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.


What should I know about having an American Social Security Number/Card?

Having a Social Security number can be a great benefit for you. It is a unique number that is used by the government to allow them to track your earnings as well as configure benefits owed to you. There are other circumstances where you may need a Social Security number. A Social Security number can make life in the U.S. a bit easier. As a permanent resident, it is recommended that you apply. However, you do not need to apply a second time if you requested a Social Security number when you originally applied for an immigrant visa and the date that you applied was October 2002 or later and, at the time of application, you were 18 years or older.

The benefit of having a Social Security number can allow you an easier transition to apply for: a bank account, renting or owning an apartment or house, utilities, and credit cards. Your number will also be used to establish credit and you can access credit reporting services to ensure that all information is correct. A good credit standing will give you the opportunity to apply for bank loans. Employers will also request your Social Security number so that all taxes and social security payments you make during your employment are recorded.

Applying for a Social Security number must be done in person, as the government organizations will need to speak with you and you will need to have some specific documentation. You can locate the nearest office at or call 1-800-772-1213 from 7 7 p.m.. You can also ask friends if they know of the nearest Social Security office to you. The offices have English and Spanish-speaking services available. Free interpreter services are available as well, but these services must be requested in advance. The Social Security office offers interpreters in 14 different languages. When you have set an appointment to get your Social Security number you must bring the following documents with you:

  • A birth certificate or a document showing when and where you were born, such as your passport
  • A document that demonstrates your immigration status which should include the permission to work in the United States. This document can be a passport with a visa label or immigration stamp or your Permanent Resident Card.

You will need to have an established permanent residence, as your Social Security card will be mailed to you at that address.  You should apply for your Social Security card within three (3) weeks of your arrival in the United States. If you moved from the address supplied to the Social Security office and did not contact them, you will need to call the office to inform them.  Early on when you’re settling down to life in the U.S., it is always recommended that you file a ‘forwarding address’ with the U.S. Postal Service. This ensures all important paperwork is forwarded to your new location.


Important To Note: A Social Security number assigned to you should be guarded carefully.  You should never share your number with anyone other than an official company or organization that you are applying to. People who get your Social Security number will have access to your personal information and this can lead to ‘identity theft’. Guarding your number will help to protect you. Do not carry your Social Security card with you. It is recommended that you memorize the number and keep your card in a location with other important papers, such as your passport.  It is also recommended that you shred any and all non-essential paperwork that may have your Social Security number included. Never place it in the trash can or recycling.

Do not give out your Social Security number to anyone on the phone or internet.  Specifically  any company, organization or person that you are not familiar with.

In the case of identity theft, the government has a hotline and a website for the Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-438-4338.



What is Homeland Security?

The United States was founded on immigrants from around the world. It is what makes the country an incredibly diverse and rich heritage. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) helps to ensure information provided for immigrants is useful and accurate, allowing an awareness of citizenship understanding and benefits. As an organization it encourages the integrity of the immigration system by overseeing the lawful immigration into the United States through security, fraud detection and sound policies.

We are in a time of increased national security challenges and global threats and the USCIS is both mindful and responsible for providing immigration services which help to strengthen the nation. The responsibilities cover the advantages and privileges for those with a lawful presence in the U.S.

Each day, the USCIS:

  •        Welcomes 3,000 new citizens.
  •        Conducts 135,000 national security background checks.
  •        Completes 30,000 applications for various immigration benefits.
  •        Helps American parents adopt 125 foreign-born orphans.
  •        Answers 41,000 phone calls through toll-free customer service line, and serves 12,000 customers at field offices.
  •        Ensures the employment eligibility of more than 80,000 new hires in the United States.
  •        Fingerprints and photographs 11,000 applicants at 129 Application Support Centers.
  •        Grants permanent residence to 3,400 people and issues 7,300 Permanent Resident Cards.
  •        Processes 200 refugee applications around the world, and grants asylum to 40 people already in the United States.

Abiding by the lawful rules of the government is a requirement by all immigrants (and citizens). The laws may differ from the country of origin, so the U.S. government has created a ‘Toolkit’ that may be of assistance. This Toolkit contains publications, multimedia tools and a guide book so that immigrants can have some basic information. All organizations can register for the Toolkit to help their immigrant members. For more information go to.


There have been added security measures put in place to ensure that all individuals have a safe and secure experience. All people are required to comply with these additional security procedures. All State and Federal government institutions may have security ‘checkpoints’ which can include requirement to show identification, electronic screening, and personal searches through carry bags including purses.

State and Federal government officials work closely to identify and prosecute any and all individuals with immigration status that are involved in criminal activities. It is important that immigrants ensure that they do not associate themselves with any individuals or organizations in the U.S. that may be/ are involved with or formulating plans that are against the law. If anyone is deemed a threat to Homeland Security, there is a possibility that there will be a waiver of any and all laws that may have previously protected an immigrant as well as a U.S. citizen. Surveillance for anyone deemed a threat is fairly all encompassing and crosses into all activities both in person as well as involving communications of all types.

The special agents, attorneys, and officers involved in enforcement cover approximately four hundred federal statues and a diverse group of laws regarding smuggled, illegal, counterfeit and the moving of people and goods as well as money, drugs and guns into the United States. Additional responsibilities include repatriation of cultural treasures which are returned to their country of origin when they are illegally brought into the United States, and work to prevent the illegal exportation of U.S. technologies that could be repurposed or used to do harm. The prevention of terrorism is a high priority and it is important all immigrants comply with the guidelines and requirements to ensure that any dangerous individuals are identified prior to entering the United States and/ or that they are located for violation of customs laws and immigration.

For information go to