La Migracion Es Beautiful

My wife and I were walking down 116th Street this past Saturday on our way towards Target and ALDI. Between 3rd and 2nd Avenues we noticed a group of people painting a mural on a wall, so we crossed to take a better look.

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The mural primarily addresses U.S. immigration policy and seems to be an expression of the idea that “we are all immigrants.” One of the installations under the “Galerie De Guerrilla Gallery” section of the mural is a mirror with the word “Immigrant” in English under it. Another section of the mural shows a set of butterfly wings with the caption “La Migracion Es Beautiful” (Immigration is Beautiful). The point seems to be to remind English speakers that they are also immigrants while reminding immigrants that they are beautiful parts of a local immigrant society.

La Immigracion Es Beautiful

Maybe the mural isn’t about how we’re all immigrants, though. The butterfly wings contain pictures of a wide range of people, but almost exclusively depict Hispanics and African Americans, interspersed with what appears to be a few South Asian Muslims and Native Americans. One of the larger panels shows a Native American woman lying down by a river with teepees in the background next to a quote from an Ogala Lakota Native American. A section of the mural shows the face of an African American woman wearing an Indian feather in her hair.

It seems odd to include Native Americans and African Americans in a mural about how we are all immigrants. The Native Americans were the first people on the land. You can’t immigrate into a place that doesn’t have people in it before you arrive. And, unlike Ben Carson, I would hardly consider the enslavement and forced migration of Africans to be an act of immigration.

Maybe my first impression was wrong. Maybe the message isn’t about inclusivity but is rather about a unified confrontation between minority groups and those viewed as Caucasian. If that’s the case, the mural is eye-catching but is a missed opportunity for emphasizing shared belonging in the national community. Or maybe I’m just over-thinking the artists’ use of the word “immigrant.” Maybe the message of the mural is just protesting in general all of the morally reprehensible things that Trump (and the Republican party) has said and done without explicitly naming him. That would explain the quote by the Lakota Native American about the destruction of the environment. That, along with the slogan “El agua es vida” (Water is life) would be a reference to Standing Rock and DAPL. The inclusion of African Americans would be a reference perhaps to Trump calling for the death penalty for the wrongly accused Central Park Five. The inclusion of Hispanics and Muslims would be a reference to Trump’s constant vitriolic rhetoric and jingoism about Mexicans and Executive Orders that target Muslims.

Either way, immigration is a beautiful thing. Beyond the economic necessity of continued immigration, the diversity that immigrants bring to American life is what makes this country an amazing place to live, at least in major cities and on the coasts. I believe that intellectual and spiritual progress (and lofty goals like world peace) are dependent on having our comfort zones challenged. Encountering and understanding people from other parts of the world forces us to reevaluate and adjust our ideas and beliefs, both about others and about ourselves. I think that only happens when you’re forced to personally confront difference, in person. A book can only explain so much and never requires you to actually self-examine and defend your point of view. I also don’t see anything intrinsically worthwhile in resisting change or trying to hold onto an idealized vision of America that never existed in the first place.

Allegiance, with George Takei & Lea Salonga

In November, I told my wife that we would go see Allegiance for her birthday. She wasn’t so much interested in the show for the sake of the story, but because she’s a big fan of Lea Salonga and Miss Saigon. Miss Saigon hasn’t played in New York City since we’ve been here, but Lea has a starring role in Allegiance. As a bonus, George Takei stars in the play as well and I’ve really enjoyed him as an actor and as a person since I first saw him in Star Trek as a kid. His Facebook account is hilarious.

I was told later that Allegiance was based on Takei’s childhood. He actually went through a Japanese internment camp during World War II. We really did go into the show blind, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the story or the actors’ performances. The parts were well played. Everyone knew their lines. There was no stuttering. The dancing scenes were a lot of fun. The music was good.

I think what I enjoyed most about the show was the way it attempted to address complex ideas of identity, belonging and citizenship. Questions 27 and 28 of a loyalty questionnaire given to Japanese internees played a prominent role in the play. The audience is told what those questions are, but I felt like there should have been more explanation about why answering “yes” to those two questions was such a huge moral dilemma for many Japanese-Americans. Having the main character’s father say it impinges Japanese “honor” did not really convey the complexity of being singled out as a group and being made to affirm loyalty to the United States when one was already an American by birth and upbringing. You kind of pick up on it throughout the play, but only if you’re really paying attention. I suppose one doesn’t go to a play to be mindlessly entertained, though. It’s supposed to be thought provoking.

Not to take away from the suffering of Japanese-Americans during World War II, but I was reminded of the problems that many Muslim-Americans are facing today. They are being singled out as a group and subjected to additional scrutiny. Their loyalty, or allegiance to the United States, is questioned in the same way that Japanese-Americans’ allegiance to the United States was questioned.

The fact that Muslim Americans weren’t rounded up and placed in internment camps shows that most of us learned something from our previous mistakes, or at least the people who can make those sorts of decisions learned something. But, we’re walking on a thin line. It wouldn’t be hard for the balance to shift and to wake up one day and find people being deported to concentration/internment camps again. I mean, look at how popular Trump is with Republican voters. Sometimes the guy says something that makes sense, but even a monkey could type a coherent sentence if he sits in front of a keyboard long enough. Trump represents the worst of our past and the desire of some to return to a period of selective privilege that leaves everyone who isn’t a white male in second place at best.

Anyhow, coming back to the topic of this post, the play was excellent, thought provoking, a critical look at our past and relevant to contemporary affairs. I would recommend it to anyone interested in human drama, history, US politics, race relations, or just a good story.

The Longacre theater, where the play is shown, is a little cold. The seats are a little close together and they didn’t open the doors until 6:30 PM, meaning the line was still out the door at 7:00 PM when the curtain was supposed to go up. If you’re planning on going, show up around 6:15 PM to be at the front of the line.

Also, the concessions stand wasn’t impressive, but I haven’t been to a lot of plays so I don’t have a frame of reference and I imagine the audience is expected to be different from the one you find packed into a typical movie theater.