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 Immigrants Are Essential exhibit
Photograph: Kisha Bari | Immigrants Are Essential exhibit

This moving street installation honors immigrants who died during the pandemic

These giant colorful portraits are paired with oral histories of their lives.

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Written by
Shaye Weaver
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A new art installation on the Lower East Side pays tribute to the sacrifices and lives of those most at risk in NYC—our undocumented immigrants.

According to a new study, almost 70% of undocumented workers are essential workers, increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 up to 50%.

New Yorkers named Fedelina, Mario, Moisés, Yimel, Juan, Ofelia and Guadalupe, who died during the pandemic, have been illustrated by artist and The Women's March co-founder Paola Mendoza based on photographs provided by family members. Each portrait in the exhibit, named "Immigrants Are Essential," has an accompanying QR code that you scan to access an oral history told by the family. 

 Immigrants Are Essential exhibit
Photograph: Kisha Bari | Immigrants Are Essential exhibit

The exhibit went up in an empty Soho storefront over the weekend with a ceremony with friends and family of those who passed away. It'll be up there through Thursday and will simultaneously be at a gallery at 2 Rivington Street now through May 3. You can also access them online at essential-immigrants.com.

The installation is meant to show that these New Yorkers are essential to the country but were so much more than their work. Each person's story is told in a way that highlights their dreams and the courage it took to fight for a better future for their families. The end goal is also to tell elected officials that they have a mandate to change the nation's immigration policies, according to Mendoza.

"The word 'essential' has become an identity during this crisis, of the people and places that keep our society moving even when everything else is on pause, of those that are too often in the background but without whom we would fall apart," Mendoza says. "This is exactly who immigrants have always been and will continue to be in the United States: essential. May their stories inspire and ignite change. May their hope fuel our own."

 Immigrants Are Essential exhibit
Photograph: Kisha Bari | Immigrants Are Essential exhibit

"Immigrants Are Essential" is now open at 2 Rivington St. through May 3 and at 477 Broadway in Soho until Thursday.

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