After sunset in the heart of downtown Fresno, white silhouettes are projected on a brick wall – each different than the last.
The silhouettes were a part of UndocuNeighbors, a visual art exhibit coordinated by uSpark Valley and Somos Fresno meant to bring light to the stories and struggles of undocumented immigrants in the Central Valley.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 10.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, with California housing the largest population at 2.2 million.
Rain Gonzalez, one of the event organizers, said that “undocumented immigrants and immigrants in general play such a large part in Fresno’s economy, so it doesn’t make sense that we don’t support them when it comes to politics and regulations.”
In the Central Valley and across the United States, undocumented immigrants play an important role in the economy as well as paying around $11.6 billion a year in taxes according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic policy.
But UndocuNeighbors isn’t about highlighting the vital economic contributions of undocumented Americans – it’s about humanizing them. Undocumented immigrants, even though they make up a large portion of the population, are so often marginalized and excluded from common notions of what it means to be part of a community.
UndocuNeighbors seeks to change that, and, as names next to white silhouettes of bodies are projected up against a wall, I was hauntingly reminded of the space that undocumented immigrants occupy in the community. As names flash against the brick, it is made painfully clear that, while the undocumented community is often viewed and demonized as a whole, it is first and foremost made up of individuals who exist in a capacity that is more than just the label of “undocumented.” They are students, teachers, business owners, and most importantly, our neighbors in the community.
As I flipped through the prayer books left out for the public, I was reminded of the timeless adage to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” a proverb that transcends religion to provide a universal statement of the obligation we all have to our community. And, as spectators filtered in and out of the viewing area and the sun finally disappeared behind the skyline, I became aware of the realization that undocumented individuals aren’t defined by the country they’re in or the documentation to their name, they are defined by their humanity. Just as our neighbors should be.