YBCA’s ‘Pedagogy of Hope’ is a Fierce Call to Uncage, Reunify and Heal Migrant Children

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Gallery with three large textiles on walls, and one suspended parallel to floor
Installation view of ‘Pedagogy of Hope: Uncage, Reunify, Heal’ at YBCA. (Juliana Yamada)

Art and activism have often been used as tools to aid one another to demand the same outcome: change.

By raising awareness around social topics and political injustices, both artists and activists can illuminate otherwise overlooked topics through intense engagement, factual information and imaginative provocation. This powerful synthesis is even more striking when marginalized groups become the central focus of these efforts, presenting the audience with a call to action for those in need.

Such is the experience at the Galería de la Raza-organized show Pedagogy of Hope: Uncage, Reunify, Heal at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, an exhibit that explores the painful subject of detained undocumented migrant children in the United States.

The exhibition is rooted in Caravan for the Children, a nationwide “100-day effort to demand the release, reunification and healing of migrant children still being held in ICE custody across the country,” that launched in 2021. Pedagogy of Hope is an outgrowth of that fight for justice in the wake of the brutally inhumane immigration practices enacted by the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy, its lasting effects and continued separations. The artists at YBCA convey the urgency of this matter in a creative way, utilizing poetry, textiles, sound and memory to galvanize viewers into political agitation.

Gallery view with large photograph of capitol with flags flying in front of it.
Last year, a coalition of Bay Area organizers and advocates marched to the Tijuana border and Washington, D.C. Documentation on view in ‘Pedagogy of Hope’ at YBCA. (Juliana Yamada)

Far from being a static exhibit, the display of multidisciplinary art and sociohistorical context encourages viewers to not only consider the harsh realities of U.S. political violence, but to act against them. For instance, the curators, Ivette Diaz and Ani Rivera from Galería de la Raza, directly invite visitors to exert their political agency by writing postcards to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


“We want the children to hear this and know they are not alone. That we see them, we hear them, and that we are fighting for them,” reads a quote from Maria X. Martinez, a San Francisco-based public health activist who passed away in 2020.

The main attraction features five handmade quilts from Colombian-American artist, Paola de la Calle, that drape from the ceiling to the floor, with images of butterflies, backpacks, toys and family photos. Embroidered on each blanket are fragments of poetry from 10 Latinx writers, including Edyka Chilomé, Kevin Madrigal Galindo, Ruben Reyes Jr., Freddy Jesse Izaguirre and Oswaldo Vargas.

The installations measure a combined 630 square feet of sewn fabric, each square foot representing one child as a symbolic gesture to honor the 630 migrant children who were still separated when Caravan for the Children initiated their campaign.

A mostly blue quilt with images of hands and kites and embroidered text
One of Paola de la Calle’s handmade quilts in ‘Pedagogy of Hope.’ (Juliana Yamada)

In the excerpts of poetry, tones range from outrage and horror to hope and determination. Vargas’ poem, “how to tell a border story” underscores the absurdity of migrant children having to represent themselves in immigration court, while Madrigal’s work, “Love/Craft” imagines a group of children returning home to their families and “dark, brown, earthen soil.” The raw spectrum of feelings fits the subject matter, addressing the struggle of children who have been separated from their families and withheld from their communities, while also alluding to their innocence. The show balances a critical sense of revolt at the present situation while maintaining optimism towards the future. Importantly, the exhibit also reminds us that these struggles are not new.

The outer walls of the entire second-floor gallery provide an extensive look at the scope of U.S. immigration practices, beginning with the Nationality Act of 1790 (the first law to define eligibility for citizenship by which immigrants became U.S. citizens) and ending with the Interagency Task Force for the Reunification of Families in February 2021.

It’s a dense, but necessary examination of how the issues of 2022 do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, today’s detained migrant children are the latest targets of state violence, xenophobia and exclusion in this nation’s history. Each installment on the timeline—which wraps around two separate walls, one entirely in Spanish, the other in English—serves to inform viewers while indirectly condemning governmental enforcement that separates lives based on racial quotas, partisan division and imperialistic borders.

View of orange timeline wrapping around walls covered with dates, images and text
Galeria La Raza’s exhibit displays the timeline of U.S. immigration practices in both Spanish and English at YBCA. (Juliana Yamada)

As someone who benefits from the privilege of U.S. and Mexican citizenship, but who has lived with undocmented immigrants experiencing deportations and family separations, Pedagogy of Hope reminds me about the necessity of visibility and communal strength—as well as the need for unification and solidarity across various audiences.

The artists and activists in this show demonstrate the necessity of taking action in whatever way we are able to. By making it easier for visitors to donate, reach out to the Department of Homeland Security, or simply educate others on the issues, Pedagogy of Hope is a galvanizing display of humanity and compassion that transcends YBCA’s walls. By attempting to put power back into the hands of the public in order to support migrant children who are still in need, the show offers up a pedagogy of love we should all heed.

‘Pedagogy of Hope: Uncage, Reunify, Heal’ is on view at YBCA through May 29. Details here.