Tower: Framing the Immigrant Experience
sponsored as part of the American Immigration Council Fellowship of the Creative Equations Fund, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).
Click on the state to be linked to the American Immigration Council’s Map the Impact that reports demographic, social, and economic data of the corresponding state.
The interview transcripts are alphabetized based on the country of origin. The page is a living document, in process.
New York, New York
Arts and Education
She’s been in NY close to 13 years, and works in the performing arts and education. She has her own dance company and performs, choreographs, teaches dance and provides arts education programming to youth and children. She moved to the states in her early twenties. It may be hard to say whether some experiences are related to being an immigrant or they’ve just been part of the process of growing up. However she thinks that she has become more independent and resourceful as a result of immigration. At times there has been no one else to take care of her, and she has needed to find solutions on her own. What has also been different is that she has been exposed to other cultures and has become more open-minded as a result. The capacity of seeing others through a different lens has helped her find more empathy. New York City has exposed her to understand different lifestyles, cultural backgrounds and ways of doing things.
As an immigrant there have been many challenges. One of the biggest challenges for her was going through a divorce. Her family that she is very close to, was not physically close to support her. She was struggling with the lack of emotional and financial support. In NYC it was also impossible to take a break from work to process the new situation. She feels that she is stronger now but the experience was very challenging. Her relationship at the time was her safety net. When it came to an end she discovered that she had to pay taxes. Learning about the tax system was challenging. She felt pushed to quickly find work and pay the debt that she had accumulated from not paying taxes. The pandemic was also another very difficult experience for her. All her line of work was cancelled. She is grateful for the unemployment benefits that she started receiving after three months to the pandemic. This was also a chance for her to re-set and figure out what to do next. During this time period she was able to figure out how to pay a large debt and more importantly, she had an opportunity to apply for more meaningful work.
She has learned that it is important to find people around you who can support you through difficult times.
Brooklyn, New York
Social Change Promotion
She comes from Brazil and has lived in NY for 13 years. Families in Brazil are tight-knit and there are always people around to talk to and who offer help. When she first came to the US she felt alone and disconnected. People were not similarly warm and close as in Brazil. This was very challenging for her. Then the most challenging happened as her son was diagnosed with cancer. It was a difficult form of cancer and meant many hours spent at doctors’ offices and hospitals. When things were most challenging she was amazed at how people came to her family’s rescue, her neighbors, and fellow New Yorkers. They offered food, assistance, free services, and did errands. Fortunately, her son was cured. And now she has all these friends and a community of people around her. She enjoys New York and all the culture the city has to offer. Here she finished her master’s degrees and regularly takes many classes. Now she works as a communication and social impact designer for a non-profit organization.
International Environmental sector
She came to the US in 1998 with her husband who was offered a job here. She wanted to pursue her master’s degree so, it was a good opportunity for her as well. They had previously lived in Europe, in Germany and England, and it was nice to experience a new country. Initially they were only supposed to stay for a few years but ended up staying much longer. Her daughter was born here. She has always wanted her daughter to connect to her Brazilian roots so, they lived in Rio for a few years.
Comparing her life here to her life in Europe and Brazil is that in Europe she had friends from the local community, friends who were German and English. In the US she only has a few American friends but feels that she hasn’t ever been able to develop deep relationships. She and her husband have many amazing friends here but they are all Brazilians or are married to Brazilians. What is missing for her here is that she finds people superficial. She is very personable and relationships are important to her, the relationships with the mailman and anyone she encounters from day to day. She is tired of the superficiality; it’s as if people had gone to a school to learn to speak with the same script. For her those relationships are missing spontaneity; they are not genuine and not from the heart. She lives in an affluent neighborhood in Maryland and wonders whether it has something to do with that.
Through her work she has always had a business visa which allowed her to travel back to Brazil several times. That allowed her to keep close connection with her family there. After a while she couldn’t renew her business visa so she applied for a green card and later a citizenship. However she does not feel American; it was only for practical reasons that she applied. She feels lucky to say that she had a privileged life before coming to the US, and is a proud Brazilian though she recognizes that her country has many issues. The US is her second home and will remain so even though she and her husband are considering to move back to Brazil. Their daughter will stay here. She is looking forward to moving back.
