UC Irvine’s DREAM Center, a resource hub for undocumented students, held a grand opening last Monday, Sept. 4 at their new facility next to the FRESH Basic Needs Hub in Lot 5.
Students were invited to take selfies in the center and share their experience on social media. Tables were also set up where students could write encouraging notes and wishes to the center and undocumented students.
The highlight of the event was an exhibit by Arizona artist Deborah McCullough. As a Tucson Samaritan volunteer for 14 years, McCullough walks into the desert to offer water, food and aid to any migrants crossing the border. The exhibit featured art made from items McCullough had collected in the Arizona desert.
“Deborah’s artwork is an expression of her activism and commitment to educate people about the ongoing suffering in the Arizona desert,” said DREAM Center director Oscar Teran.
Teran also introduced Teresa Lefranc, a local “artivist” who read a poem she had written after witnessing McCullough’s work.
Lefranc’s “Migrant in the Desert” reads, “Today I walked in your shoes. You were no longer a stranger. I saw your face. You revealed to me your name. I gazed at your belongings, followed letters, documents. I found makeshift altars, bibles, religious articles. Everything left behind along the trail. Suddenly I understood. They were no longer common objects. They had become sacred things, offerings. They were there as silent witnesses of a life. A life that had faded away untimely, I do not know. I can only kneel down, lift up a prayer to heaven and cry, cry at such indifference.”
Next, McCullough talked about her experience as a volunteer.
“In 2003, more and more people were being found dead in the desert. Hundred of people were being brought to the hospitals in Tucson with kidney failure, debilitating blisters, broken limbs and dehydration,” she said. “Humanitarian activists knew that the government believed that severe suffering and death would deter the crossers. The numbers of deaths in the desert skyrocketed.”
She also discussed the government’s response to these issues.
“Frankly, the government didn’t care and still doesn’t care… Government policies ignore human suffering.”
The exhibit displayed shoes worn by migrants, dirty and torn from miles of walking.
“This art is my way of taking a discarded item, what many people regard as trash, and recreating it. I clean it, brush off the dirt, remove the thorns and enshrine it in order to illustrate the agony and the courage of this journey that takes on a new meaning.”
With her art, McCullough hopes to increase awareness that the issues she discussed are still happening. People are still crossing and dying to this day. She also urged students to consider their role.
“I am yesterday’s activist. I came before you paving the way. Now I walk beside you and soon, I will walk behind you. You, the dreamers of tomorrow create dignity, safety, and respect for your parents and yourself in society as you claim your place out of the shadows.”