What does immigration mean to you? What do our immigration stories say about current U.S. collective society and our capacity to belong? What immigration stories have yet to be shared? Humanities Lab students pondered these important questions in the Facing Immigration I lab this fall semester at ASU.

Our lab team – Angelica Panuelas, Zhulin Lee, Zoey Lacey, Brittany Romanello and primary investigator Kira Olsen-Medina – worked together with internationally recognized artist and community educator Hugo Medina to develop a two-part workshop series with generous research funding from Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) that attempted to answer these questions within an intergenerational community.

The first workshop centered on exchanging personal immigration stories across age spans and creative brainstorming for a community mural design.

The room was full of many emotions: sadness, anger, love, fear, and excitement as older and younger students paired off together to discuss how their personal immigration stories had influenced their lives while sharing coffee and snacks.

Later, each pair was asked to introduce each other’s experiences, connecting them to one another in empathy and support. One ASU undergrad, James* introduced his partner, Myra,* an OLLI participant.  Myra grew up in communist East Germany, and lost many members of her family in World War II. James shared that Myra migrated many times to try and obtain a better life for her son. Myra was overjoyed to witness the Berlin Wall being torn down in 1989, right before she settled in the U.S. Myra then took her turn to tell us about James. His family migrated from Mexico because farming in that area had become unsustainable to support his family. Myra shared that James’ family faced many hardships, and the recent political atmosphere in Arizona at times makes him feel unsafe. He is excited to graduate college soon.

By having OLLI and ASU students exchange personal migration stories in this way, the workshop created a safe atmosphere that allowed students to develop a greater connection with their neighbor and also humanize conversations surrounding immigration, displacement, and current legal policies. Students then participated in a brainstorming session with Hugo to imagine how these important stories could be translated into a mural that represented their individual and group ideas about immigration and its broader social impacts. Hugo documented all the ideas and has began constructing a final version of the mural, incorporating aspects from all that the students shared during this special time together.

The blank wall reserved for the Mural Collaboration Project in Downtown Phoenix.

Facing Immigration students and OLLI participants will come together again for part two of the workshop series December 2, 9am-2pm at the YMCA Parking Lot in downtown Phoenix (2nd ST/ Fillmore). Painting the mural will culminate this unique experience, and we would LOVE your help!  

We welcome anyone within our intergenerational student community to participate in this historic art project–with no artistic skills required.

Come explore and engage in new creative learning methods that promote cooperation, cultural exchange, and safe outlets for healing for our Phoenix community regardless of ethnic origin, gender, or age.

*All participant names have been changed for privacy.



Artist Biography: Hugo Medina

Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Hugo Medina immigrated to New York as a child, where his interest in art was fostered by his architect father. Hugo received his BFA from C.W Post/ Long Island University followed by a Masters in Education from University of Phoenix. Sparked by an early desire to give back to the community and his love of children, Hugo began a teaching career committed to strengthening the community. Hugo taught art at Squaw Peak School in Phoenix, while continuing to design custom metalwork and sculpture. Hugo has founded multiple after- school art programs to extend the arts beyond the classroom as well as to reach out to the community. In the course of developing these programs, Hugo began organizing field trips and off-campus programs that encouraged student and community engagement.

Hugo now teaches classes for OLLI at ASU that tells of the history and societal impact of murals in urban settings while continuing his personal artistry. His knowledge, leadership, and personal investment in our local community have been pivotal in helping turn OLLI and ASU student’s migration stories and lived experiences into a living piece of art that will impact downtown Phoenix for years to come.

Brittany Romanello
Brittany Romanello is a doctoral student working under the advisement of professors Takeyuki Gaku Tsuda and Emir Estrada. Her work is broadly centered on understanding the impact immigration policy, discretionary justice, and gender norms have on immigrant mothers' parenting decisions. She is additionally interested in exploring how undocumented status may influence immigrant mothers' access to social capital resources within religious contexts in the United States. Her current project investigates how undocumented Latina mothers in the Mormon Church negotiate their parenting choices and social belonging in pan ethnic Latinx congregations.