Today Museums Across the Country Launch Public Dialogues on Immigration

Starting Wednesday, September 30, the Immigration Sites of Conscience, a national network of museums, is launching new programs where everyday people add their voices to the national debates around immigration.

Chicago, IL, September 30, 2009 --( Starting today, people from Chicago to Charlotte, Seattle to San Diego, will have a new town hall to debate immigration: their local museum.

The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (Chicago), Levine Museum of the New South (Charlotte), Arab American National Museum (Dearborn), and Wing Luke Asian Museum (Seattle) are part of a national network of museums launching specially designed programs to engage their millions of visitors in a nation-wide conversation about immigration – past and present. The event "Face to Face: Immigration Then and Now" on September 30 at the Hull-House Museum kicks off these programs.

Today, immigration policy debates are often volatile - dividing families, communities and the nation. But these debates often leave out lessons from America’s long history of immigration: how did we come to be the nation we are today? What have we tried before – and what resulted? Recognizing this, thirteen museums pledged to facilitate more constructive dialogue among people with differing opinions. They formed the Immigration Sites of Conscience network.

Museums in the network remember a variety of immigration histories. At Ellis Island (New York), visitors walk in the shoes of immigrants as someone decides if they can stay in the country or must go back. At the Arab American National Museum (Dearborn), journeys like Sara Abdalla’s - who left Syria in 1923 and crossed the Atlantic three times before making it to the United States - bring alive the history of Arab migration to the U.S.

The core of each of the museums’ programs is to create a space for people across differences to talk candidly with each other about their personal experiences with immigration, relating them to the policy choices facing their communities and the nation today. For example, Changing Places: From Black and White to Technicolor, a new exhibit at Levine Museum of the New South examines Charlotte’s increasing cultural diversity - including a 600% increase in Latino immigration in the last decade, resulting in both excitement and tension. Levine Museum’s program Speaking of Change brings together groups from corporate, education, government, not-for-profit and community-based organizations – some of whom may be long-rooted residents, others who are new to the city – to talk openly with each other about what it means to live and work in the new Charlotte. These new types of conversations among everyday people aim to add local, human perspective to the national debates about the policy choices facing this country.

Museums in the Immigration Sites of Conscience network include the Arab American National Museum (Dearborn), Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (Chicago), Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles), Levine Museum of the New South (Charlotte), Statue of Liberty National Monument & Ellis Island, Lower East Side Tenement Museum (New York), and Wing Luke Asian Museum (Seattle).

The network is facilitated by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience - a worldwide network of historic sites dedicated to remembering past struggles for justice and addressing their contemporary legacies. Sites of Conscience, like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (New York), the Gulag Museum at Perm-36 (Russia) and the District Six Museum (South Africa), foster public dialogue on social issues to foster cultures of democracy. To date, the Coalition has launched seven networks of Sites of Conscience that interpret parallel histories and address common contemporary issues.

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
Bix Gabriel