Recapping our Immigration Co/Lab

Earlier this month, we wrapped up our Immigration Co/Lab with a beautiful showcase that left many in the audience in tears. But first, let's rewind and take a look at the journey that got us there... The Co/Lab (collaboration and community) is a new program funded by the Time Warner Foundation. Through TFI’s interactive storytelling work, we have recognized a need for local communities to acquire the knowledge and resources to construct their own stories. Communities are living organisms that are created by the shared experiences, localities, and cultural heritage of a group of people. The first edition in 2016 focused on Detroit (a thriving and resilient city that belies its familiar narrative of struggle and blight), where we invited Detroit-based artists and creators to collectively work together in groups in order to address issues that affect their communities. This year, we brought the Co/Lab home to NYC. 

2017 has been baffling to say the least, and it has highlighted the unjust constructs that have shaped and continue to shape national and international politics. Immigrants, or rather, bodies that have relocated or have moved across water, land and sky from one place to the other, have somehow taken a grand spotlight and often for unkind reasons. The state of immigration today has made of these humans suspects, aliens, and unwelcome trespassers -- even if in many cases they carry the proper and legal documentation to be welcomed into these new places. And the truth is, in the U.S., if your name is harder to spell then you will likely be held up at passport control even if you are an American citizen.

Over the past few years, we have also seen a significant rise in new media, interactive media, and tech-based media. And though issues of immigration have been addressed through the lens of these new and emerging practices, oftentimes the creators and the intended audience do not identify with the experience of migration and relocation. In an effort to flip that narrative, we have focused our labs and initiatives on community based empowerment. Stories told by the community for the community. And this Immigration Co/Lab was exactly that.

We started with a panel on Wednesday evening, where we kickstarted the lab with a conversation about immigration issues from different POVs. Mary Madden was moderating the conversation, and she was joined by Talia Peleg (Immigration Attorney) who spoke about the state of immigration through the lens of some of the case studies she has worked on, Mohammad Khan (Campaign Director for MPower Change) spoke about grassroots activation, and how to collectively stand together against injustice, Marisa Jahn spoke about deploying design thinking and new media tools to tackle social issues, Radhika Subramniam spoke about the ways in which the migration of animals and other things affect the migration of humans, she focused on the state of rats in NYC and drew a powerful relation between rats and immigrants, and finally Leslie Martinez who was also a participant in the lab spoke about how Hack the Ban came to be and the results of such a program.

And then the lab started on Thursday and it ran for 3 days from 9AM until 10PM. There were 5 teams each made of 6 participants. And the participants ranged from recording artists, journalists, storytellers, filmmakers, designers, technologists, and educators and they were divided into different teams based on their interests. For 3 days they worked nonstop in a high intensity, high stress collaborative environment, they pushed through challenges, and worked through fires and the result was spectacular. Below you will find a little more about the projects that were created. We had a few onsite mentors Mohini Dutta, Ben Norskov, Haitham Ennasr who joined us for the duration of lab and helped us really push the teams to the finish line. Marisa Jahn and Gabriel Gianordoli also joined us on one of the days to share their expertise. The collective energy and kindness in the space was very palpable and it all really shined through during the Interactive Showcase.

The 5 projects that were created stem from personal experiences that tied many of the participants together. At the end of the lab, one of the participants spoke about how during this lab it felt like we were all on the same team. And that in of itself was a powerful occurrence. The organizers, myself and Roula Gholmieh -- who joined the department to help execute the fall programming-- the panelists, the teams, and the mentors all identify with the experience of  immigration in its multiple dimensions.

Earlier this fall we hosted an Inclusion Council where we invited funders, peer organizations and creators to have honest conversations about gender and racial equity. The biggest takeaway for us was that we wanted to create programs that are successful models of what is possible in terms of change. We focused our takeaways on this lab, and towards the end when the projects presented and people in the audience were in tears, we knew that something special had happened.



A speculative web marketplace used as a tool not only to create things, but to share narratives. We are using product design to materialize the real human stories behind what being an constantly surveilled immigrant means. These products are not solving a problem, but their concept is thought to disturb how surveillance has been normalized in today’s society. COYOTEK is an alternate narrative, a slightly extreme version of our reality born to bring a more human approach to the effects of surveillance on immigrants nowadays.
Team: Oscar Salguero, Sarah Aoun, Francesca Rodriguez Sawaya, Raul Paz-Pastrana, Shubhra Prakash, Hala Hassan

IMOX (ee-moh-sh)

A 360 immersive experience as we embody a water droplet through its migration journey while it crosses the desert and encounters hostility at a man-made border. Leaning on the memory of our origins as rivers and oceans, we call upon our histories to help us overcome adversity.
Team: Sultanali Barodawala, Frisly Soberanis, Peter Pa, Mehtap Aydın, Marco Antonio Castro, Jess X. Snow



An interactive art and augmented reality experience exploring the relationship to our papers.
Team: Molmol Kuo, Sana Malik, Lilian Mehrel, Razan El Saleh, Armando Somoza, Layqa Nuna Yawar


A satirical installation that invites participants to bear witness to the process of discrimination by reproducing the means of how groups of people are “Othered.” Team: Kayem (Khaled Ahmed), Hena Ashraf, Dania Bdeir, Anthony Bui, Mala Kumar, Angel Lopez


26 Federal Plaza. For years immigrants passed through these doors for regular check-in appointments with immigration agents to avoid deportation. Everything changed when President Trump took office. Check ins are now ground zero for a new era of deportation. To enter or not? To enter may mean never walking back out, to skip means becoming a fugitive. 2 million immigrants across the country must make this agonizing decision. Uncertain Trap makes a largely invisible crisis visible by inviting New Yorkers to use augmented reality to explore the collected stories of immigrants cruelly arrested during their checkins at the physical location of 26 Federal Plaza. The interactive event asks participants to partake in a collective action of interrogation of the state and show solidarity with our surveilled, incarcerated, and deported community members.
Team: Fred Diego, Alicia Nieves, Alvaro Morales, Azul Ceballos, Keka Marzago, Brian Oh