April 23 2015

On April 21, The California Endowment in partnership with the California Museum launched a one-of-a-kind multimedia exhibit about immigration in the golden state. It was a celebration that is sure to remain in the memories of the more than 300 in attendance. And it was a once in a lifetime experience for those featured in the exhibit who were the focus of the event.

Speakers at the event included Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Undocumented Queer Warrior Diego Sepúlveda, representatives from the Sac Republic FC soccer team, The Endowment’s Senior Vice President Daniel Zingale and The California’s Museum’s Executive Director Dori Moorhead. Also in attendance was José Antonio Vargas of Define American whose documentary, “Documented,” has sparked a national debate on immigration.

We Are All Californians

After the speaker’s program concluded, tours of the new exhibit, We Are All Californians, commenced and the responses from those who experienced the exhibit were overwhelmingly positive with some even calling it a “piece of art.”

The life-size images of the exhibit’s subjects burst to life on the 25 foot long touch screen wall and tell us their stories about their journey to the U.S. and what life is like as an immigrant in California today. It’s a visceral experience unmatched by any exhibit I’ve seen to date. It is a “must see” for those who long for museum exhibits that engage and surprise you in ways you’d never imagined.

A recurring theme during the evening was how immigrants – undocumented and documented – provide such riches to the state. Yet, many of these same individuals are locked out of health coverage and other social and human services. Undocumented immigrants alone contributed more than $3.2 billion in taxes in 2012 but did not benefit from the programs those taxes fund. The Endowment and many of its partners believe that to be unjust and have launched the #Health4All campaign to let Californians know of this injustice so that we may work toward a solution.

We Are All Californians

Here’s a peek into the exhibit:

Odilia, a farm worker featured in the exhibit, tells us about her dangerous journey to the U.S. all the way from Oaxaca which is located in southern Mexico. She discusses covering herself in plastic bags to avoid developing exposure due to the steep drop in temperatures in the desert after the sun goes down. No taller than 4’11’’, this woman harvests our fruits and vegetables while raising four kids by herself. This woman is the embodiment of grit, determination and hard work but you’d hardly know it by looking at her. Though she is undocumented, I’m so proud to call her a Californian.

Nick and Suzanne, father and daughter, respectively, recount Nick’s experience as a Palestinian emigrating from Jordan to California. They tell us of the challenges he faced due to having change careers in his mid-40’s due to differences in U.S. and Jordan’s education requirements for pharmacists. Nick eventually found work as a lab technician at UCSF. Imagine the strength and courage it took to start all over again in mid-life.

We Are All Californians

Mario, whose passion is both math and public policy, talks about what it’s like to live without a social security card. Those nine numbers are seen as a ticket to opportunity by those who are unable to secure one. Though Mario has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status (DACA), he knows that the winds of change can render that protection moot. He also worries about his mother who is undocumented and lacks access to any kind of protection. Though she’ll qualify under the President’s Executive Order for Deferred Action for Parents of Childhood Arrivals, she will have to wait until the courts make their ruling in response to the challenge to the order. In the meantime, he must worry about keeping his mother safe.

There are 5 additional subjects In addition to those highlighted above and each has a unique and compelling story to tell. The common thread among them all is how grateful they are for being Californians. I can’t help thinking how lucky we are to have them in our state.

California is a beacon of hope for so many, it’s important we welcome and embrace all of its residents.