Yesterday, museums across the country launched a new town hall dialogue program about immigration. “Face to face: immigration Then and Now” offers communities a chance to discuss immigration outside of specific policy measures and the fierce political debates that the issue typically inspires. Most importantly, the discussions are placed in a historical context, with exhibits relating to the history of immigration to the United States at each museum.
The American consciousness is often quick to forget and therefore the history of immigration in this country often ignored. For example, the many voices that are quick to scream that “my relatives came here the legal way” would do well to visit the New York museum site at Ellis Island. As the New York Times covers today, this museums gives the perspective of a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States during the “Chinese Exclusion Act” which placed restrictions solely on people trying to emigrate from China. From the NY Times:
The law was expanded in 1892 with a measure that required all Chinese to register with the government and subjected them to deportation unless they proved legal residency, which required the testimony of at least one white witness.
In a comment that reflected the tone in Congress, one senator asserted that the government had the right “to set apart for them, as we have for the Indians, a territory or reservation, where they should not break out to contaminate our people.”
Hmm… does this ring a bell? I’m thinking of a current political “pundit” warning of a wave of leprosy from those pesky illegals coming to take over our country.
But, I digress.
I think that the museum town halls are a creative and positive step forward in encouraging a real dialogue about immigration. Below is a list of the first four museums that participated in the launch of the program yesterday at the Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago, IL.
- Reform or (R)Evolution? Small Talk, Big Change: Chicago, IL
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum invites Chicago’s healthcare, labor, and civil rights activists to explore how immigration shaped their causes in the past and confront their differing visions of immigration and the city’s future;
- Speaking of Change: Charlotte, NC
Bringing together Charlotte’s recent and longtime residents at Levine Museum of the New South to learn from each other and find ways to live together in a rapidly changing city
- Arab American National Museum’s Connecting Communities: Detroit, MI
Putting a face to Detroit’s newcomers and connecting them with visitors;
- Wing Luke Asian Museum’s exhibit Deporting Cambodians: Seattle, WA
Shaped by community members, inviting visitors to imagine, share and join Seattle’s Cambodians’ struggle with deportation
I am personally pleased to see a city like Charlotte (of my home state North Carolina) included in this debate. Charlotte has seen a huge influx of Latino immigrants in recent years – something that has been a source of both tension and positive growth.
I will be interested to follow the story of what comes out of these dialogues. The most important point is that this program is helping to humanize the debate and bring it home for people in a way that often policy debates cannot – and that is powerful.
For more information, visit the Sites of Consciousness website.