THE MIGRANT TREE
There are urgent needs for immigrant families to be informed about the rights and opportunities available to them in their new community. Like trees that have been uprooted, we become strong once we are able to grow deep roots in the new ground we are inhabiting. Knowing the rights afforded to us as immigrants, being aware of the opportunities available to us, and perhaps most importantly, connecting to others, are critical aspects of rooting ourselves in our new environment. That is the reason I decided to name this project The Migrant Tree.
On the one hand, a tree represents our rootedness into the earth, and specifically, the aspen tree – the image or logo of this work – is a representation of those roots interconnecting into a single organism. This project also seeks to create an environment for connection and interconnection among all immigrants.
On the other hand, the word “migrant” has two important meanings here. First, it represents people that have had to migrate away from their former lives, either out of a need to survive, or to seek a better life for their families (or both). Second, I intend this project to be a movable (i.e., migrant) installation, which I can take into the community. As I mention later, there exists a large inequality in access to technology and information in the US and in our own Boulder County. Large swaths of the immigrant community and other underrepresented populations do not have easy access to the internet.
I first became aware of the size of this digital divide while working at the Audio Information Network of Colorado (AINC), a reading service for the blind and visually impaired. My goal was to create rich Spanish language programming that could reach the Spanish-speaking community. However, our services required either a special receiver, or access to the internet, which many of our intended listeners did not have. Then, last year I attended an event produced by Luz Ruiz, Director of KGNU Community Radio’s “Media Gardens” project, in which she created a movable installation to promote her program. I instantly realized that idea could be implemented for the immigrant community, so I decided to create a movable installation for my project as well. I propose to bring this work to the community in the form of a “migrant” installation that I can display in a public library, school, museum or community center so that everyone who needs the information can readily have access to it.
The Migrant Tree is a multimedia collection of stories, testimonials, field reports, interviews and activist events for people to learn from and contribute to. It is meant to live on and grow beyond this initial installment. At its core, the Migrant Tree collection is housed on its own website (www.migranttree.org, and in Spanish www.arbolmigrante.org will take you to the same site, too). However, it is complemented by the movable installation.
"This will really help the community."
- Omar Fuentes, artist
Artist, Graphic Designer
Omar is the creator of the Migrant Tree booth that will house the movable installation for my project, which will be taken around the Front Range so that underrepresented communities can have access to the information.
Early in the MAPE program, I proposed to create a cohesive, multimedia system approach that would become a hub for cooperative efforts, information and learning for immigrants and all underrepresented populations. While this vision still holds true, after the last three years of media and public engagement study the focus has shifted slightly. During my studies, there have been several critically influential experiences that have allowed me to hone my project goals. One is the internship I completed with KGNU Community Radio and the League of Women Voters of Boulder County. Another critical experience involves my work at the Audio Information Network of Colorado (AINC. Through these experiences and interactions, I have become more aware of the inequities, injustices, and systematic – yet subtle – oppression that minorities are subjected to with alarming frequency in Boulder County.
Throughout my studies, my internship, and my work, I have become focused on providing information to these minorities so that they can be better prepared to claim their rights and access the opportunities available to them to overcome these inequities and to live better lives. My goal in this project is to provide an attractive online platform for underserved and underrepresented sectors of our society to find and contribute information that can be critical for themselves and others. The information includes access to information about important community services, organizations, and stories from people whose trailblazing experiences could help those who follow.
Although these and other existing organizations provide information aimed at these same target populations, none provides a single platform that is both interactive and participatory and compiles all the information in a single website. I want this to be a living platform, where members can provide their own stories, contribute their comments and share updates using multiple media channels.
An alternative online platform
Media scholar Henry Jenkins said that we are experiencing a convergence culture where “every important story gets told… across multiple media platforms.” The lines between producer and consumer roles are blurring, and participation and interactivity serve to enrich the story. I propose to create an interactive, multimedia online platform that incorporates video, audio, art and the written word to bring stories to life. At the same time, my hope is that this platform will be a living, growing online “place” for people to find, provide, suggest, recommend and share useful information about life as a “newcomer” in this country, and more specifically, in this county.
The best way to incorporate such a vast body of work, provide interactivity, and elicit participation from the community to ensure that the content continues to be updated and enhanced is to provide a single source. That is why I have developed an online platform, in the form of a cooperative website. On its landing page, the website shows a “tree of values”, each leaf an entry point into some aspect of information that is useful for the audience.
As the website grows, more linked leafs can be added to the tree. The platform initially includes the following basic sections:
Community Services: a collection of edited bilingual audio interviews (Spanish and English) with representatives of an organization that provides services to the community. Typically, these services are tailored to minority constituents, such as immigrants, Latino families, people of color, low-income households, people with special needs, etc. The interviewee is generally in charge of community relations and outreach, informing the public of a wide range of services available to the community. This section of the platform is created as a blog, where the visitor can register, read about the organization, listen to the interview, and leave comments which the site will automatically forward to the corresponding representative.
The Migrant Tree
Field reports: a collection of journalistic reports on local events with a social justice focus. The coverage includes edited audio and video clips, as well as a written report with background research about the event. Each report includes links to the relevant organization(s) and parties involved. The events often target immigration issues, environmental concerns, democracy and civics, gender equality, multi-culturalism, etc.
Immigration vignettes: this section contains a series of one-on-one interviews, in conversational audio or video format, between two immigrants. The interview was recorded in a studio, and consists of each person’s answers to four basic questions:
How did you get here?
What made you decide to leave your country?
What have you done since you arrived in this new country?
What are your plans for the future in this new country?
Typically, both participants are from the same geographical region, but each with a very different story about their immigration experience. The goal is to juxtapose different perspectives about the immigration issue, not only in the US, but also worldwide. As war, poverty, food shortage, climate change and other crises become more acute, immigration will continue to become a prevalent problem. Xenophobia and hate are usually a result of ignorance. These vignettes help inform people about the diversity of immigrants and their reasons for leaving their home countries, the ways in which they have adapted to their new homelands by contributing to the local economy, culture and society.
Radio interviews: this section contains the set of interviews I conducted once per month, as part of KGNU Community Radio’s “Pasa la Voz” (Eng: “Spread the Word”) program.
Cultural activism: this section contains video or audio I obtained from cultural events that have an activism purpose – either political or environmental or social.
I showcase the body of information in an interactive display of blog-type posts relevant to each window, where participants will be encouraged to either leave a comment on a post, upload a relevant file, or create a new post of their own. Participants will be required to apply and register as members of the platform in an effort to eliminate spammers. Once approved, they are free to contribute. Every person whom I have interviewed, and every organization featured will be invited to become a founding member.
For example, a non-profit organization might want to create a profile in the “Public Service Organizations” window, so that visitors can know what they offer, and how to best get in touch with them. At the same time, they might want to post a job announcement in the “Employment Opportunities” window, and maybe announce an event in the “Community Resources” window.
A growing need
The immigrant population in Boulder County is growing rapidly, and the need for this information will only become more urgent as time goes by. The following are some statistics for Boulder County.
As the figures show, not only will the Latino population become twice as large by 2040, but immigrants, in general, will represent more than 10 percent of the population of almost two-thirds of all Boulder County urban neighborhoods. Thus, the information in these pages will only become more valuable. It is up to all of us to maintain this site, keep it relevant and up-to-date for generations to come.
I would like to give special thanks to the following people who have supported me and helped make this project a reality:
Michela Ardizzoni, Nabil Echchaibi, Peggy Leach, Maeve Conran, Nathan Schneider, Luz Ruiz, Timo Russo, Omar Fuentes, Lolo Albán, Jared Bahir Browsh, David Dawson, Kim Ann Wardlow, all the interviewees who lent their voices and faces to this project; and, of course, my amazing family back home in Ecuador. Most of all I want to thank my dear husband Marco and my amazing sons Martín, Daniel and Andrés for always believing in me. A special thank you goes to my collaborator Guillermo Estrada-Rivera of Suma Latina.