How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

An author muses on the art of immigrant life

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The Atlantic has published a thought-provoking interview with Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, who draws an unexpected connection between art and the act of moving to a new land and reinventing one's life.

Danticat, who arrived in the United States at age 12, builds upon a passage from Patricia Engel's new novel, "It's Not Love, it's Just Paris." In the novel, an immigrant father tries to persuade his daughter that "all immigrants are artists because they create a life, a future, from nothing but a dream."

Danticat speaks eloquently about the notion of how "re-creating your entire life is a form of reinvention on par with the greatest works of literature," with immigrants pouring their creativity into what it takes to survive and thrive in their new lives, often with few resources.  From the piece:

My parents spent their entire lives in Haiti before they left. They didn’t know much about the United States except that, at that time, there were opportunities there. They basically packed two suitcases and came.

That experience of touching down in a totally foreign place is like having a blank canvas: You begin with nothing, but stroke by stroke you build a life. This process requires everything great art requires — risk-tasking, hope, a great deal of imagination, all the qualities that are the building blocks of art. You must be able to dream something nearly impossible and toil to bring it into existence.

Danticat recalls the creativity she saw in her mother, a skilled seamstress who thriftily purchased fabric and re-created for her daughter the fashions she admired in stores. She writes:

And that’s another thing this passage hints on: that first-generation immigrants often model artistic behavior for their children. They don’t necessarily realize it, like the father who says the immigrant life is art in its greatest form. But I realize now I saw artistic qualities in my parents’ choices — in their creativity, their steadfastness, the very fact that we were in this country from another place. 

What her parents modeled to her, she writes, ultimately inspired her own pursuit of art. 

It's great food for thought. If your parents were immigrants, what kind of creativity did you see them pour into their daily lives? How did it inspire you? 

Read the entire interview here

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