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THE DETENTION CENTER : an interactive exhibit

The United States federal administration has taken upon itself, under the guise of strengthening national border security, to ramp up migrant detainments and expand the detention center infrastructure. Amidst this policy, migrants crossing the southern border of the United States are being more indiscriminately detained, whether or not they present legitimate refugee or asylum concerns. Traditionally, the United States government has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to many Central American migrants (among them Nicaraguans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, and Hondurans) for those escaping natural disaster or conflict zones. Over the years, TPS has even provided parole for Central Americans escaping internal violence in their home countries. The government has particularly extended these protections to minors crossing the border without an accompanying adult. For all who receive it, TPS provides a way for migrants to enter the United States while they proceed with their asylum claims or process their travel documents.

Since the beginning of 2017, TPS has been revoked for most (and soon all) Central American migrants entering the United States.

As a result, Central American children, women, and men have been rounded up and placed into detention centers across the country, many of these sites located near the southern United States border. Children have been separated from their mothers. Women have reported sexual abuse. Men have reported beatings. Almost all detained migrants have been detained without due process or the ability to file asylum claims or travel documents. Many have reported falsified documentations that have sped up their deportation.

This exhibit is dedicated to them and seeks to contextualize their testimonies and experiences. Our goal is to offer a place (even if only a wall) to engage with, identify with, invoke compassion for the victims of present history. Why wait until long after something passes to remind ourselves of what should never be repeated—of what should never have happened in the first place.

Juan Carlos Reyes, a writer of Ecuadorian heritage, curated the exhibit, and its first run coincided with Latinx Heritage Month 2019 at the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery in Seattle, WA. As a collaborator in the exhibit, he collected migrant testimonies and superimposed their words over gray-scaled legislative code and executive orders that have contributed to the migrant crisis. Camelia Jade, sound artist and audio engineer of Chilean heritage, provided the audio you hear in the headsets. She wrote original scores and also collected audio clips that offer a glimpse into the collective understanding and misunderstanding of who these migrants are. Tatiana Garmendia, a filmmaker and artist of Cuban heritage, provided the short films you see. Her moving images capture the spirit of what we strive to be as a nation but often fail to do, while creatively documenting the bodies, movements, and detentions of Latin American immigrants in various contexts.

In the end, the installation becomes a collage of text, sound, and moving image that hopes to be a point of stillness for everyone who comes to experience it—a place to synthesize all you see and hear and then let it sit with you after you leave.

Partners of the first showing include the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, Seattle University, the Jack Straw Cultural Center, and, most importantly, La Sala, a Latinx arts collaborative in Seattle, WA, who funded the event as part of its 2019 La Cocinita series. Since 2019, La Sala has sponsored La Cocinita events throughout Seattle, and these pop-up cultural happenings offer collaborating artists the opportunity to cook something up for the community.

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