Art Towards Activism

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Pacific prepares for the second Migration Symposium

For two days in April 2022, red crosses around campus showcased the pictures and stories of migrant children. Part of the 2022 Migration Symposium: On Borders and Belonging, the art installation was organized by Spanish and Latinx studies professor, Ximena Keogh Serrano. 

   The symposium sprang out of one of Keogh Serrano’s classes, and invited a wide range of artists and speakers to present on topics related to migration politics. “I wanted one of my courses to center on the idea of borders, the creation of nation states and the ideas of belongings,” explained Serrano. “How we are meant to bridge experiences of feeling left out and create belonging through art. It was to activate the campus to think about art practices that engage with themes of borders and belonging.”

    The Migration Symposium will return to the Pacific campus this year. Co-organized by sociology professor Sang-hyoun Pahk, the event will host a new theme of “Whose Homeland? Whose Security?,” and will feature keynote speaker Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, a nonprofit that monitors the sprawling industry of private prison companies—many which started switching to immigration detention, especially after increased scrutiny during the Black Lives Matter movement.

   “The private prison companies all switched to being on immigrant detention, and that’s where they all are now, that’s where they make their money,” explained Pahk. “They all make their money on immigrant detention. These centers are not governed by the same kinds of due process protections, but fall under much less scrutiny and are much more profitable. Detention watch networks is a coalition that is fighting against this immigrant detention across the country.”

   And while this may seem like an issue for border states like Texas and Arizona, the problem is much closer to Pacific; specifically, while the Northern Oregon Correctional Facility in The Dalles agreed to end their practice of immigrant detention in 2020, the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington continues the practice. According to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, NWDC is privately owned and operated, and with a capacity of 1575, is one of the largest immigration prisons in the country. 

   Pahk hopes that the upcoming conference will raise awareness for Pacific University students not only contemporary issues, but about the history they stem from. “In general,” Pahk explained, “students tend to have, if they’re interested, a much better idea of contemporary politics and issues than they have any historical sense. Where these things come from, why there are people migrating at all, what the US interest is in ‘securing the border,’ how recent that is, the militarization of the border. I think the students who pay attention have some sense of the dynamics of contemporary politics, but not where it comes from.” 

   To raise awareness for all of the issues surrounding migration politics, Keogh Serrano stated that this year, “We are gonna have other speakers as well and students. Previous students are going to deliver their research as well in relation to the detention of children, public health, the sort of psychological effects of detaining children. We’re going to talk with faculty about how their different research engages with the topics of migration in the US.”

   While Serrano’s academic focus is primarily on US border politics, both professors want to be sure that there is a global focus involved in the conversation this year. Pahk pointed out that “The other contemporary thing that this is related to is what’s happening right now in Gaza. Our focus is mostly the US, but it’s really a global issue. In the same way that people die in the Sonoran desert, people die in the Mediterranean trying to cross into Europe. This basic dynamic of the security of some being risked for the security of others is really shown in Gaza right now like nowhere else.”

    When asked how this year’s symposium will differ from the symposium two years ago, Serrano doubled down on this same idea. “It is definitely a different aura, but that’s definitely because of the election, and because of what is happening in Palestine. These things are all connected, and we have to make sure that people are aware of the hidden agenda of the empire, of the US and a lot of other European nations that continue to assert their dominance in a lot of different ways.”

   The Migration Symposium will take place on March 21-22 at various venues on Forest Grove’s campus.


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