"I took these pictures because I want people to know that we are the same as Israeli kids," said Carlos Zuniga, pointing to his self-portrait on display at Beit Tami, a community center in Tel Aviv. Zuniga is the 14-year-old child of a Colombian migrant worker who, together with his mother, is being threatened with deportation as early as the end of June.
Zuniga is one of the young participants in a project developed by the emerging advocacy group ActiveVision. Teaming up with the Hotline for Migrant Workers, an Israeli activist group, they are working to draw attention to the experience of the children of migrant workers who have grown up in Israel and are facing deportation.
The group collected and donated cameras for the children to use and the Minshar Art School in Tel Aviv let the students use classrooms, computers and darkrooms to develop their pictures. The result was an exhibition filled with original artwork by the students.
"The world is embedded with images," explained Eduardo Soteras, a freelance photojournalist and co-founder of ActiveVision. "It is important to think about the images that are still not seen. These images should come from people who do not traditionally have access to the visual media," he said.
During the project the students learned a variety of techniques to help them "speak with images." The exhibition will culminate on Thursday with a show featuring graffiti art, hip-hop, break dancing and a discussion led by the students.
Following a crackdown on illegal workers in 2002, many families of the over 164,000 migrant workers in Israel face deportation. However, many of the children in these families have lived their whole lives in the country and want to stay.
A June 2005 decision by Israel to grant legal status to some such families hasn't helped many of them gain citizenship. Due to rigorous requirements, only 35 families have qualified to stay on legally.
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On is currently working on a proposal that would grant citizenship to 720 students who are children of migrant workers. The Hotline for Migrant Workers believes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will approve Bar-On's more flexible requirements.
Snaking around the walls of the community center are pictures that range from scenes of everyday life to pictures taken by Zuniga after a recent Tel Aviv terrorist attack.
"When there was the bombing, I went there to take pictures," Zuniga said. "My mother was very worried, but I told her that I would be okay."
Zuniga wants to be recognized as an Israeli. The tall, solidly built teenager shyly discusses his dream of joining the army and having the same cell phone as his Israeli friends.
Soteras challenged the students to think about why they want to live in Israel. During one class, one of his younger students handed him a picture. Half of the page showed a war, with people fighting and dying. The other half of the picture showed images of children playing.
"When I asked the student what was happening in his picture, he told me that the war was in Ecuador [where his family is from] and he was playing with his friends in Israel on the other side," Soteras said.
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