The Rev. Kelly Sherman-Conroy, a member of the Ogala Sioux Nation and an ordained ELCA pastor, doesn’t like to use the term “forced migration” when referring to how European settlers forced Indigenous peoples from their lands.
“For me that kind of tidies up the word ‘genocide,'” she said.
Native Americans and enslaved Africans included in the sculpture were neither immigrants nor refugees
On Friday, the sculpture “Angels Unawares” arrived in front of the Minneapolis Basilica of St. Mary, an effort to call attention to both the suffering and sacredness of immigrants and refugees and the importance of welcoming them with an open heart.
The statue is a replica of one commissioned by Pope Francis, installed in St. Peter’s Square in Rome in 2019. It was the first new sculpture in the Square in 400 years. A replica statue is on a U.S. tour; previous stops included Boston and Miami.
The sculpture includes 140 immigrants and refugees crowded on a boat, representing different cultures from different historical times. Its 140 figures echo the 140 statues of saints on St. Peter’s Square.
I’ve been updating this blog since I posted it. I want to acknowledge up front the good intentions behind this project. During a time of anti-immigrant sentiment, the sculpture brings an important message of tolerance and compassion. It encourages empathy instead of hostility towards more recent immigrants and refugees, such as Somali, Hmong, Mexican and Central American people. Kudos for that.
At the same time, the sculpture includes a Native American and enslaved Africans on a boat full of immigrants and refugees, suggesting some commonality. There is little if any commonality.
I worry this is too preachy, but I also want to be direct: At a time when faith communities are wrestling with racial justice and truth telling, this sculpture miscasts the Native American and enslaved African experiences. By including them as just two narratives in a boatload of immigration stories, it ignores their unique experiences and arguments for reparations that are now gaining steam.