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Two new grant projects to explore migrant experience in Texas

The Institute for Diversity and Civic Life’s 2021 Migration Narratives Project include two Austin Seminary grantees. Education Beyond the Walls received a collaborative grant of $19,700, shared with Austin Region Justice for our Neighbors, and Professor Gregory Cuéllar, associate professor of Old Testament, received an individual grant of $5,000 for his “Arte de Lágrimas: Refugee Artwork Project.” Both initiatives seek to celebrate the humanity of migrants and foster reflection on immigration policy and practices.

Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Seminary will collaborate with Justice for our Neighbors to expand on the “Undocumented Stories” project, which began in 2017 with the objective of giving voice to members of the immigrant community in Texas. “The center of our project is education through the voices of our Latinx immigrant brothers and sisters to disrupt the conventional narrative about immigration and the immigrant experience,” says Mónica Tornoé, director of Latinx learning and of the Undocumented Stories project.

“Often in non-profit circles, client storytelling is seen as a tool for fundraising, a compelling way to connect with donors and show positive outcomes while asking for more funds,” Tornoe continued. “Too often, the hero of the story is the non-profit which stepped into a person’s life at just the right time to do something good and resolve the problem. We want to challenge that narrative by centering the immigrant as the actor in their own story.” Funds from the grant will support publication of a book—which can be used in whole or in part alongside video clips of the storytellers—and resources for community and church education programs.

 

In August 2014, Professor Cuéllar and a small team of faith-based volunteers initiated the Arte de Lágrimas: Refugee Artwork Project. According to Cuéllar, “The stories of the ‘Other’ that this project aims to bring into public view are those of asylum-seeking children and youth from Central America’s Northern Triangle. As part of the broad humanitarian response to the influx of asylum-seekers at the Texas-Mexico border from 2014 to 2017, we saw art-making as a friendly activity for asylum-seeking children and youth to do while they waited for their buses at bus stations in McAllen, Brownsville, and San Antonio, Texas. In contrast to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inhumane response to their arrival (many placed in animal-like cages and freezing detention cells), we felt the need to act by offering at the very least a neighborly welcome to the newly arriving asylum-seekers at the Texas-Mexico border. Hence, informing our project is less focused on the academic study of migration than on a faith-based ethics of care for refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers.”

This grant will allow the digitization and archiving of original artwork by asylum-seekers (2014–2017, 2019), thereby ensuring future access to the stories they tell about migration and religion in the Texas-Mexico border region. This grant will also fund the production of a virtual storytelling art exhibit, using a selection of the digitized art pieces (see https://www.artedelagrimas.org/).