel Rodriguez, CC ’11, is a Dreamer who is currently facing deportation because of his immigration status. The Chicano Caucus and LUCHA are petitioning University President Lee Bollinger to endorse Rodriguez as a valuable member of the Columbia community, and 501 signatures support their endeavor on Change.org. 

Thanks to its jarring poignancy, “Somos Dreamers” is making its impact. As faculty members notice the collection, several have asked its organizers to lecture their classes on the DREAM Act and its implications, educating Columbians about policies that affect their classmates as well as students across the country. 

“Somos Dreamers” is on display on the second floor of Casa Hispánica, 612 W. 116th St., through Nov. 1. It will also be featured in the Lerner Party Space on Nov. 8 during the Latino Ivy League Conference. 

alexandra.villarreal@columbiaspectator.com  |  @allyevillarreal

Editor’s note, Oct. 26: An earlier version of this story used the term “illegal” in reference to immigration. After publication, Spectator decided to ban the use of that word with reference to immigration, preferring to use “undocumented” in its place.

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Anonymous posted on

"...tells the story of illegal immigrants in America.."

No human is "illegal"--I think that was part of the purposes of the campaign....

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Anonymous posted on

Great work Casa Latina and allied Latino/Hispanic organizations on a very important and timely issue, though the term "illegal" to refer to people who moves from one place (e.g. country) to another -immigrant- should not be used as immigrants are human beings.

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Carlos posted on

There is a real danger in ignoring the legal implications of being undocumented. I represent aliens who are charged with illegal entry and re-entry into the United States every day. I do so because I have a firm conviction that the immigration laws and penalties are unduly draconian. It gives them little comfort to address them as merely "undocumented." They are being charged with a crime, and after they serve exaggerated sentences they will be deported. One of my clients was brought here when she was eight years old. While in high-school she got into a fight which led to some off campus altercations that led to her arrest for a crime of violence. At 16 years old she was tried as an adult and given a two year sentence, of which she served 10 months. The sentence was actually a life sentence because she was subsequently deported and is now facing over four years in a federal prison as a consequence of her re-entry into the United States. She belittled the classification of "illegal alien" and preferred the soft sell of merely being "undocumented" -- ignoring the very real consequences of how our society treats such people. Simply stated, while "undocumented" may be a politically correct phrase it ignores the very real consequences that are best described as arising from being "illegal." It is not a pejorative attack, it is a call to recognize that our laws are at issue, and they really need reform.

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Kimberly Flores posted on

The "Somos Dreamers" photo collection was photographed by Christian Rivera (CC '16)

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Tracie posted on

Good article, but the Correction surprised me a bit.

Dreamers should be allowed to stay, but the fact is that they are here illegally. You can soften up your verbiage, but the truth is that if these hard working folks make a wrong step, they get locked up.

I'm not sure why the editorial board made this semantic decision, but don't think that softening the word choice in any way lightens the darkness of the cloud that these people live under.

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