Like many 17-year olds, Saida Dahir woke up Tuesday morning and checked social media.
“Instead of seeing funny videos of cats or dogs, I saw something that changed my life: The Supreme Court is upholding the travel ban,” Dahir, a poet, activist and student at a Salt Lake City-area high school, told a crowd assembled at McCarthey Plaza. “I am a Somali refugee. My country is one of those countries on the list. If this had happened maybe a decade ago, I would not be standing here. I would still be sitting in a refugee camp, where I was born; I would never get the opportunities I have now.
“I remember nothing of my home because when I was young, I had to flee it.”
Such was the backdrop of Tuesday morning’s press conference, where Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski read a proclamation in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month—celebrated each June—and, along with I Am an Immigrant, a national organization that celebrates the country’s diversity and immigrant tradition, unveiled a public art installation that encourages members of the public to share and celebrate their immigrant heritage.
“It’s hard to stand here and not acknowledge what happened today,” Biskupski said about the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Trump Administration’s travel ban. “All the more reason we need to continue to show up for one another.”
The art installation—4-feet-tall red letters that spell out “I ❤️ SLC”—encourages people to place a flag of their heritage on the heart. After the daylong celebration at the plaza is over, the piece will be temporarily placed in the Eccles Theater.
“The objective is to display, in form of art, the contributions that immigrants have made,” volunteer Francisco Juarez told City Weekly. “This event is to help people go forth and talk about the contributions of immigrants to the community at large.”
“For centuries, the United States has been a destination for immigrants and refugees from around the world who showed incredible courage to flee oppression, poverty and persecution to travel to our shores in search of a better life for themselves and their families,” Andrew Moriarty, deputy organizing director with FWD.us, said in his address, explaining to the crowd that many immigrants have been demonized and marginalized over the course of U.S. history. “Today’s immigrants come for many of the same reasons, and continue to be met with some of the same rhetoric and racial prejudice. As we celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month, we must remember that many of our own immigrant stories are not so different from those who are striving to be part of the American Dream today.”
Ciriac Alvarez Valle, another speaker, declared herself “undocumented and unafraid,” explaining that she is a first-generation high school and college graduate. “I am Utah and I refuse to hide,” she said during a performance of spoken-word poetry.
The short news conference ended with Dahir calling Alvarez back to the mic. Both long-time Utahns declared themselves immigrants from their respective lands—Dahir, from Somalia, Alvarez, from Mexico—before leaving the crowd with a five-word declaration:
“I am here to stay.”