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.


How to understand state and federal taxes.

If you will be working in the U.S. you will need to know about both state and federal taxes.  Taxes are paid by both U.S Residents and U.S. citizens, and pay for the government services that are provided. There are several different types of taxes, including additional taxes when you purchase property or buy an item at the store. If you are employed by an employer, all ‘taxable income’ should have the taxes automatically withheld, but there are some exceptions to this rule.

The exact amount of taxes withheld from a paycheck will be completely dependent upon the amount that you earn. An employer will give you a Federal Tax Form W-9 to complete and this will include your name, address, social security number and the number of ‘deductions’ you will  claim. If you do not have a Social Security number, and are a resident alien (permanent resident), you can apply for a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) at your local Social Security Administration office or get the online form at

State Taxes

Each state in the U.S. has their own set of regulations regarding state taxes.  Some states have amounts withheld from a paycheck and then you are required to file a State Tax return during the same time period as the Federal Tax return. Other states do not have that requirement. All states have a ‘sales tax’ as well as other types of taxes that you pay upon the purchase of items. Each state has a specific percentage defined for the purchase. Some of the states will not include items such as ‘food purchases’ as taxable items. You will need to examine the state requirements for the state you reside and work in.


Federal Taxes

All Federal taxes must be applied to what is considered ‘Taxable Income’. This is any income that is earned in the United States and/ or its territories. The Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) form W-9 will allow you to indicate the number of deductions that you will be claiming when you file your taxes and that number will reflect the amount of tax taken out. An example of deductions would be: “1” for yourself, “2” for yourself and a spouse included on your jointly filed tax return, “3” for yourself, spouse and a child that you are supporting in your home. Seek the assistance of an accountant if you have any questions regarding the form or go to the website of:

Exceptions to Automatically Withheld Taxes

Not all employers automatically withhold taxes. There are specific guidelines employers must follow if you are a full time employee. However, if you are considered to be a subcontractor or freelance contractor, an employer does not have to withhold taxes. In these cases, you will be required to pay your own taxes during the tax filing time period. You will need to have the ability to pay your taxes during the filing process and this may require that you set aside the money that will be needed during the working year.

Accounting Services

Most Americans have difficulty understanding the Federal and State tax guidelines, so it is important that you seek the services of a reputable accountant.  An accountant will advise you on the various deductions you can take advantage of so that your tax payments are reduced. The accountant will also advise you of the required paperwork you will need to keep throughout the year as proof of your deductions and can file your State and Federal tax forms for you. Ask friends and co-workers for a reference for a good accountant and make an appointment as soon as you begin working. This smart move will often save you the expense and time in the long run, once the tax filing season is upon you.

What do I need to know about taking care of my family in the United States?

The cost of health care in the United States is very expensive and most people have their own medical insurance. The Affordable Care Act is a government program allowing you to select your own medical insurance based on the family income. This program gives you choices and options for coverage, deductible amounts and prescription medications. Many employers offer medical insurance as part of their benefits package. Most require that the employer pay a portion of the cost. There are also inexpensive and/ or free programs offered by the U.S. Federal Government through the state you reside in. Though, there are specific requirements that you need to comply with in order to be considered for these programs.

Health Insurance

Whether you are choosing your own health insurance or are covered by a policy through your employer, you will typically have a list of doctors, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies included in the coverage. Selecting your own health insurance could mean a higher cost to you, unless you have applied for the Affordable Health Care during the specific signup times. When you seek medical care, there is typically a ‘deductible’ dollar amount that needs to be met and you will need to pay. The amount varies, depending upon the policy. Once met, there will be a ‘co-pay’ that you pay for the medical services and prescriptions. The medical facility will need a copy of your health insurance card and they will take care of billing any balances to your insurance company.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services do provide some basic health care services for immigrants. Depending upon your location, you may be able to find free or low-cost clinics in your area. To locate these, please visit their webpage. You will be requested to type in your zip code to find the nearest location.


