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Museums launch town halls: Past and Present meet to discuss immigration

hull house

Jane Addams Hull House Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

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.

The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, NC.

The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, NC.

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.

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.

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VIDEO: Congress, can you hear me now?

Thanks to Will Coley for this great video on how to sign up for the Cell Phone Action Network:

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Under Siege: Low-wage Latino Workers Face Injustice in the South

tomatoworkerThe Southern Poverty Law Center released a report detailing the injustice and abuse facing low-wage Latino workers in the South. I grew up in the South and I can attest to the fact that the Latino population in my region is booming. Many of these folks have arrived to escape harsh and impoverished conditions and have, instead, found injustice at every turn.

In Tennessee, a young mother is arrested and jailed when she asks to be paid for her work in a cheese factory.

In Alabama, a migrant bean picker sees his life savings confiscated by police during a traffic stop.

In Georgia, a rapist goes unpunished because his 13-year-old victim is undocumented.

These are just a few examples of the injustices that confront Latino immigrants as they struggle to gain a foothold in the South.

The report finds that in Southern states Latinos are cheated out of wages, subjected to inhumane conditions, subjected to wide-spread racial profiling and are regularly harassed by law enforcement.

For this report, Southern Poverty Law Center researchers surveyed 500 low-income Latinos — including legal residents, undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens — at five locations in the South to take the pulse of a community that is being increasingly driven into the shadows by a sweeping anti-immigration movement. We found a population under siege and living in fear — fear of the police, fear of the government and fear of criminals who prey on immigrants because of their vulnerability.

To read the full report, click here.

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