‘We will thrive as family’

  • Ensemble members Priscilla Page, left, Maria Jose Gimenez and Nathalie Vicencio take part in “Quiero Volver: A Xicanx Ritual Opera” at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton on Sunday. The multimedia performance by Northampton artist Diana Alvarez closed out “Ofrendas: Solidarity with Migrant Families.” GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Andrea Schmid, left, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, answers a question from the audience at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton during "Ofrendas: Solidarity with Migrant Families" on Sunday, July 29, 2018. Joining her in the panel discussion are, from left, Jorge Renaud, a senior policy analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative, Dalila Hyry-Dermith, a social worker at the Department of Health, and Smith College and Westfield State University faculty member Maria Del Mar Farina.The event was a fundraiser for the Southern Poverty Law Center and its work with immigrant families separated at the border. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ensemble members Maria Jose Gimenez, left, Nathalie Vicencio and Priscilla Page take part in “Quiero Volver: A Xicanx Ritual Opera.” GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton artist Diana Alvarez, center, takes a bow with fellow ensemble members, from left, Maria Jose Gimenez, Priscilla Page, Nathalie Vicencio and musician Pamela Means following their performance of Alvarez’ “Quiero Volver: A Xicanx Ritual Opera” at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton on Sunday. The multimedia performance closed out “Ofrendas: Solidarity with Migrant Families,” a two-part fundraiser for the Southern Poverty Law Center and its work toward representing and reuniting detained immigrant families. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/29/2018 10:24:23 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As images of immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border continue to emerge in the national media, local efforts are underway to provide assistance to those directly affected by the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

That was the intent of an event at the Academy of Music on Sunday, where a nearly packed house gathered for a fundraiser aimed at providing legal assistance to immigrant families being separated from their families. The Smith School for Social Work and the Institute for Emerging Adulthood teamed up to present “Ofrendas,” a night of discussion and art, with all proceeds going to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s organized legal assistance for separated families at several locations in the U.S. South.

“We have to awaken from the illusion of our separateness,” event organizer Jaycelle Basford-Pequet, director of the Institute for Emerging Adulthood, told the audience.

The fundraiser began with a panel discussion featuring four local experts.

The first speaker was Smith College and Westfield State University faculty member Maria del Mar Farina, a clinical social worker specializing in, among other areas, immigration. She sought to put the current moment into historical context.

Policies that separated immigrant families began during the administration of Bill Clinton, del Mar Farina said. 

Del Mar Farina said Clinton’s signing of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act made immigrants who were once legally in the country eligible for deportation, many of whom had families in the United States. Provisions in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 also made it easier to detain and deport immigrants.

The deportation of parents escalated under President Barack Obama, del Mar Farina said, resulting in 100,000 parents deported in 2010 and some 205,000 deported from 2010 to 2012.

“The consequences of deportation are well known,” del Mar Farina said. After all, researchers have since 1996 been studying the effects on children whose parents are deported, she said: children are lost in foster care, parents are unable to make family court proceedings to claim their children, children are put up for adoption.

“What we know is that they are long-lasting,” del Mar Farina said of the emotional consequences on children, which include depression, isolation and guilt that last for years.

Adding to del Mar Farina’s historical perspective, social worker Dalila Hyry-Dermith — who herself crossed the border with her newborn baby in 1986 — spoke about the U.S. role in creating the violence many migrants are now fleeing in Central America.

“The history of violence this country has created in Latin America, and specifically in Central America, is incredible,” Hyry-Dermith, originally from Honduras, said, referring to the United States’ role in overthrowing governments, funding wars and creating the demand for the drugs whose trade is now wreaking havoc in the region.

“Let’s push ourselves to make those connections, and let’s become active about it,” Hyry-Dermith said to applause.

Next to speak was Jorge Renaud, a senior policy analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative. Renaud talked about his experience as an activist and formerly incarcerated person looking to reshape the criminal justice system. Renaud drew connections between immigration policy — specifically detention and deportation — and incarceration.

“It all comes down to the criminalization of bodies,” he said. Putting humans in cages is an altogether failed policy, he added, calling on activists to broaden the circle of those included in the work of ending those policies.

Last up was Andrea Schmid, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center who spoke about efforts to include protections for immigrants in the Massachusetts budget. Democratic state lawmakers recently cut measures out of a budget compromise that would have restricted the extent to which law enforcement could cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“It has been impossible to pass the most simple due process for immigrants in these communities,” Schmid said, pointing to what she said was the hypocrisy of Democratic state lawmakers, who say they are for immigrant rights but couldn’t get behind protections that Democrats in the state Senate had included in their budget. “Massachusetts is not on the right side of history,” she said.

Family separation may feel to some like it is only happening on the border, but for immigrant families it is happening all over the country, Schmid said, urging the audience to join her organization’s “Sanctuary in the Streets” network.

After a brief intermission, the program continued with a multimedia performance from the Northampton-based artist Diana Alvarez titled “Quiero Volver: A Xicanx Opera” — a visually and acoustically stunning performance meant to honor women, non-binary and genderqueer people of color.

The opera featured three performers acting and reciting poetry in Spanish and English — University of Massachusetts writer and dramaturge Priscilla Page, Venezuelan-Canadian poet and translator Maria Jose Gimenez and civil rights activist Nathalie Vicencio. Their performances were interspersed with music from Alvarez and singer-songwriter Pamela Means, and with documentary video by Alvarez.

Page, Gimenez and Vicencio drew applause, laughter and approving snaps from the audience as they spoke, sometimes in unison, often in rapid-fire response to one another, touching on themes from colonialism and racism to what love should feel like — delicious, like mother’s tacos.

“Listen, we are here to stay, and we will thrive as family,” read one line of poetry near the end of the performance.

Alvarez, meanwhile, sang and played soulful, melodic and jazzy songs in both English and Spanish, accompanied by Means’ serious chops on the guitar. 

As the night came near a close, the audience sat silent as the duo performed Alvarez’s powerful song “Todo Se Acaba.”

“Even hatred, even the violence of your voice, even the thought that you have the right to this body,” Alvarez sang. “Everything, everything will end.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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