The United States, is a nation of ‘immigrants’ built by immigrants, documented or undocumented. With increased enforcement by the Trump administration of ‘lawful entry’ into the United States, inhuman policies resulting in attacks to the undocumented community have occurred to include the separation of families and recently announced, the cancellation of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program which puts TPS recipients at risk of deportation. In resistance, a number of projects, social initiatives and ventures using technology at their core have launched to solve immigration issues and/or support the immigrant community.
According to Wired, “virtual reality is a technology by which computer-aided stimuli create the immersive illusion of being somewhere else…” If you have ever experienced virtual reality (VR) through a headset, the most popular mainstream device would be Samsung Gear VR, you know how ‘real’ some simulations could get! It’s compelling. It’s magic. Virtual reality is a technology sector part of ‘Frontier‘ technology, which can include other futuristic sectors like robotics, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, self-driving cars, drones and space 2.0. Virtual reality is still early in its access to the everyday mainstream consumer – as its costs are high to produce and obtain especially for marginalized communities where income, education can be the greatest barrier to access.
Last year through July 2018, a conceptual virtual reality installation Carne y Arena opened to the public at the Los Angeles County Museum. Haunted by the stories of immigrants and refugees for years, Mexican born and multi-award winning movie director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu wanted people to experience the state of emotions from uncertainty to fear when immigrants flee for the United States. Nothing existed like Carne y Arena and given the national conversation around immigrants and refugees today – Iñárritu‘s project was an explosion of success.
Virtual reality is a compelling technology capable of moving people to think, take action and garner sentiment of a social issue like forced immigration, when incredible storytelling is wrapped around it. It’s easy to believe that virtual reality technology will replace traditional movie making some day, transporting you and your family to another time, somewhere else.
And yes, that ‘somewhere else’ can be anywhere and with anyone – including your homeland, family and friends, if you were not born in the United States, of course. Which is why the promise and initiative of the Family Reunions Project has caught our attention. The use of virtual reality technology to help undocumented immigrants connect and visit with family and friends back in their homeland in Latin America, can serve as a therapeutic tool to heal the heart, but also provide this community, a much needed tool and platform to voice the ‘voiceless’.
So how does Family Reunions Project work its magic? By producing ‘VR Postcards’ videos that capture the lived experiences of immigrants and their families abroad in full immersive, highly interactive ways. In addition, individuals can be equipped with a curriculum, tools and equipment they need to create their own virtual reunions.
Who are the innovators behind the Family Reunion Project? Launched in 2016, by Alvaro Morales and Frisly Soberanis, both ‘techie Latinx‘ and now, in their mid-twenties – they want to provide marginalized voices the platform and have a place in VR. In addition, virtual reality challenge physical borders. The idea for the Family Reunions Project came after Alvaro‘s uncle was shown a VR film and said he would give anything to see his country…. according to an interview with NBC News Generation Latino.