Below is a draft proposal that I will be sending to Maria Kenney to move forward with a new phase of involvement at the UC Shelters. During a recent discussion I had suggested the possibility of working with the staff and incorporating them directly into my research and project. After having visited all the UC shelters and having spent time there making images as well as meeting staff through my wife’s work at the ICC in Roger’s Park, it stood out to me that the majority of the staff are recent immigrants themselves. The idea that most of the people doing the work of caring for these unaccompanied children are immigrants themselves really stuck with me and when I mentioned it to Maria, Thomas and James it also resonated with them. James in particular thought this was really important and was very supportive of the idea of engaging with the staff. So based on that revelation and subsequent conversation I am putting a draft proposal for the management staff of the UC Shelters along with a draft email that would be sent out to UC shelter staff upon approval to invite staff to be a part of my project. If anyone has comments, concerns or suggestions about the draft please let me know.
Draft proposal to UC shelter management
I am proposing to work directly with the staff at Heartland Alliance’s shelters for unaccompanied children on a photography and video interview based project at the shelters where the staff work. This would include staff at CHAP, ICC and ICRC who are willing to participate. My goals include conducting on camera interviews where staff will be invited to share their personal stories about working at Heartland Alliance UC shelters, their experiences working with unaccompanied children and their own immigration related journeys. The goal is to weave together a larger narrative about what it’s like to be a child navigating the immigration system as an unaccompanied minor and combine that with the personal narratives of the largely immigrant staff working at Heartland’s UC shelters. Through this process I hope the stories of UC children can be told through the staff of the UC shelters but show that much of this important work is being done by immigrant staff for immigrant children. The project will include video and audio recording as well as still photography. Staff will be invited to participate in individual conversations with me as their schedules permit. Appropriate distance will be observed due to covid-19 and should in person interactions become unfeasible due to further state or city covid-19 restrictions the interviews could instead be conducted via an online video platform.
Draft email to be distributed to UC shelter staff
Dear Heartland Alliance (Insert name of shelter here) staff,
I am extending an invitation to collaborate in a socially engaged visual art project with Heartland Alliance’s current Diane Dammeyer Fellow Jonathan Castillo. Jonathan is currently engaging with different Heartland programs who work with immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. He has recently been visiting and photographing at the CHAP, ICC and ICRC UC shelters and is looking to expand on that work by working with our staff to conduct video interviews and make portraits of staff. Collaboration with Jonathan could include sitting for a video interview/conversation at your place of work where you discuss topics related to the work you do at Heartland Alliance UC shelters, your experiences working with unaccompanied children and personal narratives related to your own immigration stories. Please note that if you choose to participate the video, audio and photographs could be exhibited in a gallery setting, online or in publications in the future. Participation is completely voluntary. If you are interested and have questions please feel free to email Jonathan at jonmichaelphoto [at] gmail [dot] com and if you would like to see some of Jonathan’s past work you can see it here on his website. The goals of this project are to engage with the diverse staff at Heartland Alliance that do work helping immigrants as well as wider engagement with the broader public who might otherwise be unaware of the important work being done in these Heartland Alliance centers.
Potential interview questions and/or prompts for UC shelter staff
Potential pre-interview questions/requests (Might influence where the interview is done and what is brought to the interview)
- I’ve heard that children will often write letters, make art or create some kind of keepsake or thank you for staff before they leave. If you have something like this from children you’ve worked with in the past could you bring that to your interview?
- If there is a place in your facility that reminds you about a specific child you’ve worked with in the past can you tell me what room or space that is and what the significance is?
Potential Interview questions
- What is your name, title and what shelter do you work in?
- How long have you worked here?
- What languages do you speak?
- What is your primary duties here working with unaccompanied children?
- What are some of the most difficult aspects of your job and what are some of the most rewarding?
- Could you tell me about a child you’ve worked with who you most remember or continue to think about even after their departure?
- Have children tried to reach out to you after they’ve left the shelter? If so what’s it like not being able to continue a relationship with them after they leave?
- Can you tell me a little bit about the space we are sitting in right now and what the significance is to you?
- Can you tell me a little bit about the item you’ve brought with you today?
- Have you faced any harassment, criticism or pressure from anyone outside of Heartland for the work you do here?
- Tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any goals or things you are trying to accomplish outside your work at Heartland Alliance?
- Do you have your own story or connection to immigration within your family?
- If so and you’re willing to share tell me a little bit about how you (or a loved one) immigrated to the US and what difficulties they faced?
- Do you have anything else based on our conversation that you think is important that you’d like to share?
I like the way this is taking shape, and the questions are really stimulating. I am also thinking about some staff who work tangentially to the UC Shelters in the Home Study and Post Release Services program. This is the group that supports children once they are reunited with their families, many of whom are vulnerable to the same insecurities and challenges that all undocumented, newly arrived, or low-income immigrants face. Some of those staff work out of other cities (e.g. Houston) and many were vulnerable as immigrant youth when their families immigrated to the U.S. I don’t know whether or not they’d want to share their story and participate, but Maria Kenney could opine and then make the connection to the manager of that program, Jackie Fitzpatrick.
As an aside, I was talking with one of my colleagues in HR who is first generation from a Czech background, as was my mother. It was interesting to consider what her parents and my grandparents experienced when they arrived and how that impacted us. But the really interesting thing (at least for me) was that it was only during our conversation that she realized she *was* first generation. She always considered her dad to be, but since he came here as an 8-9 year old, technically that distinction belongs to her. The story she told me was so interesting, that it reminded me of all the stories we hold, some hidden and some not, that make up the fabric of our being and frankly, of this country.
Last but not least, I was talking with Celeste about the PhotoVoice project that RICS and Kovler had done it the past. Judy may remember that Heartland staff talked about it during the Anahid lunch and learn at Columbia. Anyway, I saw this and it reminded me of that project. Obviously different than what you’re doing, but certainly in the same critical vein.
Looking forward to more!
Thank you Jonathan for your blog post and Betsy – for your insightful comments.
Jonathan – your writing has improved SO much. And I think you’ve done a great job getting this together. Look forward to hear and see the responses and results.