CITY, La Casa, and CLAIS Announce Critical Innovation Fund Awardees

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This fall, the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY) partnered with Yale’s La Casa Cultural (the Latino Cultural Center at Yale) and Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies (CLAIS) at the MacMillan Center to launch a program meant to empower students to develop new approaches to immigration issues: the Critical Innovation Fund. The fund consists of five $1500 awards, granted to teams with innovative proposals for addressing pressing immigration challenges in America. “We created the Critical Innovation Fund to both demystify ‘innovation’ and center the talents of our students,” says La Casa director Eileen Galvez, who had the initial idea to launch the fund. “Often, what is cultural practice may serve as ‘innovative’ in spaces and places seemingly closed off to change. It is those changes that the Critical Innovation Fund is looking to support.”

Responding to a call that welcomed proposals for projects of all kinds, from educational campaigns to digital services, students from across Yale’s campus submitted ideas. The five award winners were selected by a five-person panel: Galvez, CLAIS chair and Professor of Anthropology Claudia Valeggia, Yale School of Art critic Kenny Rivero (MFA ’10), attorney Augustin Rivera (YC ’84), and UConn student and local immigration activist Josleine Tlacomulco. The fund was coordinated by Viviana Andazola Marquez, a 2018 Yale College graduate who has spoken and written on immigration issues in the wake of her father’s deportation last year.

The five projects receiving Critical Innovation Fund awards vary widely, both in format — projects range from building databases and resource guides to creating an immersive exhibit — and focus, as students plan to delve into diverse elements of the immigration experience and policy landscape. “The finalist projects reflect the kaleidoscopic nature of the experience of immigrants, from language barriers to silenced voices to needs to belong,” says Claudia Valeggia. “What was most striking when we selected the projects was that they were all deeply rooted in lived experiences of the applicants, which were heart-wrenching, inspiring, but, most importantly, hopeful.” Learn more about the projects below.

Documenting and Maintaining Indigenous Languages for (Im)migrants and Asylum-Seekers Database

Jaden Morales (YC), Fernando Torres (YC)

As Latin American indigenous peoples — some of whom may speak neither English nor Spanish  — immigrate or seek asylum in the United States, the demand for interpreters who speak indigenous languages has increased tremendously. While the Department of Homeland Security is required by law to provide interpretation services to all non-English speaking immigrants and asylum-seekers, it is currently failing to provide the necessary services to do so.  This project will focus on meeting this need, documenting and maintaining a database that gathers information on native-speaking interpreters. The team aims to integrate the database with existing community organizations and legal aid efforts in an attempt to provide appropriate, timely, and just representation in a variety of immigration apparatuses. “Our idea addresses the gap in legal aid representation and equitable access to social services,” the team explains.

LGBTQ+ Latinx Leadership Building

Brian Reyes (YC), Kenneth Reveiz (YC ’12)

This team will host a statewide community-building gathering for undocumented LGBTQ+ Latinx leaders in collaboration with several New Haven- and Connecticut-based community organizations, including Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, CT Students for a Dream (C4D), the LGBTQ+ Youth Kickback, the New Haven Pride Center, and others. This will provide queer and trans undocumented people space to share, heal, and build personal and political connections. The gathering will explore how tactics that build bridges across identities can offer creative solutions to systemic problems. “LGBTQ+ leadership has been instrumental in winning DACA at the federal level, as well as in the most recent victory here in Connecticut, when the state legislature passed a bill allowing undocumented students to access institutional financial aid at state colleges and universities,” the team says. “An investment in leaders at this intersection is an investment in innovation.”

Resource Access Mapping Project (RAMP)

Rebeca Vergara (Medicine), Andrew Daniels (Medicine), Marcus Russi (YC ’17), Chaarushi Ahuja (Medicine), Rocel Balmes (YC), Luisa Graden (YC), Thai Nguyen (Public Health), Madeleine Lee (YC), Gabriel Saruhashi (YC)

Resource Access Mapping Project (RAMP) is an initiative to create a free, intuitive, multilingual, digital platform that connects the Greater New Haven community to resources such as food, education, housing, legal assistance and employment. Incorporating constant community user feedback in its design and content, the tool empowers individuals, especially those belonging to marginalized populations, to successfully navigate the resource landscape and supports community-based organizations in addressing the intersectional needs of their clients. “It was a refugee family’s struggle to access healthcare that became the inspiration for RAMP,” says the team, adding, “The majority of RAMP leadership consists of children of immigrants who actively witnessed the struggles of their parents while navigating resources in a new country….rang[ing] from buying groceries to enrolling in ESL classes.” Unlike existing platforms that target service providers, RAMP focuses on placing knowledge in the hands of marginalized communities to promote a more sustainable avenue for self- empowerment and community investment.

re[veil]

Michelle Badr (Architecture), Brenna Thompson (Architecture), Limy Rocha (Architecture), Alexandra Pineda (Architecture)

This exhibit will celebrate the innovative spatial agency that underrepresented populations show through the subversion of existing spaces for personal and communal needs. Immigrants conduct their daily lives through the manipulation of formal systems and structures, re-purposing even seemingly banal spatial resources — a retail fitting room, for example, might be re-purposed as a prayer sanctuary. The re[veil] team aims to celebrate immigrant stories through architectural drawing conventions, writing, and photojournalism. The exhibition will culminate in an immersive experience that brings valuable perspectives into architecture discourse and practice, encouraging architects to better design inclusive environments. “The project stems from our families’ personal experiences,” notes the team, “and is continuously informed by our broader networks. We hope that the research will lead us to additional individuals and communities who share related experiences that will enrich our understanding.”

Temporary Protected Status: A Five-Part Campaign Rooted in Narratives

Emily Almendarez (YC), Alondra Mejia (YC), Cinthia Zavala Ramos (YC)

Through the creation of a documentary, this project will focus on the narratives of those directly affected by the current administration's attempt to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that since the 1990s has allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, from countries ranging from Honduras to Syria, to legally reside in the United States without designing pathways for permanent residence or citizenship. The documentary is meant to spark a broader campaign, beginning with a screening/reception and continuing with a "teach out" in which those affected by migration issues can share their experiences, a collection of donations for the Immigrant Bail Fund, and the eventual creation of a legislative proposal that would pose an alternative to the temporary nature of TPS. “By creating a tangible piece of media that encapsulates generational trauma, love, and resistance, it allows for the institutionalization and scribing of marginalized narratives,” the team says. “By placing narratives, instead of statistical abstractions, at the forefront of the campaign, humanity is placed back into the political discussion concerning the individuals, families, and entire communities affected.”

Look out for more news as these projects get underway. In the meantime, learn more about Tsai CITY, La Casa, and CLAIS.

Laura Mitchell