More than 52,000 people currently crowd immigration detention facilities across the country. Some are parents who were taken away from their families in their own homes. Others are children seeking asylum alongside their siblings, mothers and uncles. They flee violence based on gender and sexual orientation or deep poverty and gangs. Confined in jails, prisons and tents, many of them for profit and increasingly unsafe, their futures are uncertain. At a time and in a place where these asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants likely feel most alone, three groups have come together to create Flowers on the Inside, a project letting those in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities know that there is a vast community with them on the outside.
Flowers on the Inside is a joint undertaking among the Center for Cultural Power, Forward Together and Tijuana, Mexico-based LGBTQ migrant shelter Casa Arcoiris. The project allows individuals to write messages of “love, support and solidarity” to those detained in immigration centers. People’s notes, which they write through the project’s website or at cultural events around the West Coast, are then printed on postcards designed by undocumented artists and distributed by Casa Arcoiris to detention centers nationwide.
“Flowers on the Inside is about leveraging the power of art to show solidarity with migrants in detention centers,” Favianna Rodriguez, president of the Center for Cultural Power, formerly called CultureStrike, tells Remezcla.
For Julio Salgado, the organization’s manager of migrant storytelling in pop culture, it was important that the artists selected to create the postcards be undocumented so that they are able to design powerful images that at once reflect their own knowledge and lived experiences as well as bring solidarity and joy to its recipients.
The artists behind the beautiful designs are Maria HW, an undocumented queer Asian Pacific Islander from Mexico; Brian Herrera, a queer, undocumented graphic artivist from Veracruz, Mexico who was raised in Chicago; Karla Daniela Rosas, a New Orleans-based visual artist originally from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; Emulsify, a queer femme healer, artist, organizer and full spectrum doula from Ecuador; and Salgado himself.
He tells Remezcla that people inside detention centers want to hear from those on the outside. And according to Rodriguez, art is an effective way to communicate and share solidarity.
“We believe that culture is power, and the direct connection between art and justice allows for love and hope to be communicated across all kinds of boundaries and barriers — even through cages and bars,” Rodriguez says. “We want the folks inside these centers to know they are not alone, so we are so thankful to the thousands of people who took the time to send these beautiful messages.”
As of October 18, Flowers on the Inside has received 2,700 messages from people around the United States. Currently, the group is translating the notes in order to print them on the cards and deliver them to Casa Arcoiris. While they are not presently accepting messages, Rodriguez is encouraging those who are interested to reach out to Salgado for blank postcards and host writing parties in their own communities.
“The metaphor of the flower represents hope, love and resilience. Ultimately, we want these detention centers, which are prisons, to be gone. But for now our goal was to reach human beings locked on the inside to help them feel a little less isolated,” she says.