Over the last few days, you may have noticed an odd change spreading across the lower facade on the south side of the Freedom Tower. A constantly changing mosaic of faces fell over the mustard flanks of the building, arguably Miami's most famous historical landmark in regard to our city's immigrant population. The expanse of shifting portraits was facilitated by the Inside Out 11M Project and their mobile photo booth and printing station truck, which steadily churned out reams of monochrome visages that put a face to the issue of immigration reform.
When Miami began to see an almost overwhelming influx of Cuban immigrants as the exodus to escape Fidel Castro's regime began, the Freedom Tower served as the government's locale for processing newly arrived exiles. Essentially, it was our Ellis Island, where people who'd left their former lives for the promise of finding more hopeful days to come on new shores would start their search for that promise. So it seems like a fitting stage for Inside Out's 11M project, which aims to raise awareness and gather support for immigration reform, such as the DREAM Act, that would give the 11 million undocumented residents in the US a more secure sense of place in the country grown to call their home.
"The point of Inside Out 11 Million is to give a voice to the 11 million undocumented who are counting on reform, so it should be them that people are seeing, their faces on the wall," explained Natalia Jaramillo, communications manager for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
The driving intent behind the 11M project is not only to send a message, but to make that message all the more personal by emphasizing legislation like the DREAM Act, which would afford a path to citizenship to undocumented youths who grew up in the states after being brought by their parents as children.
The visual impact of the project is impressive, a moving black and white gathering of diverse faces, with an incredible array of ages, ethnicities, and expressions plastered along the base of the Tower, looming over the sidewalk on 6th street. One might readily contend that this silent protest of sorts spoke louder than a mass of people shouting and bearing picket signs.
"I think it's super symbolic," said Jessica Rivas, who came out Saturday morning to have her own portrait made for the 11M project. "I think it's awesome that there's a bunch of faces that are unfamiliar coming out and showing support for immigration reinforcement." Barbara Acevedo, who had her photo taken as well, was similarly enthused. "I really like the idea. It shows a different side of protesting. You usually have people yelling on the street and that sort of thing, and this is a more artistic way of showing support, I feel."
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The project drew individuals from a various groups and coalitions, yielding a feeling of solidarity from all the disparate characters who showed up to take part in the event. The line leading into the photo truck resonated with all sorts of disjointed accents, because the queue drew people who hailed from all over, with origins from Argentina to Oklahoma to Ireland. That's probably what makes this project so special - its powerful illustration of all the different voices hoping to be heard, the many faces eager to facilitate a change in the way the system works.
Kitt Rafferty, another member of the coalition who was waiting to have her photo taken, had a keen insight into the mixed makeup of the many portraits. Upon complimenting the mellifluousness of her name, she noted "It's an immigrant name, too. Remember when my people came to this country, we faced the same thing - 'No Irish need apply,' 'No Rent for Irish,' etc. Unfortunately that's been the history of this country." She continued, "So I have a great compassion for people that come to this country and who leave whatever it is they're leaving in their homeland, be it tyranny or poverty or anything else. They come here to start a life and they should be allowed to start one. They should be American citizens."
For more information about the Inside Out 11M project and to see where their mobile portrait press is headed next visit insideoutproject.net/11M.