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Panelists share immigration stories, local children showcase immigration artwork

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- Two local groups in South Bend highlighted the other side of immigration on Friday night.

The Civil Rights Heritage Center and La Casa de Amistad partnered for an art exhibition and panel discussion called El Otro Lado: Immigration Stories from The Other Side. The event was inspired by the St. Joseph County Public Library’s One Book/One Michiana selection The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande.

“I, myself, am from Ciudad Madero Tampico Tamaulipas,” said Juan Constantino, one of the panelists.

Constantino was one of five panelists speaking to a crowd at the center on Friday. He said his family left their town in Mexico for a better opportunity in America.

“A very poor lifestyle in Mexico,” Constantino said. “My mother only had a 4th grade education, my father eventually had to practice in weldin,g and they wanted us to be able to achieve our dreams.”

He is now 24 years old, has a degree from Holy Cross College, and works at La Casa de Amistad. He is sharing his story publicly because he is protected by DACA, a program the Trump administration has been trying to repeal.

“I would say that a lot of the stories of immigration, although are very circumstantial to their situation, are very similar,” Constantino said.

He said there are immigrants who don’t want to leave their home, but are being forced to because of poverty, persecution, or war. Currently, there’s a caravan, which rose to more than 1,000 Latin American migrants, trying to seek asylum in the United States.

The Mexican government has stopped the group, after a warning from President Donald Trump, who threatened to reduce foreign aid and said NAFTA would be affected if the caravan got on American soil.

“The idea that we somehow have to protect that so much, that we risk and cause real damage to people that’s so horrible, that’s reprehensible, that’s not okay,” said George Garner, Civil Rights Heritage Center curator.

Garner asked that ABC 57 News not bring cameras inside of the venue because some of the panelists are in fear of retaliation from the US government.

“We create as safe a space as possible and protect their story and protect their very life and livelihood,” he said.

Eventgoers were able to see those stories plastered on the walls of the center. La Casa de Amistad had students interview their parents, who immigrated to the US, about their home countries. Garner and Constantino talked about one picture that stood out to them, that was made by a six year old.

“He drew his father with his whole family there,” Garner said. “And the father was confused like, ‘I told you it was just me, why are there multiple people?’ But the child didn’t want the father to be lonely.”

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