New Jersey; previously New York
Housekeeping and Childcare
She came to the US as a single-mother 15 years ago. She has worked hard and thanks God for being able to bring her children here. El Salvador is a very violent country. She worked day and night to be able to bring her kids to the US. She had to pay $7000 for her son and double for her daughter. She thanks God for being able to accomplish this. She is fine now because her children are here with her. Her son works a lot. Her daughter works only when she can because she has a child with special-needs. She thanks God that they are all fine even though her granddaughter needs a lot of assistance because she cannot eat on her own or walk. They first lived in NYC. When her granddaughter was born, they moved to New Jersey because they needed more space and better quality space to accommodate all the equipment that the baby needed for survival. She adds that they have fought hard to be able to be where they are right now. It was not easy to find an apartment as many people refused to rent to them. Her goal is to be able to buy a house with her children.
She is always looking forward, never backwards. She hopes that someday she will have her papers and can visit El Salvador.
New York, New York
Arts and Education
He began playing piano at the age of six. He decided to immigrate to the US after observing his teachers in pre-college. They had studied in NYC and imparted their taste on him. Coming to the US was a leap of faith as he wasn’t very prepared. However he felt that it needed to happen then and there. Eight years later, he now has a master’s degree from NYU in piano performance and pedagogy. It was a daunting prospect of leaving Nordic social welfare, healthcare and other free public services. But he wanted to expand his views and taste. He feels that upon immigrating he has built more confidence and has become more social. During the first couple of years he got rid of some pre-conceived notions he had, and his identity has evolved. He started as a very solistically oriented artist but his interest now is in innovation for the benefit of others. He has diversified his skill sets in collaborative arts, sacred music and education. The creative and artistic environment in NYC is quite unparalleled to anything else. There is mainstream, established media here and then a thriving, independent art scene coupled with a social model that is very free, truly a melting pot for building and creating together. That exposure has been very fruitful to his personal and artistic development. There was an initial culture shock. Deeply observing the local generation of his age, he felt that he was able to acclimatize. After the first couple of years he definitely complained less. He checked his privilege and comfort as well and that was a true milestone in his personal growth and professional output because it helped open his mind for possibilities and appreciation of the efforts of others less fortunate than himself. Some of these exposures motivated in more sincere, honest art making. The sense of success has been the everyday journey of staying true to his beliefs and foundation, and generously expanding and applying them to serve the present environment. That includes social issues. He’s had the pleasure of collaborating with Fulbright scholars and professors at NYU.
He feels that the Finnish-American and Nordic organizations could cater better to his age group to ease the initial immigrant experience. He wishes that there would have been a mentor network to pave the way to feel safer, more secure at home. He had to pave his own way which on the other hand, is typical to an American environment where you are responsible for everything yourself. The social aspect of that has been lovely; when you open yourself up and join communities you receive as much as you give. However the Finnish community is rather small and not concentrated and they do not live in enclaves like others do. Thanks to the pandemic it’s been easier to connect with Finns and forge new relationships and reach beyond generation and fields of industries. Immigration is a lot of work and currently he is on his second artist visa and looking into the artist green card option.
Staten Island, New York
She first came to the US as an au pair for a year in 1969. Her au pair family were good people and she still keeps in touch with them. In Finland she continued childcare work and upon returning to the US in 1971, she looked for similar work. She finally found work as a nurse’s aid at Mt Sinai hospital which is one of the biggest hospitals in NYC. After work in the evenings, she was required to continue her studies because her Finnish high-school diploma was not approved. Later she went back to school to get a degree in nursing. She was hesitant at first to continue her studies until she became convinced of her ability to learn medical terminology in English. She enjoyed studying and learning, and then working as a nurse. She felt capable of making her patients feel comfortable which has given her many warm memories like, when she had to change bandages on one of her patients and she talked so much that her patient forgot about their severe pain. After getting her degree in nursing she first had some challenges with her co-workers because they assumed that she would continue her nurse’s aid tasks as well as nurse’s tasks. Over the years she has noticed on different occasions that expressing her will and seeking for help have been challenging due to her ingrained Finnish upbringing. She wishes that she had asked for help to make things easier for her when she bought an apartment in Brooklyn and years later in Staten Island. Over time she feels that she has adapted better as she has wanted to learn. She felt her work was important, and recalls almost always being happy at work and grateful for having work. She worked as a nurse at Mt Sinai for 36 years before retiring. She now has a 5-year old grand daughter who she is extremely proud of. She hopes that her grand daughter will be a good person and will have opportunities to study and be able to do what she wants to do. After 50 years in the country she just received her US citizenship. She feels that the US has been good to her and she hopes that she has been good to the US.
Brooklyn, New York
Arts and Translation
Boston, Massachusetts; previously New York
Arts and Education
She comes from Hong Kong and has lived in New York and currently in Boston, Massachusetts. She works as a visual artist and teaches as an adjunct professor at an art college. She feels that immigration has broadened her scope of the world, and diversified her cultural exposure. There are so many people in the US from around the world that it is unavoidable not to learn different ways to exist in this world. She finds that enriching. What she finds challenging is that it is not easy to stay connected to her hometown Hong Kong, which is still very dear to her. As an Asian American woman she has also experienced a fair amount of micro aggression, and is aware of the hypervisibility and invisibility at the same time as an Asian American. She recommends Cathy Park Hong’s book ‘Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning’.
She also wants to add that she was exposed to so many artists, performances, concerts and exhibitions in NYC, and this experience inspired her to pursue her career in the arts.
Kingston, New York
She has lived in the US for 22 years. Success for her means personal growth, and during her journey as an immigrant in the US she has learned a lot about herself. She feels that she may have become more adaptable in establishing relationships professionally and with friends. Her challenges as an immigrant relate to adapting to a new language. She remembers how in the beginning she had to make a service call to try to have her internet fixed. She could not understand what the person at the other end of the call was saying. She felt a need to just hang up, give up. She felt scared, embarrassed. But somehow without her understanding how, the internet problem got fixed. Language still gives her a challenge in that in her writing she needs a long time to write it correctly. But this challenge she also sees as a success because it has helped her become more social with people. She has learned that she can begin a conversation with a new person in a very simple way and after finding a connection, go deeper.
His immigration story is a non-story. He is privileged for having been in the US as a tourist and as a student with two years of work authorization post undergraduate and graduate school. He made a difficult decision last year to permanently move back to India having weathered traumatic incidents of exploitation and breaches of contract. Upon finding it extremely difficult to find employers who are willing to deal with signing immigration paperwork and secure funds to hire an immigration attorney, he realized that it would not be financially sustainable for him to live in the US, especially during COVID. Also, the growing cases of school shootings, racism, and political violence made it hard for him to imagine having a life and starting a family in the US.
Portland, Maine; previously New York
Arts and Education
He came to the US as a student after studying in Montreal, Canada. He has been living here since 1998, and is pretty happy where he is in his life right now. He is a musician and composer and also teaches in a liberal arts college. Music is very important to him. The kind of music that he composes has a very limited audience so he feels grateful for having been able to do it for about thirty years. He feels that in that way he has been successful. When he first came to the US there were many challenges like he didn’t speak English. Language didn’t come easy to him but he loves languages because they give a different perspective from your native language. He feels that the way you function in one language, you function differently in another. With new languages you can acquire new ways of thinking which he finds very fascinating. As hard as he found learning a new language he still feels that it was great for his development. He noticed that once he became more comfortable speaking in English his English personality was slightly different from his Japanese personality. He found it strange for having these two personalities co-existing within himself. That presented certain challenges to his parents too. Over the years these ‘split-personalities’ became integrated, and his parents started accepting him for what he had become.
As an immigrant he also learned about how different cultures function with different set of rules, etiquettes and protocols. The thirty years in North-America have given him new insight into his upbringing and culture, both positive and also slightly more critical. He discovered traditional Japanese music after he had immigrated to the US. Now he works with this music. He feels that he may not have had the same kind of appreciation had he lived in Japan all his life. What he has learned of Japanese court music ‘Gagaku’ is that it initially came from Korean peninsula, also China, Vietnam and other south east Asian countries. It was practiced in China and then preserved as Gagaku. When he was first recognized as an Asian person, not Japanese but a generic Asian person, he felt resistance because he never thought of himself as one. This is how Japanese people are educated. He felt odd being labeled as an Asian person instead of a Japanese person. However he started recognizing commonalities among people from different Asian countries and commonalities with their cultures. It was like having distant cousins in terms of culture.
The immigrant experience gave him an interesting perspective, and also certain flexibility and ability to function in more than one set of culture and norms. That could be defined as success. It made him feel more free. He still feels slight discomfort for being exposed to different cultures but he finds that healthy for himself because it keeps him more alert. He feels that he is an outsider all the time a little bit but he doesn’t mean it in a negative way. This helps him have different frames of reference which he finds help him feel more grounded. He finds solace in the fact that he is able to have these different frames of reference.
One challenge relates to food. Food has always been important to him. Even though he’s become flexible in other aspects of his lifestyle, he finds his taste palate the most conservative. He still wants to eat mostly Japanese food. He has mixed feelings about the state of globalization but he has that to thank for being able to eat Japanese food.
North Carolina; previously New York, Massachusetts and Arizona
He moved to NYC with his family in 1990. His mother’s side of the family lived there. Peru at the time was in a difficult situation with a lot of violence happening due to terrorism. Terrorist organizations were trying to overthrow the government. His father being a police officer was targeted. The reasons for moving to the US were related to safety but also for better opportunities for him and his sister to study in a university. Now he has children and he sees that his children still have better opportunities in studying and becoming what they want in the US. In he beginning he had challenges in learning the language. Being a Latinx he finds it a challenge to deal with the authority figures in the US. He always has the feeling that something negative is bound to happen. He says that it’s hard to explain what it is but it’s always there in the back of his mind, something intangible. He thinks that a way to address that is to train people who are in the place of authority, and diversify the force. It’s also important to hire more minorities to serve in positions of authority. Otherwise the structure will remain the same and minorities will continue feeling that they are threatened. The training should consider diversity, different cultures and perspectives. That’s the bottom line and with that, we can all become much better people.
Roanoke, Virginia; previously North Carolina, New York and South Carolina
Her mother was a nurse and there was a nursing shortage in the US. The stipulation was that her mother had to leave her family behind to work in the US as a nurse. That was very hard for J as a 11-year old. Two years later in 1994, the whole family immigrated to the US. She was very excited to move to a new country. They moved to a little town in North Carolina. It took a few months for them to realize that they had left all their extended family behind, their whole community. It was very difficult to adjust. She no longer had her friends and her cousins. She used to be a popular girl in her elementary and high-school in The Philippines. In North Carolina she was back to middle school and didn’t have any friends at first. There were barely any Asians in the little town in North Carolina at the time, and she stuck out like a sore thumb. Fortunately she had two brothers and a sister which allowed her a chance to interact with someone. With her siblings they made fun of each other if they spoke with an accent. She doesn’t have an accent now because they worked so hard to not have an accent. High school was very difficult for her. Her parents are religious and didn’t allow her to go out with her friends. That made it more difficult to make new friends. She learned to focus in the religious aspects of her upbringing. It was pretty depressing though. It took a while to find her way and adapt to the new country. Her parents being involved in the church ministry allowed her a certain sense on belonging and that’s where she made some friends. It was wonderful to make friends towards the end of high school. When high school was over, her circumstances changed again. She had to go to college. There was another search for belongingness. She searched for belongingness in many different forms. She did art and music for a while, produced shows and tried to understand the culture of this country. That was fun and there are many friends that she met along the way.
