New immigrants, refugees, and Undocumented Citizens (I am borrowing this term from Jose Antonio Varga's Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen) continue to join the United States today as they have done since the 17 century, and discussions about differences and integrations is a recurring topic which happens to be close to my heart. As a first generation immigrant myself, after creating a series about first generation Italian immigrants, I wanted to give visibility, through my photography, to the diverse population of individuals living in Tacoma and surrounding areas, who were born in another country.
I photographed people from 5 continents, I asked them about their life before and after coming to the US and a few things about themselves, like the languages they speak, if they have family members from their country of origin living in the US, if they have been treated differently because of their origins. These information are meant to bring light on the similarities and differences between immigrants from different countries.
I also asked them to bring to the photo-shoot, objects and food which are important to them, and represent both who they are and their relationship to their country of origin. The images are meant to be displayed with the text from the interviews and audio recordings in both English and one of the languages they each speak (often is more than just one).
So far, this project has been wonderful and in some cases heartbreaking, as many encounter discrimination and made me realize how similar some of our experiences are, no matter where we come from and how we got here, but also how different our experiences often are, due to blatant racism and anti-black attitudes. It is easy to forget that moving to a new country, leaving one’s birth land and abandoning one’s culture and language, leaves an invisible mark, an unseen scar. Tacoma non-native born today might come from countries ravaged by war, extreme poverty, autocratic regimes, and chronic unemployment, or from rich and peaceful countries. Yet still, we share some of the same feeling of longing, of yearning for what we left behind.
One common struggle for us, non-native born, is language, the accent we carry, which, for those of us who moved here as adults, we will never fully lose. In the beautiful words of writer NoViolet Bulawayo in her novel We Need New Names: “we could not use our own languages, and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised. When we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men.”
Being a non-native born, makes us both an outsider and insider in two (or more) lands and cultures, and despite the differences between people from different places, there are profound similarities between us. We are those who live their lives split between the before and the after, the there and the here.
Nowadays there is so much talk about those who come from elsewhere, about their reasons for being here, in the US, about our worth, cost, “weight” on society, contribution, about our very right to be here. What I want to explore, instead, with this series, starting from my own experience, is our humanity and our history. Tacoma is us too, and I want to share with my T-town who we are.
This project was completed with the generous funding of “Tacoma Arts Commission”