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Undocumented Heart: Oakland Day Laborers Tell Their Stories

Undocumented Heart: Oakland Day Laborers Tell their Stories is an exhibition that explores the lives of Oakland’s undocumented workers from Mexico and Central America. Immigrant day laborers–with artists Marion Coleman and Ramon Carrillo–made paintings and quilts that dramatize their journeys, sacrifice, and resilience. A large-scale outdoor exhibit complements these artworks with the day laborers’ eloquent accounts of their lives, juxtaposed against a chilling historical timeline of events in the United States, Mexico, and Central America. Photography and exhibit design by Jeff Norman. The project is a partnership with Street Level Health Project.



Artworks are open to public
Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays
2:30–5:30 PM
Peralta House Museum
2465 34th Ave. Oakland

Timeline & Stories are open to public
Seven days a week
Dawn to Dusk 
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, Historic Core
2465 34th Ave. Oakland

Undocumented Heart will expose abuses and shine light on systems that create the need for day laborers yet lock them in an untenable dependency and vulnerability. Day laborers are frequently targeted for robberies or not paid, they can't go to the police for fear of deportation. Day laborers told their stories in interviews for the project. Exhibit curator Holly Alonso comments, 

“Most day laborers find relative safety in silence. Undocumented Heart fills this silence. That these day laborers have shared their stories is an act of bravery for them and an honor for Peralta Hacienda.”

Many tell of harrowing journeys, such as Israel Funes on his way from Guatemala, aged 18, on The Beast, also known as the “Train of Death”:

“The Beast is a train that passes through El Salvador and Guatemala. On the train every one of us–800 to 1,000 people–were traveling on top of the train cars, some one way, some another. They tied me with a rope so that if I fell asleep I wouldn’t fall off.”

Textile artist Marion Coleman, painter Ramon Carrillo, and graphic designer Jeff Norman led workshops with the day laborers to produce visual art for the exhibit. Each day laborer was paid as an artist; they are dependent on each day’s work to survive. Coleman, Carrillo, and Norman also created their own artworks expressing the project’s themes. 

This project also included three Storytelling–Community Dialogue events:

On The Beast and Through the Desert: Journeys North
Saturday, March 31 5:00–7:00 PM

A Feeling of Exile: Separation from Homeland and Life in the US
Saturday, May 12, 5:00–7:00 PM

What Drives the Crisis? Exploring the Roots of Undocumented Immigration 
Saturday, September 8, 5:00–7:00 PM 

Center for History & Community at Peralta Hacienda Historical Park
2488 Coolidge Ave. Oakland.

Day laborers, historians, and the audience will explore the causes for undocumented immigration. 

Undocumented Heart: Oakland Day Laborers Tell their Stories is funded by the Akonadi Foundation, California Arts Council, City of Oakland, California Humanities,  City of Oakland Cultural Funding Program, East Bay Community Foundation, Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Arts. KALW is our Media Sponsor.

Special Thanks to Donors who contributed to our Matching Grant:Robert Apodaca, Linda Ayala, Karen A. Banks, Carl Boe, Summer Brenner, Community Bank of the Bay, Deborah Cooper, Alana Corpuz, Salud Dacumos, Diaz Family, Nico Enea, Mike Falk, Nancy Falk, Juan Pedro Gaffney, Mike Ghielmetti, Benjamin Glickstein, Gail Grassi, Adela Grech, Cynthia Green, Dale Hagen, Chia Hamilton, Hamlin Family, Maxine Heiliger, Browne T. Hollowell, Kristi Holohan, Laura Ingram, Virginia Jardim, Kathryn Kasch, Barbara Kelley, Daniel L. Levy, Nancy Lowenthal, Zoe Lake, Juliane Monroe, NUG, Kim Ramirez Pollock, Queen E.Thurston, Judith Turley, Ernesto Vasquez, Diane Wang

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