Immigrants' experience with arts, culture and entertainment talents.

Immigrant artists have talents that enrich their local communities and the entire U.S. culture.  Several communities of immigrant artists are thriving in many areas of the United States, while there are various organizations to support fledgling immigrant artists. The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) sponsors the Immigrant Artist Program (IAP).  The IAP Resource Directory connects immigrant artists with programs, services, and resources, and provides links to explore.  It also provides mentoring via connecting aspiring immigrant artists with artists who have an NYFA fellowship or have benefited from the program.  The free, monthly Con Edison IAP Newsletter via e-mail has cover features focused on artists.  It provides information about upcoming events and opportunities of special interest to immigrant artists, and features profiles of an artist or arts/immigrant services organization each month.  It also offers professional development tips in several languages, and includes a Mentoring Alumni Corner.

Like film and literature, the music of the United States reflects its multi-ethnic heritage in a complex of styles.  Among others, Indian musicians have influenced the American musical landscape. A prominent example is classical tabla virtuoso Ustad Zakir Hussain who popularized Indian percussive music. Besides music, The Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation exhibition displays an array of Indian arts.  The Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Program will exhibit this multi-media arts show at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. for one year (February, 2014-August, 2015).  The exhibition will then travel via the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) to various venues till 2020.  It presents an assemblage of Indian arts from the 1960s to the present.  Beginning in 2008, Indian American individuals, families, and communities across the U.S. contributed stories, photos, documents, and artifacts.


Masum MomayaMasum Momaya;
Photo Credit: Diya TV. Permission: Masum Momaya

The curator of Beyond Bollywood, Masum Momaya explains:

The entryway to the exhibition features two old Bollywood songs, [… that] were two iconic songs for the generation that emigrated from India to the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. And since we are taking “Bollywood” as an emotional, conceptual, and visual point of departure in the exhibition, we included these two songs to set a nostalgic tone.

The immigrant experience is also depicted in amateur short films annually at the San Francisco Immigrant Film Festival (SFIFF) in three categories: Narrative, Animated, and Documentary Short.  The SFIFF also offers free screening of films and videos to immigrant communities at various venues throughout the year.  There is additional information at their Facebook page.  Also worth visits while in the Bay area are the American Conservatory Theater that produces a range of dramatic works; and the San Francisco Ballet, which was the first professional ballet company in the U.S.  Several miles down the Pacific coast is the West coast’s analog to New York City.  Culturally diverse Los Angeles is home to Hollywood and the epicenter of the U.S. movie business; it also has an array of museums and arts productions.  The world famous Los Angeles Philharmonic is led by its music director–Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who has popularized Latin orchestral music alongside classical music in the U.S. while also serving as conductor for the Simon Bólivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela./

Some immigrant artists such as Favianna Rodriguez focus on expressing political views via their art.  Documentary filmmaker Rodriguez features activist artists working for social justice in Migration Is Beautiful.  In her 2013 interview via e-mail with Katherine Brooks for The Huffington Post, Rodriguez says that while politics can be a “grotesque way of humans shaping their existence,” art shapes human experience through beauty, form, reflection, and critical analysis.  She contends that artists have the responsibility to expose and critique but also to be visionary.  Rodriguez acknowledges that the butterfly symbol is not unique to her art, but she chose it because of the “transformative nature of the creature.”  She notes that the Monarch butterfly is an appropriate symbol for the beauty of migration and the right to move freely.  To underscore this symbolism, in one of her multimedia works she wears a large pair of extended artificial wings based on the design, color, and pattern of the Monarch butterfly’s wings.

Meanwhile, various U.S. universities have developed curricula, programs, and symposia to consider and express ideas about the arts as essential to the multidimensional immigrant experience.  The University of Chicago hosted such a symposium in 2011 and organized it in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts.  At this “Future of the City: The Arts Symposium” in 2011, Mark J. Stern presented his article, “The Arts and Social Inclusion.” Stern notes that access and opportunity are essential to participation in the arts, and indicates that engagement in the arts is integral to social inclusion as essential to human well-being.

For talented Indian immigrants, scholarships and foundation-funded grants are available in the U.S.  Current South Asian musicians such as Pakistani alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa remark on the process of assimilation into the U.S. culture, while reclaiming their ethnic identity.  Funded by a Guggenheim scholarship, Mahanthappa went to India to learn from master of South Indian Carnatic music, Kadri Gopalnath.  Mahanthappa subsequently created his own fusion of traditional Indian and American jazz styles in collaboration with composer, Rez Abbasi and Indian American pianist Vijay Iyer—all recent and notable South Indian immigrants.

