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Gallery spotlight: Third Way Cafe Sheds Light on Local “Dreamers”

Elvis Saldias was among many of the central Ohio Dreamers featured at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) pop-up gallery held at Third Way Cafe. Credit: Courtesy of Third Way Cafe

The Trump administration’s approach to immigration has inspired one local gallery to share the voices of local artists who are calling attention to its effects.

The pop-up gallery at Third Way Cafe, which debuted last week, features the photography of Sahar Fadaian and Olga Pavlovska with the writings of Leticia Wiggins. The display aims to highlight the realities that young Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients experience in today’s America, and to associate familiar faces with an issue that has dominated the national discourse since the measure was rescinded in September.

“We thought that’d it’d be important to not only see the faces of those with DACA, but also hear their words,” said Wiggins, an Ohio State alumna and Ph.D. in history.  

The temporary exhibit is the collaborative product of the young artists and DACA Time, a software company that provides a user-friendly program for immigrants to fill out documentation paperwork.

DACA, an Obama-era initiative, provided people brought to the United States illegally as children with protection from deportation and the ability to obtain work permits.

Fadaian, a Columbus College of Art and Design student and Iranian immigrant, was the driving force behind the entire project. She contacted Derek DeHart and Brook Kohn, co-founders of DACA Time, energized by her passion for sharing others’ stories and with hopes of connecting with an organization that could bring the issue to light.

“I know that with what is happening in the United States, with DACA and the ‘Dreamers’ and everything else,” Fadaian said, “that it’s a very sensitive time, but you can reach more people and people are willing to listen.”

People listened on Wednesday, when the exhibit opened. Its debut even caught the attention of State Sen. Joseph Schiavoni and local media outlets. Although the night’s energy felt communal and supportive, Wiggins said it doesn’t describe the evening’s emotions in their entirety.

A patron lingers at a wall of portraits featuring several Ohio Dreamers. Central Ohio artists highlighted the stories of Dreamers at a pop-up gallery held at Third Way Cafe days before Congress was set to vote on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation, or DACA. Credit: Courtesy of Third Way Cafe.

“It was a hybrid of feelings in that it was very supportive,” she said. “But there’s also this reality you’re struck with. All the hard work and all of the stories, unearthing those in a way that was really public was special and important, but at the same time it made everything more real.”

With the fate of the “Dreamers” still in limbo ––  a short-term bill passed Monday to fund the government doesn’t include stipulations for DACA recipients –– congressional leaders have vowed to keep the issue on the table and find a solution before the program’s protections expire on March 5. In the meantime, the artists and founders of DACA Time want to continue the photo project, regardless of the outcome.

“When I was printing the images of ‘Dreamers’ I was thinking, ‘This is not enough’ for them. There’s so many of them,” said Fadaian. “Of course we have to interview more of them, of course we want to photograph more of them. That’s the point of it.”

Despite the hopes and plans to moving the gallery to bigger, more accessible venues, Wiggins said there are wishes that the project wouldn’t have to be so long lasting because it was born out of the potential for a devastating government decision involving people we see everyday.

“These are amazing individuals,” she said, “but as they have said in their own words they really just wish they could be just like everybody else.”

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story inaccurately stated Leticia Wiggins is a current doctoral candidate at Ohio State. In fact, she is a graduate of the doctoral program. 

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