University News

Fence gathers thoughts on immigration

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2012

A large aluminum fence separated Sayles Hall from the rest of the Main Green Thursday afternoon. Supported by cinder blocks, the six units of fencing were adorned with pieces of canvas on which students could spray paint their thoughts and feelings about immigration. The installation was set up as a part of Immigration Week, an initiative organized by the Third World Center.
Planning for the installation started in July, said Holly Doerflinger ’13, a member of the Latino Heritage Series, one of the on-campus groups associated with the organization of Immigration Week.
“We wanted this to be a week that brought together all the heritage series and other groups to talk about immigration,” Doerflinger said.
The week began with a speech Monday by Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and undocumented immigrant, and proceeded with talks by politicians and poets, as well as yesterday’s installation. The week will culminate in a family brunch organized by the Multicultural Heritage Series Sunday.
In past years, the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition and Brown Students for Justice in Palestine have held a border commemoration day in April with a similar wall installation on which group members would write.
“This is the first year we’re making the process open to the community, letting the general student body put their own words on the wall,” Doerflinger said.
In the installation yesterday, two tables stood in front of the fences, one sporting red, green and blue spray paint. Students running the table handed out spray paint bottles and asked students to talk about what it means to be an American. A slip of paper taped to the table read “Define American” in bold letters, referring to a campaign that seeks to recruit individuals’ thoughts on the definition of an American. The campaign was initiated by Vargas, who revealed in a 2011 New York Times Magazine essay that he was an undocumented immigrant.
Sarah Day Dayon ’15, who participated in yesterday’s installation, sprayed the words, “Who gets to be an American?” in blue ink.
A Minority Peer Counselor in Archibald Hall, Dayon has been considering issues of race and citizenship in her Asian American history course, which is currently discussing Chinese exclusion and Japanese internment. “This whole week I’ve been thinking about what it means to claim the word ‘American,'” Dayon said.
“Too often this is an issue that is not discussed for real,” Doerflinger said. People “just say, ‘Yeah, I’m for immigration,’ but there is so much more to consider.”
Other students scrawled phrases such as “This is a nation of immigrants,” “What is an ocean between us. We can build bridges,” and “No one can tell me where my home is.”
Anamta Farook ’14, a member of the Asian American Heritage Series, said Immigration Week was a “very collaborative effort.”
“We wanted to do something that was unifying instead of dividing, tying into the idea of borders,” she said. “We thought this would be a good addition to the passive listening that comes with speakers.” This installation, she added, “has created a place where people can interact and express what they feel.”
The Immigration Rights Coalition is currently in the process of circulating a petition advocating for the Admission Office to publicly state on the University’s admissions and financial aid website that Brown will accept students regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. As members passed out the petition at yesterday’s installation, they said other colleges have already instituted such policies. Students at Cornell and other Ivy League colleges are spearheading similar movements.
Farook said she was pleased with the amount of interaction the installation has seen – “some planned, some just by virtue of being on the Main Green,” she said.
Andrea Nate MA ’12, who is a teaching assistant for HISP 0300: “Intermediate Spanish I,” brought the class to look at the wall.
 “Immigration has been the topic of our class for the past few weeks,” she said. “It’s so relevant.”