OUR IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE

Sita Chay Makes Statement at the New York City Council Hearing: 'Art as Resistance State in Trump's America'  

On February 28, 2018 The New York City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations held a hearing titled: Oversight - Art as Resistance State in Trump's America. Sita Chay, violinist of the Latin Grammy- winning mariachi band Flor de Toloache appeared in a panel with Chris Massimine, Chair of the Immigrant Arts Coalition. The executive producer, musical director, composer and violinist of Cosmopolis Collective made the following statement: 

"The role of Art in this society is neither a hobby or a luxury. Art is the foundation of human connection and a reminder of who we are as humans. Art as resistance humanizes people who became outcast by prejudice and those criminalized by the technicalities of the law. We as immigrants, whether undocumented or documented, need to have a platform and a forum that addresses our current state in this land. Often times it is the only way to resist the ugly and oppressive side of our society.  

A puppeteer (Leslie Carrara-Rudolph) from Sesame Street once said “Mean people are mean because they lack imagination” They fail to imagine beyond the surface, and fail to imagine beyond their side of the story. We as humans have the capability to understand one another by putting ourselves in another person’s perspective. However, limited exposure to diverse cultural art has failed our abilities to imagine, relate, and embrace. Instead, we have started to build walls focusing on superficial and circumstantial differences.  This is precisely why cultural art plays an important role in this society.  

Resistance art is not here to make enemies and build more walls. Rather, it is here to help all of us to resist the evil inside us and inside the society. It is an animalistic side of human nature that the strong attacks the weak. We feel subconsciously superior when we look down upon someone who doesn’t have what we have. This is a disguised character of humans but in current society, this way of thinking and acting is encouraged and celebrated. How is this any different from animals? Art has failed the society. Where is our empathy? We have failed to remind people that we all come from a same humble place. We have failed to remind the history of immigration, that we are all immigrants who had reasons and stories to move here.     

This is why we need to promote and strengthen cultural workers whose art showcases futures for those of us criminalized, illegalized, sexualized, exploited and oppressed. Artists who have risked persecution, and being censored have restlessly worked through poetry, concept albums, stage plays, exhibits, in order to bring balance and unity in the society by shining on stories that are not shared.  

As an example, I want to share with you today about Cosmopolis Collective. We are a group of musicians who came together with stories and a purpose. Separately we are individual artists who pursue pure form of art, but together we share our journey in the United States of America as Korean, Italian, German, Japanese, Indian American, and Puerto Rican. It is originally inspired by pianist Tereza Lee, who is known as “the original DREAMer.” Despite the fact we don’t often think of music as a tool to initiate policies, Tereza’s passion and talent for music and her teacher’s empathy and effort initiated one of the biggest movement in the history.  

Cosmopolis Collective brings forth each person’s unique traditions, the tradition that has been blending with the neighboring traditions in this land. We celebrate Puerto Rican Bomba, Indian Raga, Korean court music by weaving into our one big tradition. Your respect towards ancestor becomes our celebration of tradition. We write music that is inspired by Anne Frank’s Diary. Her belief in the good of the people despite what happened to her is celebrated through uplifting Colombian Cumbia. Our history of pain sympathizes with your history of pain. We are here in belief that art that celebrates mixes of cultures provokes deeper understanding of who we are in this land.  

I encourage you to listen, create, uplift each other, and stand in solidarity with one another."

Sebastian Noelle 

"I came to the US from Germany in 2000 to study jazz, an American art form. I am now a permanent resident. I found the whole visa process emotionally and economically taxing. Paying immigration lawyers, not knowing whether I could stay in the country or not. Long term planning was not possible. After obtaining the Green Card, New York felt more like home, although even that can still be taken away. 

Also, finding an identity between two countries, my home and my chosen home, is a challenge. Recognizing traits of my origin country in me, good and bad, is sometimes the source of frustration and embarrassment. For example when I feel like my actions confirm common stereotypes about Germans. At the same time realizing that the positive parts of my cultural heritage can add to the immigrant experience in the US is a great feeling. All this shapes our identities and is something we often deal with after the initial struggle of finding work, a decent living situation and a social circle. 

My advice is not to forget that you came here because you thought that you will have a happier life here than in your home country. For me this has been a sustaining source of strength, knowing that I can realize my potential in my professional field here better than at home helps me in the face of adversities and difficulties dealing with the system. 

Also, being open to seeing cultural differences as a chance to expand your own value system and at the same time bringing in the aspects from your home culture, that you feel strongly about. Be a part of the constant renewal of our social environment in an effort to make it more diverse and more human."