A different period came when she had children. When she became pregnant with her son, that sense of belonging and searching for identity as an immigrant in this country changed. She had to consider her identity as someone who is bringing another person into this country. She wanted to understand the community in a different way. Because art is hard to make a living with, she went back to her parents in North Carolina after living in NYC for seven years. She listened to their advise and counsel. Her parent have been involved in the healthcare field all her life, and her mother encouraged her to become a nurse and give back to the community. She studied to become a nurse, and the nursing process has been amazing. It helps her understand people in their most vulnerable state. Her mother became ill and after she past away, J decided to take her energy and become a nurse practitioner. She is now specializing in emergency care. It is amazing to understand people in all walks of life and meet them where they need the help most. She is very grateful for this opportunity to serve, and that her parents instilled that in her that we can find belongingness and gratitude of being, when serving others. When we help other people we are not the people who need to be helped.
The sense of belongingness is still not easy to come by. We know this country and we know the racial bias and bias against immigrants in this country. We know the political climate. We know the racism that exists. It’s still there. We cannot deny it. She serves in five hospitals in the foothills of Blue Ridge Mountains. It is an amazing, beautiful country, and she feels so grateful for being here. At the same rate in her service to the community as a nurse practitioner, she often encounters racism and bias. She is often mistaken for someone who should bring a blanket or ice water. It requires a lot of fortitude in her mind to step back and keep the interaction positive because she is there to help others in her role of a nurse practitioner. She thinks back to her religious background and the biblical verse: Whatsoever things are lovely, Whatsoever things are true. She uses that to fortify her mind when she feels that there is a tinge of racism in the interaction. It helps her give the other person a benefit of a doubt to turn it around. What would help out interactions with each other in this country? We are all immigrants in this country unless we are American Indians. Taking a moment to pause, to observe and to realize that the person in front of you is just, like you. We all serve a role in this society. The same way we observe how to interact with each other we can use that pause to help us make a connection. There’s an element of alienation we all feel towards each other. All of us are individuals. All of us put up walls.
New Jersey; previously Oregon, Florida and New York
Arts and Marketing
She moved to Portland, Oregon to study in an art school. The first years were kind of a blur for having to get used to things. She had to renew her student visa repeatedly, and had to visit the INS building because they would not allow phone calls or emails. They had limited office hours and when she went there the line of people would wrap around the entire building. After these challenges she however feels blessed for having lived in the US. Throughout her journey here she has been exposed to more cultures, peoples and different approaches to life than she could have ever been exposed to in Sweden.
After her studies in Oregon, she moved to Miami, Florida where she met her husband. He is Chinese American, and now she has adopted Chinese traditions much more than the American traditions. They moved to New York and then to New Jersey where she has focused on her studio practice as an artist and also works for an architectural firm doing marketing and communications.
She doesn’t have a Swedish community or family here, and it has been difficult to sustain her Swedish traditions like, preparing Swedish foods. She feels fortunate for being able to speak two languages comfortably but at the same time she feels that she is losing her Swedish skill. She plans to travel to Sweden again after the pandemic and learn Swedish cooking with her family so that her daughter can be exposed to her Swedish heritage.
Education and Modeling
He says that immigration has been a wonderful journey of living, traveling, learning, assimilating to cultures, languages, connections, emotions and all things in between that make us human beings.
His parents shared a story of how they grew up in Togo, West Africa. As children, 10-11 years old or even younger, they had to walk 10 miles to go to school. No portable water was accessible and food was not readily available either. They had to grow it themselves. Lifestyle was entirely different. His father specialized in agronomy, a study of nutrition and its benefits on communities. Most African countries are ruled by presidents who stay in power for long periods of time. His father’s ideas were considered too political which caused him to be imprisoned in Togo. By the time his father was released he was considered a political asylee so they moved to France. A was about 6 years old then. It was an adjustment with new culture, people, interactions and circles. They were immigrating from a developing country so the adjustment was very challenging. Being black he experienced racial tensions. Going to school was hard, and it seemed to him that certain people were treated better than others. After a few years in France fortunately, his father got a post working for Save the Children. They moved to another third world country Haiti. Being an immigrant is so challenging because there are new languages, new cultures and settings. But he thinks that his experience has been a good teacher. Through his work his father was exposed to many different people – business-focused individuals, presidents, prime ministers and everyday average persons, lower class people. As a child he got to learn about all the different economical classes. He always connected more to those with humble beginnings. He has learned that when you have less you are typically more inclined to be more impacted. You bask more into the simple things and enjoy normal connections. Haiti was a beautiful country with beautiful culture and people.
In his youth he got to visit New York because his uncle worked at the UN. His father being the oldest of seven siblings, had the responsibility of bringing some of his brothers to the US. A was exposed to the English language for the first time in NYC. He didn’t go to school to learn English but by watching cartoons on TV. As an immigrant TV is a big teacher. What the country provides on TV is a fast way to assimilate language.
After that they spent some time in a Spanish speaking country Guatemala that is very rich in culture and natural resources, with lots of great food and nature. After that they moved back to Africa to Guinea. It felt more like home but with a different language. At the time he already knew five languages, and he was also older. He found that it was harder for him to assimilate to yet another language. The experience in Guinea was immaculate. After Guinea they moved back to Togo, and he got reacclimated to his home country. When it was time for late high-school, his family moved to Chicago where he is at now. All of these travels have shaped him. One of the main challenges that he experienced through all of these travels was finding belongings. He thinks that as a consequence, adaptability has been one of his strongest strait. Chicago has been quite an experience. It is fairly divided and segregated. It made him realize some of his strives and challenges. He’s struggling to belong. People who look like him don’t see him as one of theirs because he’s African. White Americans don’t see him as one of theirs due to historical divide in race. He had struggles in school. He’s experienced police oppression, and has been a victim of habitual police harassment in the country. The prime focus of his life has been in education and he graduated high school and college. He learned that he could be whatever he wanted to be. He studied technology and worked in information technology but then realized that he didn’t want to do that. He wanted to help people; he wanted to help people uncover their best selves. He started an NGO Youth for a Better Future and it’s about empowering young people to realize their full potential. Just before the start of the school year in Chicago he helped 12 young men to have haircuts and helped girls and boys have new backpacks and uniforms. On the first morning he took a few of them to school. Having had all the experiences that he’s had, he feels that it is his duty to help people who look like him to feel that it is ok to feel connected and to ask for help. It’s ok to take advantage of your resources and accept your challenges and successes, and make it an everyday thing.
Trinidad and Tobago
Brooklyn, New York
She migrated here in 1997 and decided to make America her home for the benefits of her children. She was the last one from her immediate family to come here. Her children were about to go to college, and their guidance counselor advised that she should make up her mind about moving to America for the benefits of her children. It was a hard task for her to decide because where she is from in Tobago, it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful island with great beaches, food, music, dances, relaxation, enjoyment and very friendly, loving neighbors. She misses it a lot. However she has not regretted moving to the US for her children to have better opportunities educational wise. Now her children are grown up, have degrees and families. They are good people.
She loves nursing. She started nursing back in Tobago when she was 19 years old. She loves taking care of people, the elderly and also young people when they need help. She feels that her calling for nursing is because she loves to help people when they are unable to do it themselves. She enjoys educating people about their diet, helping them to be better people by showing her love for them. After being a nurse for 16 years in Tobago, she knew that she wanted to continue in her field upon moving here. She has worked as a nurse for 25 years here in the US. She would work as a nurse all over again if she was given that choice.
