Artist Shirien Damra's moving mural marks America's first 'Immigrant Day of Resilience'
Artist Shirien Damra has created a bright and hopeful mural to commemorate 'Immigrant Day of Resilience', a new annual date in the calendar that honours the strength of immigrant communities amid a long history of marginalisation in the United States.
Behind the event is United We Dream (UWD) – the largest immigrant youth-led organisation in America which wanted to dedicate 15 April as a day to recognise and address the impact of detention, deportation, police brutality, and Covid-19 on immigrant communities. It worked with Washington DC officials to make it happen, giving everyone a "time and place to reflect, heal and be inspired".
Then, to mark the occasion, UWD teamed up with creative consultancy Matter Unlimited and Shirien Damra to create a mural in DC's 4th Ward, "embodying the struggle and triumph of the immigrant experience".
A long-time organiser and artist whose work became widely known after her illustrated tributes to victims of police violence in the summer of 2020, Damra's art has been featured by CNN, ELLE, Time Magazine, and countless others.
Damra grew up in a Palestinian refugee family and was immediately drawn to the themes and goals of the initiative. "I feel blessed and humbled to have been able to help share these inspiring immigrant stories and create the mural artwork for the very first 'Immigrant Day of Resilience' in their honour," she says.
"I know all too well that so many immigrants come to this country because they don't have a choice. Many flee corruption, imperialism, settler-colonialism and genocide in their home countries. I'm in awe at the resilience and power of immigrants rising up for their rights. Their strength deserves to be celebrated and their stories centred and uplifted in the struggle for a more just society."
Working with the team, Damra created a giant portraiture-style mural that depicts three individuals and their unique immigration stories, including a 77-year-old Japanese American psychotherapist specialising in community trauma who was born and raised in a detention camp, her parents separated across the country. She is now the Co-Founder of Tsuru for Solidarity, a network of Japanese American survivors of the detention camps and their descendants.
Also featured is a 23-year-old immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago who has lived in DC since the age of three. She is a DACA recipient but is currently undocumented and has aged out of her mother's visa application, so is desperately awaiting a path to citizenship. And there's a 25-year-old Mexican immigrant and DACA recipient who was criminalised by local police and deported from his longtime home in North Carolina to Mexico.
"It's been three years since I've been able to hug my mom and sister," says Edder, who is featured in the mural. "After being detained and facing ongoing abuse inside the ICE Stewart Detention Center for nearly five months and having my DACA status rescinded, I was forced to leave the U.S. and have been in Mexico ever since."
He adds, "Immigrants want to have stability and live without fear of being persecuted just like everyone else. Until ICE and CBP are defunded and a pathway to citizenship is passed, undocumented immigrants – including those with DACA or other forms of temporary protections – will always be vulnerable to detention and deportation. The Senate must immediately pass the Dream, Secure and Farm Workforce Modernization bills and allow me, and others just like me, the ability to finally reunite with our families in the U.S."
Unveiled on 15 April, the mural will become a permanent fixture within the 4th Ward, with the goal of potentially creating additional murals in key cities across the country. For now, Matter Unlimited sees this as an important step in honouring immigrants, one that hopefully leads to immediate and permanent protection of immigrant communities.