Why We Came: The Immigration Experience
An interactive exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures
SAN ANTONIO – “These days, citizens and non-citizens alike are clamoring for immigration reform, but the average American really has no idea how challenging and complex the immigration and naturalization process is.”
Sarah Gould, curatorial researcher for the Institute of Texan Cultures, came to this realization as she researched content for the new exhibit, “Why We Came: The Immigration Experience,” an immersive, interactive exhibition opening at the Institute of Texan Cultures on March 30.
Based on information gathered from the life stories of real Texans, Why We Came takes participants through the challenges, aspirations, and legal hurdles of immigration and explores the emotional and cultural processes behind leaving home for a new land.
“The path to citizenship is full of legalities and fees,” said Gould, “even before considering the personal and emotional impact.”
The exhibit uses a giant game board as a means to immerse visitors in the immigration and naturalization process. They will assume the role of one of a dozen different immigrants on their real-life journey. As they traverse the board, they will learn why people leave home, how they get to the United States, how they set up a new life, how they adapt to a new culture, and how they can pursue U. S. citizenship. Within a few spaces, visitors are reliving years in an immigrant’s life, leading up to the U. S. citizenship test.
“Not everyone will qualify to take the citizenship test, but those who do will discover if they have what it take to pass,” said Gould. “Some of the questions are easy, but even visitors who think their civic knowledge is strong may have trouble with a few. Our goal with this exhibition is to shed light on how complicated it actually is to immigrate and become a citizen of the United States.”
Immigration takes many years and it can be an expensive process. Plus, the exhibit reveals, there is an emotional cost. What does it mean to say goodbye to a homeland? How do new immigrants raise their children in a new culture? How do they stay true to their own culture while integrating with a new one?
To complete the experience, visitors will have the opportunity to share their or their families’ immigration story in a story booth located inside the exhibit. On the main exhibit floor, the education department has added a thematic immigration tour, examining the motivations that brought immigrants from many nations to Texas. The tour aligns with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for grades 4 through 8.
The Institute of Texan Cultures is located on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. Regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults (ages 12-64); $7 for seniors (ages 65+); $6 for children (ages 3-11); free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification. For more information, call 210-458-2300 or visit TexanCultures.com.