New York; previously South Carolina
She moved to New York in 2001, a few days before 9/11. She finds the concept immigration a western idea. She had never experienced such in Uzbekistan even though both of her parents are of different ethnic backgrounds. After 9/11 she was not able to speak any of the languages that she grew up with. She felt not welcomed to speak her mother tongue Farsi. She wanted to move somewhere warmer and having seen the movie Gone with the Wind, she decided to move to South Carolina. She lived there for 2-3 years and found it interesting because majority of the people there believed that the cold war still existed. To be able to find work she again had to navigate between languages. She is fortunate to speak several languages. At that time in Charleston there were barely any immigrants at all. Today there is a much bigger community of immigrants and more Uzbeks there. The locals think that Uzbeks are Mexicans. “Big Mexicans” they are called. She has found New York her home. It’s a crossroad with different people and cultures and with different ideas and thoughts, a place where people arrive and depart from. It’s a place where she can find herself having interesting conversations in any language she wants. People used to tell her that when she gets her passport she’ll finally be an American. However her passport still profiles her. Her place of birth is marked Uzbekistan. On her child’s birth certificate she is labelled Uzbek which is not her ethnic background at all.
She doesn’t think that the immigrant path can be easy. Community support is needed for finding resources and for obtaining and filling documents. For instance, when she first came she had no idea that she needed a social security number. She learned about it much later but because of 9/11 all of the federal buildings were closed.
She has lived in California for four years. In her home town in Venezuela she has climbed really high mountains but the immigration process has been the most challenging thing in her life. Integrating to the society and learning the language have been part of the challenge. People don’t seem to have the patience to listen to her or talk to her slower. She doesn’t understand why people don’t try to take the time to understand her. Understanding is more important than speaking a common language. She does gardening work and plants medicinal flowers for which she dedicates her heart and soul. She also works as a volunteer firefighter assistant in the mountains in California. Being in nature helps her be strong and sustains her to grow stronger. She loves this country because of the beautiful nature. She loves the National Parks. When she was still living in Venezuela she always wanted to meet and talk to people who were visiting from somewhere else. People would tell her that her English was great. She would take them to see beautiful sights in Venezuela and even bring them to her home to share traditional Venezuelan dishes. She loves to cook and loves to see people enjoying her food. No one in the US has invited her to share a meal with them.
Arts and Education
Brooklyn, New York
After studying acting in her native Venezuela she had aspirations of further studies in Japan or Spain. She was offered an O-1 visa in the US, which is an artist visa, and allowed her to obtain her career as an artist in the US. She feels fortunate in many ways, and feels especially lucky for having been exposed to diversity and different cultural manifestations like music and theater in NYC. She regrets for not having finished her Master’s degree because education is so expensive and she doesn’t want to accumulate a high debt. NYC has a lot to offer which is part of the reason why she lost her path.
She works as an arts educator in NYC public schools that is the biggest education districts in the US and also the most segregated. She works mostly in Title 1 schools where the student-body comprises mostly of low-income and immigrant children. She has seen the challenges that many experience, and as an educator she wants to advocate for the families of these children. The parents work early hours and long days. Many cannot afford the high rents and live in shelters. Many who have recently immigrated are struggling to learn the language and understand the system. To help her students be critical thinkers and find the power of their voice, she teaches about the diversity of the city, and that the world is more than just one color or culture. She feels that she has an important role as an educator for the immigrant children. Once she taught a young girl who was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. The girl told her that she had learned that she would never go to college because she was an undocumented immigrant. K made sure with another teacher that the little girl would find her path to a college, and she did. When we can find belonging we can find success. K feels that she has found that belonging for herself in NYC and cultural background, strong accent, dark skin and poor background do not matter.
I am immensely honored for having had the opportunity to interview all the wonderful people with beautiful stories. I am grateful for their sincerity, openness and for trust in sharing their stories. So much reflection, pain, love, dedication, determination, intellect and wisdom have been shared.
I am also grateful for all those people who have helped me recruit interviewees, also Karla Myerston for translations and Maxine Steinhaus for proofreading, Max Teirstein for data mapping, Robert Mencarini for your support, love and feedback. And thank you Bearnstow Artist Residency and Molly Hess for providing time and space to develop.