Immigration: Grassroots Asians Rising Protest Through Illumination Art

On Saturday night, Asian-American activists and organizers gathered in the parking lot of the Chinese Christian Church and Center on the corner of Vine and 11th streets to protest current immigration policies as part of the event Here to Stay.

Here to Stay featured illuminations by the Chinatown Art Brigade that were projected onto the side of a building just across the Vine Street Expressway. The collaborative event was hosted by VietLead and Asian Americans United as part of a series of projects celebrating Asian Arts Initiative‘s 25th Anniversary.

Nancy Dung Nguyen, the executive director of VietLead, spoke to the crowd, noting that the protest stood only a few blocks away from Philadelphia’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 8th and Cherry streets,

“Today, we face the U.S. deportation machine,” Nguyen said, telling the crowd that 1,475 Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao people have been deported from the United States since 2003. “ICE arrests have skyrocketed across the country.”

Members of several other organizations representing Asian American and Pacific Islander causes from across the country attended the event, like the Chinese Progressive Association and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

These grassroots groups, along with others involved with the event, have formed an alliance and refer to themselves as Grassroots Asians Rising. The GAR Youth Exchange was held in Philadelphia from last Thursday through Sunday.

Here to Stay featured speakers from several organizations. City Councilwoman Helen Gym also spoke to the crowd. Gym recently proposed a resolution with Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez that passed in City Council at the end of June calling on Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to shutdown the Berks County Residential Center.

“When we talk about how we change politics, it starts with us,” Gym told the crowd on Saturday night. “Especially if you are young in this country, that is a political thing. If you are an Asian-American, that is a political thing. If you are an immigrant, that is a political thing.”

Other activists and organizers shared poetry, spoke about how immigration policy has impacted them directly and joined in protest chants. The night ended with a Know Your Rights presentation so immigrants know how to act to best protect themselves if they encounter an ICE officer.


-Text and images by Jennifer Roberts.

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