Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On being an immigrant

Sacred Guardians

My mother and I immigrated to the United States when I was nine years old.

We were coming from Wiesbaden, Germany to New York City.

We weren't fleeing anything. She had married an American soldier and along with my five year old step-brother, the four of us arrived safely on U.S. shores. 

No ICE agents, no border control guards, awaited us. 

In the 1930s and 1940s there was a mass exodus out of the inferno in Europe. Many came to the peaceful, welcoming shores of the United States of America, seeking asylum. 

Together, with the creative caldera that was bubbling in New York City, America became a central force for creative expression and experimentation. Science, architecture, dance, music, sculpture, photography, psychoanalysis, painting, all exploded with newness. 

Among the painters living in America, who would tear down the establishment of realism and create a whole new world of seeing, were; Motherwell, Frankenthaler, the de Koonings, Krasner,  Pollack,  Kline, Resnik, Rauschenberg, Hartigan, and Mitchell. 

Then came the wartime flight of "the most amazing exodus in history. Internationalism was thrust upon New York by Europe." wrote Tom Hess; ArtNews Editor. 

Motherwell described the scene as a "kind of Istanbul...a great crossing place. A great bazaar." 

Those immigrants included Hans Hoffman, the Albers, Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Levi Strauss, Erich Fromm, Tocanini, Balanchine, Marcel Duchamp, Breton, Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Dali. 

Seemingly overnight the U.S. became the throne of the most advanced thinking in the western world and the apex of the art world; where genius mingled with the everyday and ideas filled the air like  pixie dust. 

I wonder, where would we be today if these people, along with thousands of others who helped weave the tapestry of our country's altruism and intellectualism, were denied entry?

Imagine President Roosevelt closing our borders under the canopy of fear that caravans of Nazis and Fascists were invading our homeland borders. Would we have continued on our path of becoming the lighthouse for the exchange of new thoughts, ideas, equality, hard work and dreams? Would we have made the scientific discoveries that are still informing scientists today?

I fear not.