The Immigration Project: We Are Pajaro Valley

ROP Immigration Project artwork - Culture

Immigration has been a hot political topic, especially in this election year; so how does a teacher talk with students about it? Not so easy!

ROP teacher Karen Lemon first imagined this project through ongoing contact with Ms. Judy Stabile, Director of the Pajaro Valley Arts Council (PVAC). A project, first proposed by the San Jose Museum of Art, the “Border Cantos” Project, and then adopted by PVAC as “Immigration, Borders, Boundaries and Beginnings,” started Mrs. Lemon thinking about what a great opportunity this would be to create a collaboration between several different school sites, teachers, students and academic courses. Together they came up with two distinct projects, one that would be created as a way for students to talk about immigration and what it meant to them and their families as part of the Gallery Show, and the other an opportunity to create a public art project. Lemon jumped at the chance for both and offered to orchestrate the student portions of the projects.

Part One

ROP Immigration Project - group shot of students in galleryIt all starts with a story. In this case, Mrs. Lemon utilized her new job assignment, teaching Perspectives in Education, in the ECHO (Education, Community, Humanitarian Outreach) Academy at Watsonville High School, to locate teachers studying the history of Pajaro Valley. She worked with them to have students research and write narratives about how their families came to live in Pajaro Valley. The students’ stories were enlightening, some from a first person point of view, others from the perspective of great-great grandparents about where they came from and what it was like coming here. A sister program sprung up with teacher Daniel Levy at E. A. Hall Middle School, with middle school students tackling the same writing project.

The next part of the project was to photograph the students. After much discussion with her photography students about how to symbolically represent the diversity of cultures in Pajaro Valley with a small number of faces, the students decided that it would be best to photograph students from Watsonville High, E. A. Hall Middle School, and Renaissance High School, and randomly place the text from the stories, in a mix and match fashion behind the images. This process produced a wonderful mix of emotions, and spirit that just leaps out from the wall, “This is who we are and WE ARE PAJARO VALLEY”.

The wall of 40 3 X 5 foot photos was financially sponsored by a donation to PVAC. Community volunteers and students helped to hang the wall. Without PVAC’s and the community’s support, the students would not have been able to take part in such an impactful project. Special thanks goes out to Mr. Daniel Levy, teacher and graphic artist extraordinaire, for his wizardry in editing the photos and text.

ROP Immigration Project - the wall displaying student images
Left to right: Judy Stabile, Dan Levy, and Karen Lemon in front of the display wall

The wall is located in the parking area between PVAC at 37 Sudden Street in Watsonville and the YMCA at 27 Sudden Street. It is a public art project and available for viewing 24 hours per day!!!

Part Two

Meanwhile, students in Mrs. Lemon’s ROP Photography course at Renaissance High School looked more deeply at the social implications of immigration law. Again starting with story, students were guided in writing poems describing who they are, where they came from, what their dreams are and what they would like people to know about them. The poems ranged from dreaming about “endless ice cream cones” to envisioning a better life through education. Photographs were either collected or made by the students to enhance their poetry. The project was enriched with the finding of an 1836 immigration law book, entitled “Immigration Law, Its Evils and Consequences.”

ROP Immigration Project artwork - Graduation

ROP Immigration Project artwork - Thank You“This book allowed me to talk about the history of Immigration Law and let my students know that what many people are struggling with now is not new,” said Mrs. Lemon. Some students’ poems and conversations reflected feeling half here and half in their home country, and thus was born the idea of printing images onto silk fabric and the poems onto tea bags with the words of the immigration law book showing through the students’ images and words.

The message is a poignant one that law exists, and it does affect humankind.

Students working on the dual projects were able to combine History, English, Philosophy, and Social Justice while learning and heightening their skills in photography, creating a finished piece of art to show publicly and in an art gallery, and to learn what it takes to curate a show. The entire project was capped off with 50 of the students who had collaborated in the show being able to visit the gallery and see their work hanging in place. This Work Based Learning Project took 6 months from planning to viewing. Knowing that approximately 1000 people had seen the gallery project and thousands more will see the public art display is a source of so much esteem to the students!

“I didn’t think I could say something that people would want to listen to, and now I know I can make a difference.”
— Eric S., student Renaissance High School, Photo

ROP Immigration Project artwork - LauraROP Immigration Project artwork - EricRead Stories Of Immigration – Watsonville High School, ECHO Academy Students (pdf)

Of note, this is the third public art project that Karen Lemon has produced with her students in collaboration with PVAC.

Pajaro Valley Arts Presents: We Are Pajaro Valley!

We Are Pajaro Valley reflects the stories, personalities, and responses to our question of how our participants and families came to the Pajaro Valley.

Personal and family stories of their immigration to the United States were written and contributed by students from E. A. Hall Middle School and ECHO students at Watsonville High School.

Their stories have been paired with photographs of youth of our Pajaro Valley, taken by students and teachers from Watsonville High School, Renaissance High School, and E. A. Hall Middle School. These vibrant and energetic images represent the distinct cultural crossroads that makes up our local community.

Wall of photos

Our thanks go to:

  • The students of Watsonville High School, Renaissance High School, and E. A. Hall Middle School
  • Karen Lemon: Renaissance High, ROP and Watsonville High ECHO Academy
  • Daniel Levy: E. A. Hall Middle School
  • Dawn Krenz: Watsonville High School, ECHO Academy
  • Robert Wollenzein: YMCA
  • Community Installation Volunteers
  • PVAC Gallery Committee
  • Judy Stabile and Chris Miroyan, PVAC Board of Directors

This project was done in conjunction with the Pajaro Valley Arts Council exhibit Immigration: Borders, Boundaries, Beginnings, in partnership with the San Jose Museum of Art exhibit Border Cantos.