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The AjA Project to Confront Migrant Debate With Airport Mural

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The AjA Project interviews and photographs a refugee woman living in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego in this undated photo. | Photo Courtesy of The AjA Project

By Megan Burks
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With the fatal terrorist attack in San Bernardino Wednesday and the massacre in Paris earlier this month, Americans are taking a hard look at their relationship with immigrants and refugees.

That conversation will soon confront travelers at Lindbergh Field.

City Heights arts nonprofit The AjA Project is finalizing plans this week for a mural in Terminal 2. It will feature portraits of immigrants and refugees living in the Mid-City area and excerpts from narratives about their journeys.

AjA Executive Director Melinda Chiment said the piece aims to confront negative rhetoric about migrants coming out of the presidential debates and Syrian refugee crisis.

“In the context of a lot of really kind of ugly rhetoric, we feel like what’s missing in that conversation is the voices of refugees and immigrants themselves,” Chiment said. “So what we’re really hoping with this mural is for people to tell their own stories.”

AjA interviewed and photographed their subjects at community workshops in October and November. They’ll include 50 in the mural near baggage claim and tell the stories of diverse community leaders in six glass display cases scattered along the walkway.

Chiment said she hopes travelers see how their own lives intersect with those of refugees. For instance, one participant from Uganda spoke about being bullied at school, a common experience for all Americans.

The project is part of the airport’s annual Point of Entry program calling on local artists to develop public art for its terminals. AjA and other selected artists must raise their own funds for materials and installation.

Immigrants and refugees have been the subject of intense national and international debate this fall. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled civil war, forcing nations to reassess their refugee resettlement policies and consider what resources they have to help. At the same time, attacks by Islamic State terrorists have heightened fear about migrants from the Middle East and tempered public support for refugee assistance.

Here in the United States, anxiety about the nation’s borders and the economic impact of immigration has taken center stage in a series of presidential debates. And following unconfirmed rumors that some of the Paris attackers were Syrian migrants, the House voted to tighten restrictions on refugees coming to the United States.

AjA’s mural is scheduled to go up in late January.

 

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