A small, white tank top with flowers and butterflies splashed brightly across the front. That’s what Yessica Perez Barrios brought with her on her long journey as a child, taking it out of her bags as she crossed the desert so she was wearing it when she first arrived in the United States. It’s pictured alongside objects that other DREAMers—undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children—brought with them to the U.S. in a new exhibit that opened at the Oregon Historical Society last week.
DREAMs Deferred is a collaboration between Portland nonprofit The Immigrant Story and local photographer Jim Lommasson’s What We Carried project. The nonprofit produced short-form narrative accounts of six undocumented immigrants, each of which appears alongside a large, close-up portrait of its subject. Additionally, Lommasson photographed one object each person carried on their journey here and invited them to write on the photographs the reasons for their choice.
Against a picture of scattered marbles, Bernal Cruz writes: “On the day I left Guatemala, the same day my schoolmates came to say farewell. I carried these on my lap—an attempt to take my friends along so as to never really have to say goodbye."
“This passport contains the only photo I have of my childhood in El Paraiso. It reminds me of the river, the air, and all the beauty of the land I had to leave,” writes Xiamora Torres, as a nine year old Torres gazes solemnly at her future from her black and white passport photo.
“There’s so much shame with knowing you were undocumented,” says Torres, who came to the US from El Salvador when she was nine years old as her family fled the civil war. Her experiences led her to choose a legal career so she could advocate for those like she once was—now she’s a Multnomah County Circuit Judge.
"The fate of thousands of Oregonians, who are currently protected by DACA, is being determined by the Supreme Court," says Sankar Raman, who created The Immigrant Story in 2017. "They are our neighbors and productive members of our community. I hope this exhibition provides a platform and shines light on the plight of these individuals."
DREAMs Deferred will be on display in the Oregon Historical Society’s Community Mezzanine Gallery through April 12.