Undocumented Organizing Collecting Initiative

There are only a handful of moments in our nation’s history where people without citizenship or voting rights have changed government policy. It happened during emancipation, woman suffrage, and civil rights, and it’s happening again right now with undocumented immigrant organizing.

"Citizenship for all . . . legalizing . . . 11 million undocumented . . . it's the vision of a more collective, more inclusive community."

–Jung Woo Kim, Organizing Director, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)

DACA and the DREAMERS are often in the news. But undocumented organizing is much larger, more diverse, and more complex than the headlines suggest. In addition to DACA, undocumented immigrants are organizing to change national policies related to deportation, mass incarceration, anti-Black violence, family separation, food security, reproductive health, and more. In fact, undocumented organizers of varied backgrounds are transforming national policy, sharpening political debates, and changing concepts of citizenship. To chronicle this significant moment in U.S. history, the Undocumented Organizing Collecting Initiative is collaborating with undocumented organizers to reflect the size and scope of this powerful movement.


Where We Work

Map of the United States and Mexico describing locations where the Undocumented Organizing Collecting Initiative is working, including Nebraska, Chicago, IL, Washington, D.C., Raleigh, NC, Charlotte, NC, Asheville, NC, Mexico City, San Diego, CA, and Mexi

The Undocumented Organizing Collecting Initiative is a three-year project focused on undocumented organizing in Southern California, Chicago, Nebraska, North Carolina, Mexico City, and Washington, D.C., from July 2019 to December 2022. In partnership with undocumented organizers and activists, the initiative collects objects and oral histories to preserve this key moment of American political change. In doing so, the project lays a foundation for those who make history to write history.


Who is the Movement?

"Being . . . Black, a woman, and also undocumented . . . I started to think ‘Well if I don't talk about the intersections of my own identity, who will?’"

—Denea Joseph,  Co-Founder, Black Immigrants Got Talent (BIG Talent)

A group of protestors in jackets and sweatshirts smiling for a photo. Two in the front hold signs reading "#HomeIsHere" and "Here to Stay."
“Home is Here” rally for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in front of the Supreme Court, November 2019. Courtesy of José Centeno-Meléndez

Multiple voices exist within undocumented organizing spaces, reflecting the intersecting experiences of (Afro) Latinx, Black, Asian, queer, and mixed-race people with family ties across different continents. Undocumented people organize around issues directly impacting their lives, from deportation to housing, food security, and fair labor practices, to access to driver’s licenses and higher education—and the list goes on. Cutting across issues and identities, undocumented organizing works to represent to the fullness and complexity of undocumented people’s lived experiences.

Core Principles

Co-Curation: How Do We Collaborate?

The Undocumented Organizing Collecting Intitiative partners with the experts making history today. Too often the voices and perspectives of people making change are left out of the history books, diminishing a full understanding of our shared past. To right this wrong, the project works with undocumented organizers to establish the scope of the collection.

The stories we share here are the result of many conversations and recorded interviews with organizers whose voices are constructing a historical narrative.

Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like with artistic rendering of organizers
The Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like series explores what democracy looks like from the perspectives of five organizers working in today’s undocumented movement. Their stories provoke fundamental questions about our political system, citizenship, belonging, and identity. Listen to their testimonials and watch three leaders from the movement, each with different perspectives and experiences, discuss how to make change in our democracy.

Mutual Capacity Building: How Can We Help Each Other?

A true partnership involves mutual respect and sharing. Too often sharing is a one-way street, with museums collecting oral histories and objects without giving back. We work to create more equitable relationships by listening and responding to our partners’ stated needs.

Patty Arteaga and Nancy Bercaw standing on a porch next to a table piled high with booklets and sheets of paper, placing the paper materials into clear plastic bags. Both wear masks that cover their mouths and noses.
The team halted collecting during the early months of COVID-19 lockdown to ask partners what they needed. A local organization responded with a request for educational resources for children who lacked access to computers and the internet at home. Here, two project team members from the museum prep educational materials for CASA de Maryland. Courtesy of José Centeno-Meléndez

How We Collect

We are actively expanding the museum’s archives to reflect the communities we aim to serve. The team partners with organizers to select objects, photographs, and oral histories that are emblematic of the undocumented movement. The collections work to reflect the unique needs of each community and the challenges, tactics, and goals of organizing at each of the six sites.

Left: A cardboard cut-out of painted Monarch butterfly wings against a black background. Right: The white backside of the butterfly cardboard wings. At the top of each wing, "#Here to Fight" and "Undocumented & Unafraid" are written in pink marker.
A pair of painted monarch butterfly wings made of poster board material, worn by a young DACA recipient from Nebraska at a Washington, D.C., demonstration on March 5, 2018. The monarch butterfly migrates annually between Mexico and the United States. It is a popular symbol among immigrant rights activists, representing the necessity of migration to survive.
Four colorful string bracelets linked together in a chain against a black background.
Four friendship bracelets made by young girls held in a detention facility while seeking asylum from El Salvador.

Our Partners

We have worked with individuals from large organizations* to grassroots movements including:

*These organizations represent four out of the six sites as we are still recording Phase 2.

Learn More

  • Explore a lesson plan on DACA in a policy case study, from the curriculum Becoming Us: A More Accurate and Inclusive Migration and Immigration Narrative.
  • Read more about the project in the Smithsonian magazine.
  • Watch History in Real Time, a moderated panel discussion between organizers paving the way for change in their communities.
  • Learn from Undocumented Organizers by listening to testimonial videos and exploring Learning Labs at Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like.

The Team

  • Patty Arteaga | Project Lead
  • Dr. Nancy Bercaw | Curator, Political History; Deputy Director, Center for Restorative History
  • José Centeno-Meléndez | Oral Historian
  • Jackie Partida | Assistant Curator
  • Delia Beristain Noreiga | Assistant Oral Historian


  • Allison Saenz | Latino Museum Studies Fellow ‘19
  • Wanda Hernandez | Latino Museum Studies Fellow ’21
  • Ana Beatriz Yanes | Intern
  • Cristián Castro-Brizendine | Intern
  • Alejandra Cabrales | Intern
  • Daisy Jaime | Intern
  • Karen Adjei | Intern
  • Leela Berman | Intern
  • Nyrene Monforte | Intern
  • Alex Hanesworth | Intern
  • Gabi Chu | Intern