Powerful exhibit showcases migrants' voices, belongings

Audio recordings of the voices of undocumented immigrants who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border emerge from speakers hidden behind more than 500 backpacks hanging on a wall at the Sheila Johnson Design Center at Parsons at The New School in Manhattan. They are part of the exhibition "State of Exception" or "Estado de Excepcion." The backpacks were left behind in the Arizona desert.

Radhika Subramaniam is the director and chief curator at the Sheila Johnson Design Center. She said migrants crossing the border might have left behind some of the backpacks because they were moving very quickly to another location. But, she said, some backpacks may have been left behind because migrants died or were picked up by border patrol.

Anthropologist Jason De Léon has been collecting these artifacts since 2009 for the Undocumented Migration Project, which he directs at the University of Michigan. De Léon and his team have also collected photographs, clothing, gallon containers for water, like one that reads "Buena suerte amigos" or "Good luck my friends." But what breaks the hearts of many is to see children's belongings, like a backpack and baby bottle.

Along another wall are items of those who didn't make it and died along the way. You can see religious images, dentures, money, toothbrushes, and a lot of other personal items.

Maria made this journey herself 17 years ago. She remembers all too well. She brought her children so they can see what she and their father went through for the American dream. She told Fox 5 that the journey was tough and that she and her husband went through a lot but thanked God that they survived. She said she identifies with the exhibit because they had to throw our backpacks and leave them behind on the journey.

"State of Exception" is at the Sheila Johnson Design Center in the West Village through April 17. Admission is free.