The artwork in “The American Dream: From the Light to the Darkness,” a new exhibit curated by the city of Bloomington, is drawn crudely with colored pencils and markers on plain white paper.
Up throughout Oct. 5 at Bloomington Civic Plaza, it features dozens of drawings and essays from local children based on a central question: How does the national conversation surrounding immigration make you feel?
Several of the pieces depict families being separated by immigration agents.
One shows a relative being taken away in a police car. Another is of a family watching the news, the words “worried and sad” written above. Some explicitly mention U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the federal agency whose field offices are just a few miles away from City Hall.
In one essay, the young writer ponders what would happen to her and her siblings if her parents were to be deported. “Of course, this is a hypothetical situation, but nonetheless it is a possible situation that can at any moment become real,” she wrote.
Nicholas Jenkins, a 21-year-old member of the city’s Human Rights Commission who helped organize the exhibit, said the views of children are often forgotten when discussing the nation’s immigration system.
“Adults barely know how to express themselves, better yet a kid who doesn’t have these concepts of what anxiety and what depression is,” he said. “This is allowing them to put words to it, through their drawings.”
Ana Peres, who lives in Bloomington, had her two young children contribute art to the project. They both witnessed the deportation of their uncle last year after he was arrested when the car he was driving broke down on the road, she said.
Her 5-year-old still asks her when he’s coming back from Mexico, she said.
“Sometimes as parents we think we’re the only ones involved in the immigration dilemma,” she said in Spanish last week. “But in reality, the most affected are our children. Sometimes they have to suffer in silence.”
The renewed emphasis on illegal immigration and deportations by President Donald Trump’s administration hits close to home in Minneapolis’ southern suburbs, which have greater concentrations of Latinos than other regions of the metro area.
Bloomington adopted an inclusion statement last year, explicitly mentioning that “current times have revealed an atmosphere of anger, fear and anxiety around immigration” and committing to serve residents regardless of status.
City staff set up the exhibit during a farmers market outside the city campus earlier in September.
“It was beautiful, but sad,” said Marquitta Heintz, 35, who checked out the art with her 9-year-old daughter. “We see it as adults and it’s horrible, but seeing it through their eyes, it’s eye-opening.”
The exhibit will be the subject of an immigration panel at Augsburg Park Library in Richfield on Oct. 24, featuring speakers from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and Latino nonprofit CLUES. It will return to Bloomington Civic Plaza in December.
More than 100 drawings and essays were submitted, and Jenkins said he hopes to rotate all of them during its run.
“We just want people to put that humanity back into our society,” he said.