On Jan. 24, a professor from the Penn State University Department of Philosophy delivered a lecture on migration and memory, titled “Memento Vivere.” Memento vivere can be translated to “live in the moment.” In her speech, Ortega touched on issues of immigration and justice for undocumented immigrants.

The introduction was provided by Andrea Pitts, a UNC Charlotte assistant professor of philosophy who has known Ortega for ten years. Ortega is a mentor for Pitts and was one of the first Central American professors Pitts ever had.

“Mariana Ortega’s work is timely work that pushes boundaries,” Pitts said. “I have learned from her detail and I am inspired by her passion.” Pitts now teaches her own students about Ortega’s work.

Among the many students attending the event was Ana Valdez Curiel, president of We Come in Peace. We Come in Peace is a student organization that exists to support and advocate on behalf of undocumented people and immigrants in the UNC Charlotte and Charlotte community. Their mission is to educate about the misconceptions of immigrants and those that are undocumented by providing real-life accounts, public forums and various workshops on these issues. Ortega’s lecture resonated with the mission of the group.

To illustrate her lecture, Ortega used the work of Verónica Cárdenas, an artist from the bordertown of McAllen, Texas. Ortega showcased her series “Traveling Soles,” photographs about detained undocumented immigrants, including many Central American children. These images of shoes that undocumented immigrants left behind on their journey across the U.S. Border are displayed on the first floor of the Atkins Library. “These photos represent justice for the missing and for those crossing,” Ortega said. She encourages the audience to imagine the particular life that wore those shoes. These photos will be on display until Feb. 25.

Ortega is from Nicaragua and remembers her own challenges of immigrating into the United States. “I cannot imagine what these people and children went through and are still going through,” she said.

Ortega first grew interested in justice for the undocumented when she was teaching English as a second language in Los Angeles. She often taught undocumented immigrants who shared with her “the horrors of crossing the border.” She wanted to connect her work to this issue and continues to use her academic skill to bring light to these issues.

Memento Vivere is now part of Ortega’s book project. She hopes to use this project to honor the immigrants who are both invisible as people and hypervisible as criminals.

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