As Haitian immigrant author Edwidge Danticat indicates in Joe Fassler’s 2013 article, “All Immigrants Are Artists” for the By Heart series in The Atlantic, “Re-creating your entire life is a form of reinvention on a par with the greatest works of literature.” Danticat notes ways that immigrant parents model artistry for their children during their struggle to survive; she mentions that this process, which often requires parental sacrifices, teaches a great deal.  She points out that it’s a big departure for a child to decide to become an artist facing a precarious career rather than choosing to pursue a profession with more security such as engineering, law, or medicine. Yet, Danticat indicates that learning to integrate into a new culture requires the incremental steps, courage, ingenuity, and effort to succeed that are analogous to the risk-taking, imagination, and toil to bring a creative endeavor to fulfillment.




Danticat focuses on three basic themes in her work: national identity, diasporic politics, and mother-daughter relationships.  In discussing her short story collection Krik? Krak! Danticat notes that writing is analogous to braiding hair, since it involves the weaving into a unified pattern of three separate strands.  She applies this principle to her written work about transnational communities, as she symbolically weaves together her three themes about identity, politics, and women in an effort to create a holistic narrative unity.



Living in a new country should feel like a safe and and secure reality. Taking safety precautions in your home can avoid tragic injuries or emergencies.

Living in a new country should feel like a safe and and secure reality. Taking safety precautions in your home can avoid tragic injuries or emergencies.  All employers are required to provide a safe and secure location for their employees. There are some situations that can occur in daily life that might require an emergency.

Calling 911

In Canada as well as the U.S., anyone can pick up any telephone and dial ‘911’ for an emergency. It is important to note that these must be considered emergencies such as: a fire, a crime in process, to call for the assistance of an ambulance and/ or medical team for help, to report anything that is suspicious such as gunfire, screams for help, or even suspicious activities. Most 911 systems in the United States will not allow you to ‘disconnect’ once you have dialed the phone number. Only call the ‘911’ if it is truly an emergency. An operator on the other end of the telephone line will ask you a series of questions and keep you calm while they send the appropriate assistance. Do not call ‘911’ for situations such as animal control, to ask for directions or any kind of directory assistance questions. If you do not speak English, let the operator know immediately. If you are in a vehicle, do not get out of the vehicle unless it is in danger of catching fire or exploding.


Safety at Home

It is important to have a safe environment for you to live in. However, there are some guidelines you can follow to assist you in avoiding or addressing any emergency situations:

  • Do not have lit fires from any open source other than the oven or stove that has been approved/ supplied for the dwelling.


  • Ensure that you have good/ sturdy locks on the doors to the home or apartment and do not give the keys to strangers. Always check and confirm who is at the door, before you open it.


  • Be sure to have functional smoke alarms within the residence and check them twice a year to replace the batteries. Check to make sure they are working each month. Also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.


  • Have all emergency phone numbers at the location of the telephone. This should include police, fire, hospital, doctor and emergency contacts.


  • Make sure that you know where the nearest police, fire and hospital locations are.


  • Be aware of all of the main valves for water, electricity and gas within your home. You should know how to turn them off by hand, in case this might be needed.


  • Have an emergency medical kit available within the home.


  • Create a disaster kit for the family. This should include flashlights, extra batteries, a portable radio, blankets, a first-aid kit and enough packaged or canned food and bottled water for the family members to last for three days. It is recommended to include trash bags, pet food and toilet paper as well. Also, include a safe meet-up location in case of a quick exit in times of emergency.


  • Have all of your important paperwork such as passports, identification and insurance in one location. It is recommended that you keep all of these in a water sealed bag.


  • If you have children in the home, make sure that they know how to dial ‘911’, and know what the address and phone numbers are.


  • Set up practice emergency drills with everyone in the household. Make sure they know how to lay low on the floor to crawl to the nearest exit as well as alternate emergency contacts in the case where the adult(s) of the home are involved in the emergency.
For children attending school

Set up a special ‘code word’ for all children so that only those adults who know the code word will be accepted by the children. Most schools have established guidelines for adults picking up children from school, but children also need to be aware that unless the adult has the code word, they must not go with them.  Familiarize yourself with the school emergency policies and what is expected of you, as the adult.