Immigration in the Arts | How Creatives are Changing the Conversation
For better or worse, my citizenship in the United States is not subject to question or debate. I can rest easy knowing the soil beneath my feet is mine by birthright. Despite this assurance, I’m ashamed to mention how long I go before I remember, and ultimately, appreciate this privileged position. It is only when I am left to question the citizenship status of others that I reflect on my own. And again, I am filled with shame for this reflection usually occurs during very inappropriate moments. Far too often, I find myself sitting at a random ethnic eatery pausing just enough to ponder the cook’s origin. My thoughts come to an abrupt end no soon as I catch a whiff of the delectable morsels that lie before me. I then dive fork first into the deliciousness—forgetting the sociopolitical blip that briefly crossed my mind.
In fact, the time I spend engaging the concept of citizenship and its close kin immigration is usually through a cultural touchpoint such as food, music, or art. For instance, my favorite grocery market is in Clarkston, Georgia. It was at this market that I first learned about refugees and that there were thousands of them who called that very unassuming town home. One of my favorite musicians is of Nigerian decent and migrated for a time to the United States and was inspired by the Black radical thought of the ’60s and ‘70s. And, I can’t forget about the captivating art work of the British-born Lynette Yiadom-Boakye who now calls New York City her home.
These cultural touchpoints provided a portal through which I began to understand the world around me. Now more than ever, I turn to the humanities to help me understand immigration and national/ethnic identity, their effects, and the role we must play to ensure empathy and inclusion. Below are creatives who mine the depths of humanity, so that we learn to appreciate its beauty while remembering its fragility.
Dianne Guerrero, In the Country We Love
Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin star, Dianne Guerrero, shares her inspiring story in a moving memoir about her life growing up in an undocumented family. Born in New Jersey to Colombian parents she details the devastating experience of coming home to an empty house after her family was deported without warning. At fourteen, Guerrero was left alone struggling to make sense of a government that would seize her parents and leave Guerrero behind as if she was “invisible.” Guerrero’s memoir is a story of tragedy, but also a story of hope and continued resilience. When asked why tell your story now she replies, “I want to be part of a movement bigger than myself.”
Click here to watch her read her new memoir, In the Country We Love. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q15suAL57cc
Loide Jorge, In Time
The music of Jorge is a blend of polyrhythm, emotion, sound, and language. Its full—bursting with textures that pull from jazz, gospel, afrobeat, and more—an inspired style that has everything to do with her journey. Jorge’s mother is from East Africa Mozambique and her father is from West Africa Guinea-Bissau—both countries once colonized by Portugal. Cosmopolitan in upbringing and work, she also serves as a lawyer protecting the rights of those who share her story of immigration. Her heartfelt song Better does best to synthesize the universal element informing her seemingly disparate background. “Why the pain? So, we can be better. Just like you, I just want better.” Her cries of hope are resounding.
Click here to listen to her talk about her new album, In Time. http://wamu.org/story/17/08/07/d-c-lawyer-gives-voice-immigrants-stories/
Zahira Kelly, Art Prints
Zahira Kelly wants to “simply exist freely.” But, that’s hard for a woman whose mere existence is a point of contempt and topic of debate. As a Black Latin Americana, Kelly’s writing and artistry centers Black woman and Afro-Latina experiences in historically White iconography. Why can’t Cardi B become the next Harley Quinn? Can there be a Black woman saint? Kelly creates, so that others like her are inspired to “do what they want, and depict their life, interests, and thoughts” to fully realize their human experience. Although, sometimes simply being visible is resistance enough.
Click here to watch more of Zahira Kelly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfuK7uluVYc
Trevor Noah, Born A Crime
What do you do when your mere existence is illegal? Most people won’t go around making other people laugh. But, Trever Noah isn’t like most people. Noah was born to a Xhosa mother and a Swiss-German father, which was illegal during apartheid South Africa. He recounts this absurdity and more in his book, Born A Crime, which provides a harrowing look in a life under apartheid, where he could not walk with, talk to, or love his parents in public. He assures that nothing that he writes is a joke, but acknowledges that laughter might be the only way to preserve our humanity amidst hatred and oppression.
Click here to watch Trevor Noah speak about his book, Born A Crime. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEsWOZjjVt8