A Three Year Initiative to Document and Present the Cultural Contributions of New Immigrants
From 2015 through 2018, CATCH (the Center for Art, Tradition, and Cultural Heritage), City Lore, and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance have and will be engaged in a three year, three part initiative entitled What We Bring: New Immigrant Gifts. The three year initiative marks the 50th anniversary of the Hart-Celler Act, sometimes known as the Immigration Reform Act, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson on Oct. 3, 1965, and fully implemented in 1968. Please read more about this project below.
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When new immigrants from many world cultures create a vital cultural life in this country, this becomes their home. America is home to the world’s peoples. When new immigrants arrive in this country they are coming home. ~Chike Nwoffia
Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources–because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples. ~Lyndon Johnson on Signing the Hart Celler Immigration Reform Act on October 3, 1965
From 2015 through 2018, CATCH (the Center for Art, Tradition, and Cultural Heritage), City Lore, and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance have and will be engaged in a three year, three part initiative entitled What We Bring: New Immigrant Gifts. The three year initiative marks the 50th anniversary of the Hart-Celler Act, sometimes known as the Immigration Reform Act, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson on Oct. 3, 1965, and fully implemented n 1968. The law fundamentally changed the demographics of our nation. The legislation, which is still the foundation of today’s immigration law, phased out a national origins quota system that had been instituted in 1921 and inaugurated a new era of immigration from Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. Today, tens of millions of Americans can trace their lives in America directly to the impact of the Hart-Celler Act and its successor legislation. The three year, What We Bring initiative includes two small exhibitions in years one and two (2015-2016), and a major traveling exhibition (2017) along with three years of accompanying public programs to commemorate, interpret and discuss the cultural contributions of this new immigrant wave. What We Bring aims to: 1) Educate the public on the fundamental impact of the Hart-Celler Act on our nation. 2) Demonstrate and honor the cultural vitality that immigrant artists, artisans and their families bring to America. 3) Contextualize the cultural contributions of new immigrants who came to the U.S. since the Immigration Reform Act with the contributions that created American popular forms such as the blues, rock ‘n’roll, the American musical, American cinema, and dances like tap in previous generations. 4) Create dialogues with new immigrant artists to discuss how musical and other traditions brought by immigrants are influencing mainstream forms, and what can be done to build audiences and further collaborations that expand America’s artistic palette. 5) Educate the public about the challenges that immigrant artists continue to face to express their art forms and cultural expressions in a new setting. 6) Create programs that reach out to immigrant artists and audiences and build ongoing relationships with immigrant communities and mainstream public institutions such as museums and cultural centers. 7) Use the arts, broadly defined, to inspire and facilitate an informed public dialogue on the current immigration policy debate with a focus on cultural issues. The dialogues engendered by What We Bring draw on the themes of cultural equity set forth by folklorist Alan Lomax and cultural democracy as defined by Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard. Lomax’s work suggests that to achieve cultural equity each ethnic group in American needs to have access to the venues and resources needed to express their art forms and cultural expressions. In each of its three phases, What We Bring has and will host dialogues with new immigrants and their families both during the planning and implementation phases. Themes to be discussed include:
- When is there a sufficient concentration of immigrants from particular home countries for immigrants to open small businesses which supply the group with ingredients for cooking, social clubs, instruments and audiences for their art forms and communal celebrations?
- When do groups develop and collaborate on regional cultural expressions. For instance, the West Indian Carnival in New York, originated by Trinidadians, now includes carnival traditions and audiences from throughout the Caribbean. However, Trinidadians unhappy with this blended tradition, created a separate event, the J’Ouvert procession, which is performed principally by Trinidadians the night before and highlight specifically Trinidadian cultural forms. Another example of fused traditions is the new Ghanaian music, which combine Ghanaian Hi Life with hip-hop.
- How do new immigrants find the physical venues such as social clubs where they can share their foodways, music, and holiday celebrations with one another? How can new immigrants share their cultural expressions with the larger communities around them in events such as parades and multicultural festivals?
- How can new immigrant art forms reach the concert stages, and media exposure required for their art to add to the richness of American culture writ large? How can the kinds of collaborations, which enrich popular American art forms, be encouraged?
- How can language-specific art forms such as poetry be conveyed to audiences who don’t share the language? For example, City Lore collaborates with ethnic communities, projecting their poems on to walls and buildings in tandem with live reading utilizing the POEMobile, an art truck with poems in many languages inscribed upon it. The software enables the original language projections to morph into English and vice versa so that the poem can be appreciated in both languages.
- What interpretive, pedagogical and programmatic strategies can best foster dialogue across difference and include new immigrant communities in a meaningful way?
- How can we connect both new immigrants and visitors to historical resources, which shed light on the immigrant experience?
- In what ways can knowledge of immigrants who arrived after the Hart-Celler act illuminate the critical role of immigrants in American life, both past and present.
- How can Museums and cultural centers work to provide art and music venues to new immigrant communities, encouraging collaborations with established artists and building new audiences?
Although these issues may seem simple, the experience of our colleagues at the Tenement Museum and other groups in the International Coalition of Sites of conscience suggest otherwise. In the course of their dialogues some visitors argued that immigrants today drain more resources than they contribute; others asserted that past immigrants who would now be considered white were given more opportunities than immigrants of color arriving today. They note that other communities have little public memory of immigration from which to draw in confronting immigration today. This is particularly true of cities in the Southeast currently facing new waves immigration after decades of relatively few newcomers. Many visitors to their dialogue programs felt that the U.S. was in an exceptional historical moment when national security concerns might require a different approach to immigration than those in the past. Their surveys revealed that museums cannot assume that certain historical frameworks will promote understanding or tolerance among diverse visitors. Instead, museums and cultural centers must seriously analyze and test new interpretive approaches that can open discussion and dialogue and address visitors’ underlying concerns and questions around immigration past and present. In places ranging from the legislature to the dinner table, the current dialogue on immigration is contentious. Primarily, the national dialogue on immigration centers on economics. Political leaders on each side debate whether immigration increases or decreases income inequality and whether it creates or takes away jobs from American workers. Those in favor of immigration often note that the Hart-Celler Act’s emphasis admitting highly skilled and educated workers has led to continued dominance in science, medicine, high tech fields, and the resulting economic benefits. Those opposed claim that low wage immigrant workers made it harder for American workers to find employment. What We Bring aims to contribute to this national dialogue on immigration, bringing a focus on the cultural contributions of new immigrants. It uses the arts as a lens to explore how the pastiche of American culture has been altered as the result of the Hart-Celler Act of 1965. [/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Toggle” title=”A Brief History of the Hart-Celler Immigration Reform Act” open=”off”]
A Brief History of the Hart-Celler Immigration Reform Act
This bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives. . . . This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here ~Spoken by President Lyndon Johnson at the signing of the Hart-Celler Act, October 3, 1965
The Hart-Celler Immigration Reform Act may have added only a simple change to our immigration policy. But it ushered in an unintended revolution; it changed the face of America. Five days prior to signing the bill, Johnson also signed the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts into law. It was a week that changed American culture. The Hart-Celler legislation, which is still the foundation of today’s immigration law, phased out a national origins quota system that had been instituted in 1921 and inaugurated a new era of mass immigration from different parts of the world. Under the old system, admission largely depended upon an immigrant’s country of birth. Seventy percent of all immigrant slots were allotted to natives of just three countries — United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany — and went mostly unused. Meanwhile, there were long waiting lists for the small number of visas available to those born in Italy, Greece, Poland, Portugal, and elsewhere in eastern and southern Europe (national origins quotas), and almost no legal immigration from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Critics of this system included President Truman who believed the 1952 national origins legislation perpetuated a philosophy that some people are more equal than others. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy also spoke out against the laws, but it wasn’t until Lyndon Johnson’s presidency that the new legislation was signed into law. In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson stated,
We must also lift by legislation the bars of discrimination against those who seek entry to our country, particularly those who have much needed skills and those joining their families. In establishing preferences, a nation that was built by the immigrants of all lands can ask those who now seek admission: “What can you do for our country?” But we should not be asking: “In what country were you born?”
The 1965 Law ended the national origins quotas and opened the doors to mass entry of people particularly from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as significant immigration of East Europeans and Africans. Hart-Celler increased the annual ceilings on immigrants from 150,000 to 290,000, while allocating 120,000 to countries in the Western Hemisphere (the Americas) and 170,000 visas to countries in the Eastern Hemisphere. Additionally, family member of U.S. citizens and permanent residents were not included in the hemisphere quotas, and family reunification became the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy. As Lyndon Johnson put it, “Under that system the ability of new immigrants to come to America depended upon the country of their birth. Only 3 countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants. We can now believe that it will never again shadow the gate to the American Nation with the twin barriers of prejudice and privilege.” The changes altered the face of America, and are apparent in cities such as New York. Entire neighborhoods have grown up since the immigration law took effect. In Brooklyn, the neighborhood of Flatbush is heavily Trinidadian, Jamaican and Haitian. Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese immigrants made Flushing, Queens a second Chinatown, and Sunset Park in Brooklyn a third. Dominicans became more numerous than Puerto Ricans in East Harlem and Washington Heights. Mexicans became New York City’s most rapidly growing communities. Cities like L.A., Dallas, Houston and other experienced similar facelifts. Although subsequent legislation sought to diminish Asian and Latino immigration in favor of Western Europe, the Hart Cellar act promulgated American ideals of inclusion. For Americans, considering themselves “a nation of immigrants” was once again a point of pride. [/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Toggle” title=”Sample New Immigrant Stories” open=”off”]
Sample New Immigrant Stories
The What We Bring three-year initiative is collecting and presenting the stories of new immigrant artists who are making cultural contributions to American culture. Here are three examples:
- Malini Srivastava is a Bharatanatyam dancer whose parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s.
What my parents brought to America was dance, a family of three children, and a strong will to bring India with them to America. My mother studied Bharatanatyam dance in India from a young age; she learned from her mother. Ironically, though this art was passed on from mother to daughter, neither woman called herself a ‘dancer.’ They were ‘dance teachers’ because women of their community were forbidden from dancing after puberty; it was considered obscene for a woman to show herself on stage. My mother and grandmother gave all the children in our family the gift of Bharatanatyam dance: the stories, the music, the colorful costumes, and of course the ankle bells that keep the rhythm. But more than anything, this gift of dance gave us a vibrant experience of being in our bodies. My mother and grandmother were subversively conscious we should feel proud of this gift, and unafraid to dance. I am the first woman of my family to become a professional dancer who experienced none of the approbation formerly attached to the act of dancing. My part of ‘What They Bring’ will be a dance performance that explores this process of passing down of the dance from mother to daughter. Through pure movement, hand gestures and facial expressions, the dancers will tell the story of being given the gift of dance, and what that means to different women at different times. Sometimes the most beautiful gift also comes with the heavy weight of the past; and sometimes it brings with it the possibility of liberation. And sometimes, the gift carries both.
- Hector Morales is a Peruvian immigrant artist in New York
My relationship with Afro Peruvian music started since the day I was born. Creole and Afro-Peruvian music was the music my father loved and the music he played for us at home. I must have been about 9 years old when, after a party, someone left a “Cajon, ” a Peruvian box drum, in my uncle’s house. The Cajon or “box drum” is simply that, a box. Boxes are typically used to store or carry objects like cloth, groceries or documents; in my homeland Peru, they carry much more than that. The Cajon, is our national instrument, a simple wooden box that was turned by the afro-Peruvian community into a drum. The Cajon is the carrier of the musical traditions brought to Peru by African people brought as slaves during the years of the trans-atlantic slave trade. While all the adults were busy talking, I sat on the Cajon and started playing along with the creole music in the background, since that day I became the official “cajonero” of the family. Later on, I had the chance to meet and perform with the legendary cajonero, Julio “Chocolate” Algendones; he was also the Cajon teacher for the woman who later became my wife Alessandra. While I played the Cajon I also was studying the drum set and jazz music. Drummers like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams were my main inspiration to become a professional musician and jazz was the main reason I moved to Paterson NJ in the year 1999 to study at the William Paterson University’s jazz program. When I came to America I brought a Cajon with me, now after 15 years living in this country I am convinced that it was the Cajon that brought me here. Here I met amazing Peruvian musicians like the legendary master and innovator of the Peruvian guitar Carlos Hayre, I also met fantastic percussionists from seminal Afro-Peruvian groups like Peru Negro and Eva Ayllon. Living in the metropolitan area allowed me to grow deeper roots to my own music but also to grow branches, expand and make connections with other closely related musical traditions such as jazz, Arabic and African music. The Cajon was the catalyst for this journey of growth and discovery.
- Romy Dorotan is a chef and restauranteur as well as the coauthor of Memories of Phillipine Kitchens
I immigrated to Philadelphia in the ’70s to study economics at Temple University. My wife and I were activists, organizing against the Marcos dictatorship in our spare time. I started out as a dishwasher there, became a cook, then moved to New York. I opened the restaurant Cendrillon in SoHo in 1995. I’m a strong advocate of using fresh, local ingredients, and I built the menu around his unique cooking style. But as critics visited, they started calling us a Filipino restaurant so we added more Filipino dishes. But it was always what I call “fusion/confusion.” For instance, people asked us about the origin of one of our appetizer – the goat curry. “Where in the Philippines does that come from?” Well the origin of the goat curry is that we lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and it’s a West Indian community. So that’s my own take on their goat roti. I used a scallion pancake instead of the roti for the bread.
- Eugene Hutz is a Ukrainian-born immigrant with a Roma background who went on to found the world-renowned Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, which performs songs about the immigrant/refugee experience such as “Greencard Husband” and “Passport.” He also starred in the feature film Everything Is Illuminated.
Immigration time is very depressing. A lot of times you feel on the brink of going nuts. I just left my girlfriend in Ukraine and I had this great band that was really popular. There I was, right in that moment which is what every teenagers strives for, and suddenly I’m sitting in a refugee hotel eating macaroni . . . With the help from a Russian charity that had no money, we ended up in Austria and then we went to Italy, in refugee hotel with five people in every room . . . We went three times to American consulate in Italy and got refused all three times. The Russian refugee program ran out of money. The ask us, “You want to go to South Africa?” We said no. “You want to go to Australia?” We said, “We want to go to America.” And they said, “You’re not going anywhere because America is too packed.” We didn’t want to accept any other country because all the music we like is from America. They call us a week later, “O.K., you’re going to America.” Our sponsor was a Czechoslovakian and Albanian program in a refugee house in Vermont. The winters are . . . terrible in Burlington. I was there for five years, started a band, made a lot of waves and decided to take a bigger assignment.
I decided to start again in New York, looking for musicians – not musicians who play their music only from those old notes, no improvisation, but deriving from the tradition and mutating it out. Excerpted from Crossing the Boulevard: Strangers, Neighbors Aliens in a New America (W.W. Norton: New York, 2003) [/et_pb_toggle][et_pb_toggle admin_label=”Toggle” title=”Music and Dance: Video Links” open=”off”]
Music and Dance: Video Links
For the What We Bring three year initiative, CATCH in partnership with City Lore and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance have and are continuing to assemble striking examples of music and dance and other cultural traditions brought to the U.S. by new immigrants. Many of these artists share their cultural forms not only with their own communities but also with their fellow New Yorkers and Americans through parades and festivals. In addition, many of them are teaching artists with City Lore and other Arts in Education groups, bringing their artistry into public school classrooms.
Trinidad Neighborhood Tours
Sesame Flyers, which was conceived primarily as a vehicle for involvement in constructive activity by Caribbean youth, has been in existence for 26 years. Instruction in dance and music are among the performance arts programs that are ongoing at the organization’s headquarters facility on Church Avenue, Brooklyn. The husband-and-wife team of Gene and Roseanna Toney, veterans of folk dance tutoring and competitions in Trinidad, instruct the Sesame Flyers dance program, where the world-famous limbo and other dances, many of them native to Trinidad, are taught to youngsters.
Calypso, a style of Afro-Caribbean music, originated in Trinidad sometime around the turn of the 20th century. The roots of the Calypso can be traced to the arrival of African slaves who, being forbidden to speak among themselves, used music and song to communicate. Picong or extempo, is a light comical banter, usually at someone else’s expense. As part of the Trinidadian Calypso tradition, it is the way in which West Indians (particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean) tease, heckle and mock each other usually in a friendly manner. However, the line between humor and insult is thin and constantly shifting, and at times the convivial spirit may degenerate into more heated debate. The ability to engage in picong without crossing over into insult is highly valued in the culture of calypso music.
Port Richmond Neighborhood Tour 2: Dancing a Mexican Heritage
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g21AyYKPHY&list=PL29001B571CD23A2A&index=29 Ballet Guadalupano was founded in 2004 to present the history, cultural heritage and traditions of Mexico through music and dance on Staten Island. As they rehearse at St. Mary’s of the Assumption and perform around Staten Island, the group aims to give an outlet for young children on Staten Island to stay connected to and take pride in their Mexican identity. Performances also help adults from the Mexican community reconnect with their cultural heritage, which can otherwise be easily lost or ignored in the United States.
Indo-Caribbean Neighborhood Tour 6: Kitchrie Festival of Indo-Caribbean Arts and Culture
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlNQSBW8Aeg&index=21&list=PL29001B571CD23A2A The first Kitchrie Festival was produced by the Rajkumari Cultural Center in 1998. The concept and name came from Pritha Singh, the Center’s co-founder and Executive and Artistic Director. Pritha Singh’s inspiration for the Kitchrie Festival comes the grand, extravagant, varied and elaborate displays of ritual and ceremony, design and decoration, feasts and festivities with ceremonial and processional drumming, singing and dancing during the many days of the Hindu wedding.
Haitian Neighborhood Tour 1: Rara at the Green-Wood Chapel
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FS1XmQIJSnw&list=PL29001B571CD23A2A&index=11 Artist Kesler Pierre, with support from the Brooklyn Arts Council, exhibited his sacred altar bottles in November 2010 in the chapel at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. The bottles bear libations and images of spirits, and they adorn the altars of Vodou, a religion of Haiti that draws on the ancestral spirits of Africa, elements of Christianity, and traditional visual and performing arts. Frisner Augustin and La Troupe Makandal provided drumming, song, and percussion; Mr. Pierre conducted libations; and the spirits kept watch over the audience from their lookout on the altar.
People’s Hall of Fame Recipient: Freddy Castiblanco, Terraza 7
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwSnvXrUbGk&list=PL4slyQodoIv0hm2oNXLa-36lGKWDRrjtL&index=1 Terraza 7 is a bar and music venue located at 40-19 Gleane Street, near the Elmhurst/Jackson Heights border. Terraza 7 is run by Colombian-born Freddy Castiblanco, and is a reflection of Castiblanco’s taste — a veritable salon of Latin American folk and jazz. Opened on June 20, 2002, Terraza 7 hosts live music five nights a week, and features bands playing a range of sounds, from bolero to salsa to timba. Part of Terraza 7’s mission is to make people in the community feel more involved, and to incorporate the traditions of their homeland — “cultural memories,” Castiblanco calls them — into their new city.
People’s Hall of Fame Recipient: Venerable H. Kondanna, American Sri Lanka Buddhist Association
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8feewfKmhI&list=PL4slyQodoIv0hm2oNXLa-36lGKWDRrjtL&index=8 As the result of civil war and financial crisis in the 1990s, Staten Island is now home to nearly seven thousand Sri Lankans who comprise the largest Sri Lankan community outside of Sri Lanka in the U.S. Located in the neighborhood of Port Richmond, the American Sri Lanka Buddhist Association, also known as the Staten Island Buddhist Vihara, is a temple that organizes all of the events in the Sri Lankan community on Staten Island. The need for a Buddhist Vihara in Staten Island was felt several years ago. However, until recently, the New York Buddhist Vihara in Queens fulfilled the religious and spiritual needs of Sri Lankan and other Buddhists. On account of the keen local interest, enormous effort, and the kind generosity of a large number of Buddhists, it was possible to inaugurate a Buddhist Vihara in Staten Island on July 11, 1999. Already a large number of Buddhists and their families visit the temple on a regular basis. The Vihara offers weekly meditation classes and a children’s school in language and spirituality. It hosts a library, meeting rooms, altar, outdoor/indoor presentation space, and several resident monks.
People’s Hall of Fame Recipient: Curtis Nelson, Sesame Flyers International
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKYfnIGU7uc&list=PL4slyQodoIv0hm2oNXLa-36lGKWDRrjtL&index=9 Unofficially, Sesame Flyers began in Trinidad, where, as the story goes, the founders’ children played together in a small, secluded alley nicknamed “Sesame Street” after the popular television show. When the families moved to the United States, they hoped to recreate a place like their Sesame Street, where their children could play, learn about their heritage, about the steel band and about Caribbean dance, and where they could receive community-based mentorship. So they organized a volunteer association in a rented space on East Flatbush’s Church Avenue. Fundraisers helped to pay the rent, and on Saturdays the volunteers offered tutoring, as well as steel pan and West Indian dance and cooking classes. Eventually they raised enough to buy the storefront and establish an official homegrown community center. When the collective went to the State Department to incorporate as the Sesame Street Flyers (as members often flew back and forth between New York and Trinidad), they were advised to choose another moniker. Ultimately, they organized under the banner of “Sesame Flyers International,” in recognition of the community’s ties to homes old and new.
The POEMobile Celebrates Africa in Brooklyn
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR698dhlt8U&list=PL7B445C2326D4A895&index=14 The POEMobile is a magnificent art truck with brightly painted iron wings arching above its roof and poems in two dozen languages emblazoned on its sides. Jointly sponsored by Bowery Arts + Science and City Lore, the truck projects poems onto walls and buildings in tandem with live readings and musical performances in neighborhoods throughout New York. As poets perform in their native languages on the street or plaza, the words float in light above their heads, often several stories high.
Festival Shqiptar (Albanian Festival)
https://youtu.be/1FU_LKO4uuY Beginning in 1991, CTMD worked with a number of community members to found the annual Festival Shqiptar (Albanian Festival) at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx, as well as a number of smaller concerts of music and dance around the metropolitan area. The Festival, which still occurs annually at Lehman, is now produced independently by community members. Each year Festival Shqiptar presents an incredible diversity of performers of rural and urban Albanian music and dance and continues to be a centerpiece of the community’s cultural calendar. Here we present rare footage from the early 1990s.
Banat Romanian Orchestra
https://youtu.be/Ezi5F6XAMFU The Banat is a historical region that stretches between the borders of Serbia and Romania. Prior to World War II, the area was home to a large mixture of cultures – Serbians, Romanians, Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks, Czechs, Russians, Roma (Gypsies) and Jews. In New York City, a sizeable population of Banat Serbians and Romanians settled in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens, later joined by immigrants from other regions of Romania and the former Yugoslavia. We have been honored to have worked with several generations of musicians from this community. CATCH and our partner, the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, are also documenting interviews with new immigrant artists:
Indo-Caribbean Tassa Drummers – interview by Chloe Accardi at Lincoln Center, 2016.
Hyun Jin Yeo – Korean Musician – inteview by Pete Rushefsky and Chloe Accardi, 2016.
Johanna Castaneda – Colombian musician, 2016.