Carnegie Mellon University
September 07, 2017

DACA: A Long-held Dream With CMU and Pittsburgh Ties


By Shilo Rea

Before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was established in 2012, and well before its repeal became front-page news, Carnegie Mellon University historians and artists were working to give young immigrants and their challenges visibility.

Michal Friedman, visiting assistant professor of history in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, co-founded Jóvenes Sin Nombres (Youths Without Names) and led several projects that were supported by CMU’s Center for the Arts in Society (CAS), including the documentary film, “Dream Acts: Sueños en Vilo.” The film tells the story of undocumented youths in Pittsburgh who were not protected from, or by, any immigration laws and were living their lives in fear of deportation. It also shows the impact that a law like DACA and more comprehensive immigration reform could have on their lives.

The film, made in collaboration with CMU alumnus Felipe Castelblanco, who received his MFA in 2012, was created a year before DACA came into effect.

“The purpose of ‘Dream Acts: Sueños en Vilo’ was to bring attention to the plight of young Latinos in Pittsburgh who have to live their lives in limbo because of their own or a family member’s immigration status,” Friedman said. “It is also an artistic meditation on the potential to correct this injustice.”

Friedman was also involved in raising awareness about Pittsburgh’s growing Latino community. In 2010, Jóvenes Sin Nombres unveiled a mural in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood titled, “Pintando Para un Sueño” (“Painting For a Dream”). It depicted the Latino youths’ vision for a better future for all young immigrants living in Pittsburgh. During his campaign for mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto referenced the event on his campaign site. 

According to Associate Professor of History and Anthropology Paul Eiss, who was director of CAS at the time, activities like these enrich discussions of current social and political issues.

Eiss said, “The point is not merely to help to find a voice and a place for new immigrants in Pittsburgh, but also to use the arts to help transform the city itself, beginning with its walls.”

Referencing the current DACA shutdown, Friedman points to other historical events that placed blame on immigrants and minority groups for broader societal problems.

“As a scholar of European-Jewish history, the notion of deportation is of course chillingly all too familiar,” she said. “Nonetheless, we can look closer to home. Between 1929 and1936 over one million Mexican and Mexican-Americans, of whom around 60 percent were U.S. citizens, were deported from the United States in what was referred to euphemistically as Mexican ‘repatriation.’”

Watch ‘Dream Acts: Sueños en Vilo.’