Things That Matter

The Smithsonian Is Preserving A Part Of Our Most Shameful History By Exhibiting Drawings From Children In Cages

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is considering adding pictures drawn by immigrant children in detention centers. The images drawn by detained eight and nine-year-olds were taken and released to the public last week by members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (A.A.P.) who visited migrant children at Catholic respite center in McAllen Texas. The children who had been recently released from Texas detention centers, made drawings done in black and dark green on what appears to be white canvas. Each drawing depicts bars. In one drawing people are depicted sleeping on the floor covered in blankets (most likely rendering of the ‘solar blankets’ issued in the detention centers). In this drawing, a person with a hat, standing at a desk, is depicted in the background.

Another drawing depicts an elaborate rendering of the metal pen used to house migrants, complete with toilets, wire walls, ceiling, and a closed door.

Laura Duff, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian confirmed the museum’s interest in the drawings to NPR stating that their goal for American History collections is to tell the story of American History as it unfolds in order to document the complexities. Brent Glass, director emeritus of the museum, doesn’t believe that exploring the possibility of acquiring detained migrant children’s drawings is a political decision. He said that the American History Museum’s goal is “to inspire people to know more about American history and to hopefully create a more humane society.”

Sara Goza, the incoming president of-of A.A.P., who was invited  by custom officials to tour detention centers in Texas, reported noticing terrible conditions as soon as officials opened the door, “When they opened the door for us to go into the facility, the first thing was the smell — a mixture between urine and sweat and feces,” and she reported seeing children who looked afraid and some wearing blank expressions. One photo of a drawing made by a child at the facility depicts the described blank expressions.

Goza who asserted that the trauma of detainment can have long-lasting emotional effects on children said, “First and foremost, as pediatricians, the A.A.P. is convinced that children don’t belong in Customs and Border Control facilities.”

Still, many Twitter users have taken issue with the museum for considering an exhibit while not putting forth a greater effort to put an end to the detainment of children that is currently taking place.

On the other side of the aisle, of course, are the many Trump supporters who are using these images as an opportunity to put blame on the migrant children’s parents.

One user by the name of Gaston Olvera responded by saying that being interested in drawings won’t do anything to help detained migrant children.

Others have replied with the hope that the images will serve as a reminder.

One user suggested that the drawings should be preserved as a record of the Trump administration’s cruelty:

Others expressed their belief that the images were indulgent.

Coneja called a collection of drawings in the Smithsonian “tragedy porn.”

Sadly, many conservatives are using the display as a moment to criticize those who are most vulnerable and who are being victimized.

@Dreamladakh2 bashed migrants. Perhaps forgetting that he was talking about children, he said, “Yeah let the potential criminals and terrorists come in just because they made a sad painting.”

Many are calling the Smithsonian’s images the equivalent of “fake news.”

And while many, like user @techwiz711, have expressed a belief that the drawings were coerced, saying that “children don’t draw the same unless directed.”

However, according to the article “Child’s Psychology—What Do Your Child’s Drawings and Scribbles Mean?” there are definite patterns and similarities in children’s drawings, similarities that can be analyzed and offer insight into a child’s state of mind.

Perhaps the Smithsonian’s interest in migrant children’s drawing is a case of “too soon,” and if created without the greatest sensitivity, the exhibit could appear to exploit human suffering.  Further information about the drawings and the conditions under which they were created would be important information to provide. However, drawing as a form of therapy, or expressing feelings about harsh experiences, such as the ones detailed in the drawings by migrant children can tell us a lot about the effects of trauma and illustrate how children see and understand a lot more than most adults realize.

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