Hope after Deportation in Charlotte, North Carolina: Papalote Project and Latin American Coalition Support Immigrant Communities

By Ricky Garza, Communications Department, NCLR

Beyond dry figures conveying deportation statistics and talk about enforcing our laws on immigration, there are stories like Emmanuel Hernandez’s.  Still too shocked or shy to open up after his father was taken by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents more than a year ago from their home in Charlotte, North Carolina, the seven-year-old finds consolation and hope through the creation of colorful kites with the Papalote Project.

Envisioned as a creative outlet for kids affected by deportation to express their hidden feelings, Charlotte artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner knew it was important for these young Latinos to share their stories and connect with other kids in similar situations.  Through the simple act of making fragile papalotes (kites) with paper, glue, and popsicle sticks, the children work on releasing their fears, hopes, and memories regarding their family members lost to deportation.

Keep up with the latest from UnidosUS

Sign up for the weekly UnidosUS Action Network newsletter delivered every Thursday.

To raise further awareness about this important issue, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Affiliate Latin American Coalition will hold a press conference at Charlotte’s Levine Museum—where the Papalote Project is on display—on February 15, 2013, at 1:00 p.m.  The press conference is the final event in the two-day training that the Coalition is hosting for other Affiliates to showcase and share best practices about their stellar advocacy work.  NCLR is honored to be a part of the press conference, and we will continue to work with our network of Affiliates to make sure immigration reform becomes a reality this year.

Undocumented immigrants are deeply embedded in American society, and facing deportation often means leaving behind spouses, children, and steady jobs.  Getting ready to leave for work one morning, as he always did, 15-year old Cinthya S.’s father was arrested by immigration officials after living in North Carolina for 25 years.  Cinthya, her sisters, and her mother haven’t been the same ever since.  Cinthya says America is the only country she knows and gets scared thinking about the prospect of moving to Mexico, a country where she has never been.  Undoubtedly, our broken immigration system continues to split families and causes needless pain.

With the kites as metaphors for both peaceful migration and flight, Papalote Project participants are encouraged to use their kites to remember their loss and celebrate their loved ones.  Many children turned a piece of clothing once belonging to their parent into the tail of the kite.

While difficult to bring up and remember, Torres-Weiner believes these stories must be told if real changes are to be made.  The immigration debate is not an abstraction of legal statuses; instead, it directly affects millions of American sons, daughters, and spouses.

The original papalotes are now on display at Charlotte’s Levine Museum of the New South as El Papalote Mágico/The Magic Kite.  With plans to expand the project into a book to send to members of Congress, we wish her the best of luck and urge our readers to remember the human toll of failing to act on immigration reform.

You might also be interested in: