Away from the groups of angry protestors outside detention facilities, a letter-writing campaign aims to send the undocumented children at the heart of the immigration border crisis a more positive message.
The “They Are Children” campaign, led by the California Endowment, a private health foundation aimed at expanding health care across the Golden State, is a grassroots initiative working to broadcast a “collective voice of compassion” for the undocumented children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The foundation is calling on people across the country to send letters of support to the undocumented children who are being held in detention facilities while they wait to be processed by immigration officials. “They are Children” is also taking to social media, aiming to expand the reach of its message of compassion online.
“They Are Children” found its genesis among the many people across California and the rest of the U.S. who wanted to send something to the kids “besides anger, shouting and politics,” according to Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the California Endowment.
“The idea came from people we work with in the community that said, ‘I want to send a message not like what I see on television – that’s not angry or political,’” Zingale said.
For Zingale and his co-workers at the endowment, there was a “silent majority” of sorts, whose opinions and messages had been drowned out by the vitriol surrounding the political debate about immigration.
The Endowment’s campaign was inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a project created by AIDS activist Cleve Jones following the assassination of LGBT icon Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Comprised of 3 foot by 6 foot panels, the quilt weaves together personal remembrances and reactions to the AIDS pandemic, which Zingale said “became collectively a very powerful force.” Zingale previously worked in the realm of AIDS activism before joining the California Endowment.
Instead of a quilt, though, Zingale and his colleagues decided to start the letter-writing campaign. The endowment created a website, where concerned individuals can upload their own letters as well as photos and inspirational videos. “They Are Children” also allows you to write your own letter within the site itself and also allows you to “sign” a letter that will be sent to one of the undocumented children in question.
The letters, photos and videos are then processed by Zingale and his colleagues, weeding out ones that are overly political or angry in tone. The standouts are then posted to the website for the public to read, along with inspirational messages from public figures supporting the undocumented children such as Governor Jerry Brown. At the bottom of each letter is the writer’s first name and last initial.
In keeping with its function as a microphone for those who have been left out of the debate, many of the letters are written in Spanish and contain messages of hope and prayers. The letter above written by Norma A. says "Children, you are not alone. When you get here we will do everything possible to help with whatever: clothing, food, and also to guide you so you can reach your "American Dream."
“Ustedes son muy valientes y Fuertes por venir aqui. Somos muchos los que queremos su bienestar y felicidad (You are very brave and strong to come here. Many of us wish for your well-being and happiness),” writes a woman named Maria.
In addition to the letters his colleagues are collecting online through the website, Zingale said many letters have been dropped off or mailed to the California Endowment’s office in Sacramento. People have also stopped to make letters at events the Endowment has attended, including an event sponsored by the National Council of La Raza.
Altogether, the campaign has been an across-the-board success. The foundation has collected roughly 3,000 letters and more than 500 have been posted to the campaign’s website. Additionally, the Endowment has led a successful social media campaign with the hashtag #TheyAreChildren, which has been used over 2,000 times on Twitter.
“We’re actually having a hard time keeping up with the volume of letters, and organizing and delivering them,” Zingale said.“As long as we continue to see this outpouring of interest and people sending messages to these children we’ll continue to facilitate that,” Zingale said. “We want to create a vehicle for people’s messages.”