Sep 15, 2015

Familias Separadas: Stories of Philadelphians

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

With our contemporary modes of communication, we don’t often think about distance as a barrier to seeing our loved ones. The global interconnectivity of email and social media means that pictures and stories of our family and friends who live on opposite coasts can pop up smilingly in our inbox and newsfeed, generating a sense of connection with those far away. There’s a comfort in the connectedness of our lives, a comfort that I often take for granted.

That ease of communication, that comfort in our instant connection, is something that those fleeing violence in their home countries, those facing deportation, and those incarcerated for trying to reach their families cannot count on. And Michelle Angela Ortiz’s five part piece, Familias Separadas, a part of Mural Arts’ month long Open Source exhibition, explores those timely themes. Looking at love, connection, and families separated by deportation, Ortiz powerfully showcases each story in locations throughout Philadelphia.

Last Thursday, Ortiz conducted a press conference in City Hall, in the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy, to draw attention to Familias Separadas. The press conference had a fantastic set of speakers: Philadelphia’s Chief Cultural Officer Helen Haynes, Mural Arts Executive Director Jane Golden, Open Source curator Pedro Alonzo, JUNTOS Executive Director Erica Almiron, poet Julia Lopez, and artist Michelle Angela Ortiz. The speakers focused on the power of art, particularly the ways in which art can amplify the voices of those who have gone unheard.

As Ortiz spoke, she highlighted two of the stories of Familias Separadas sites that have been installed in the past week, the stories of Ana and Suyapa.

Ana lives in Philadelphia with her five children. Her husband is in an ICE detention center, and cannot remain in the United States once he is released. Ana’s children do not want to return to their father’s home country, and so Ana has a choice: remain legally in Philadelphia with her children and not reunite with her husband, or return to be with her husband and leave her children behind. Ana and her daughter’s faces are in the center of the Compass Rose in City Hall, emphasizing that the story of immigration is at the center of all of our lives.

Suyapa, who attended the press conference with her young daughter, speaks little English. Suyapa fled to Philadelphia from Honduras, trying to save her young daughter from the violence that is roiling the country. But in leaving Honduras behind, Suyapa could not take all of her children, and two of her sons are still in the country. Her two-word necklace says “Te Amo,” or “I love you,” and an image of this necklace now graces Love Park, symbolizing love that crosses continents and speaks of heartbreak.

Ortiz’s imagery communicates what words often can’t: a story of families who miss each other, who are separated painfully by distance and extenuating circumstances. The five images of Familias Separadas are a poignant, timely artistic discussion of an issue affecting thousands of people across the globe, and an important part of the intent of Open Source, an intent to spark dialogue and to empower people through art.

If you’re interested in hearing more of the stories, or in adding one of your own, visit

Last updated: Jan 27, 2016

Share Your Thoughts