Commencement regalia of Jairo Javier Morales ’19 on display at Smithsonian

When Jairo Javier Morales ’19 accepted his diploma in the Willmore Center field house wearing a gown adorned with the wings of a monarch butterfly, he was making a statement about immigrant rights. Now, his graduation cap — with its decorated mortar board that states “I am one of those people Mexico sent” — his colorful stole and his winged gown hang in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Morales’ commencement garb and story has been included in the National Museum of the American Latino’s first exhibition, which is online now. “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” features stories from the exhibition that will open this summer in the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History.

“The monarch butterfly is a national symbol for immigration, immigrants and immigrant rights,” says Morales, who is now a hall director at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. “I wanted to give recognition to the work it took to get me through college because of the limited aid I received, the barriers faced for developmental opportunities while in school, and limited economical/financial assistance available to immigrants. In all, I wanted to close my college career with one final act of political activism and personal commemoration to my mom’s life, immigrant life and Latino Ripon College students.”

He adds, “Being part of the exhibit brings me delight knowing I have been part of immortalizing the lived experiences of immigrants in the United States and provided value and significance to our legacy.”

The Smithsonian says its Latino Museum is designed to teach “about Latino identity, immigration, historical legacies and how Latinas and Latinos have shaped the nation.” Visit the museum’s official website for more information.


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Jairo Javier Morales at Commencement 2019