Locals and visitors who enjoyed the quilts on display at Cady Hall during November’s Art Walk may not have realized that this exhibit was a long time coming. The finished quilts, pieced together using artwork by local students, were the final step in the project ‘Leaving Home: The Art of Asylum’ which began in March of 2020. At that time, local organization Voices from the Border sponsored a multi-day event to highlight the experiences of children seeking asylum across the southern US border.
The 2020 event featured artwork gathered from children at Casa Alitas, a Tucson shelter for migrant families, but, unfortunately, it was cut short by COVID19. One aspect of the project that just made it in “under the wire” before the shutdown was a series of presentations to Patagonia students by Gale Hall, an educator and member of the Esperanza Quilters in Oracle. She shared children’s artwork that had been incorporated into quilts.
Tammy Quiroga, art educator at Patagonia Elementary School, recalled that Hall showed the students an old, battered suitcase that had belonged to one of her ancestors who had immigrated. “Gale said that often, families petitioning for asylum must leave home in a hurry, as they may be fleeing from threats and violence. Parents may give a child a small suitcase and say, ‘Take what you can fit in here.’ This hit home for our kids as they imagined how hard a situation that would be, and what they would pack for such a trip, with the likelihood they would never come home again.”
The Patagonia students, grades 2 – 12, were then asked to draw pictures with messages to the children, which were transformed into the second batch of quilts. A variety of encouraging messages, ranging from “Bienvenido a Arizona” to “This land was made for you and me” and “Welcome to Pizza Land” adorn the brightly colored works. Each of the eight quilts features ten student drawings, as well as an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a cultural and religious symbol for many people of Mexico and Central America.
Sydney McKay, a senior at Patagonia Union High School, remembered, “I felt encouraged that there were people like those at Casa Alitas who provide shelter and safety. I had only known about the detention centers so many migrants end up in, which sounded so traumatic, for children especially.”
Maggie Urgo, a member of the Board of Voices from the Border, hopes that the quilts can be displayed somewhere that the local students can enjoy seeing their own and each others’ work, before finding a permanent home for them.