Other medical help

Many states provide discounted or free assistance for children. Also, there are hospitals and clinics which provide medical care at Urgent Care or emergency rooms. If you cannot pay, some of these hospitals will help you complete the paperwork for Federal and State program assistance.

Medicaid is a health program set up between the Federal Government and the state that you reside in for low income individuals. Each state has their own guidelines. Medicaid will pay for medical doctors and hospitalization. If you are a permanent resident who entered the country prior to August 22, 1996, you may qualify for Medicaid. If you entered after that date but have been in the U.S. for over five years, you may also qualify.

Medicare is a health program established for residents 65 years or older. The program does not cover all types of medical situations, but there are additional programs that you can sign up for that do involve a cost. All of these programs are at greatly reduced rates, when compared to standard health insurance. For information call 1-800772-1213 or go to their website.

Additional available programs will be dependent upon your immigration status and income. The Food Stamp Program allows you to get certain food items for free at the grocery stores. Each state has its own funded program. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is also different in each state, but allows families to get free help. For information call: 1-877-543-7669 or visit Insure Kids Now. You will need to enter your state name at the prompt.

Assistance for Disabled Immigrants is a program set up to offer immigrants listed as disabled for help with Medicaid, food stamps and Supplemental Security Income.  Qualification for the program will be dependent upon your immigration status, income and the length of time you have been in the U.S.

For more information go to the Social Security webpage.

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.



How to adapt to the social etiquettes in your new country of immigration.

The United States of America and Canada have one  of the most diverse populations in the world. These countries were founded on immigrants coming to their shores and bringing with them a rich array of traditions, values, foods and religions. Many of the original immigrants were from European and Asian countries, bringing people of all backgrounds. Even with this type of variation, there are significant differences in adapting to a new country and many areas have their own distinct ways of living their lives.

First Generation immigrants may initially find language to be the major barrier and it will be important for both adults and children to learn English as soon as possible. All aspects of life here are based on communicating in English.  Depending upon where an immigrant has settled, will also depend on learning the local traditions. These can include ways that people do business as well as the holidays they celebrate.

Learning the new culture of any country can seem overwhelming, but there are organizations that can help make the transition easier. Joining a local club or organization that has been established by people from your own country can introduce you to a variety of people who can provide assistance to both adults and children. Toastmasters International ( is an exceptional organization to introduce  immigrants with speaking, colloquial (slang) expressions, networking, education and revitalization. People share their experiences and help with ‘short cuts’ in learning to navigate what will make your life in Americas both enjoyable and successful.


Personal Space etiquette.

People from around the globe have cultural traditions and actions that are accepted and part of their society. In some of the countries that have larger populations, it is not uncommon to see people sitting and standing close to each other.  However, in Americas, people have a concept of ‘personal space’ meaning not standing too close. It is unsure if this practice was part of the old European traditions but it is considered rude here to stand very close to someone else when that person does not know you. Although there isn’t a defined ‘distance’ you can easily determine the amount of space you should put between yourself and others. A perfect example of this personal space might be standing in line at a grocery store or at a bank.

Be mindful of staring.

In many countries, it is considered normal to stare at individuals, places or items for a long period of time. This is part of the regular way of life and daily experience within that country. Part of American culture is the belief that staring at an individual or a group of people for a long time is not acceptable. Staring is equated to judging, as well as  potential aggressive or dangerous behavior. This information has been included so you know how long it’s appropriate to look at people. Though, never feel like you have to look down or avert your eyes in any manner that would be demeaning. The purpose of this is to alert you to a negative situation that can be avoided, simply by being aware.


Walking, Shopping, Restaurant customs.

While not everyone in Americas abides by these guidelines, it is important for you to know that many do (or that it’s generally expected). Traffic of any kind includes following the rules of the road and this includes walking across the street in the allocated (pedestrian) walk areas and when the traffic lights say it’s safe to walk. Some towns will give you a ‘ticket’ for what is called “Jay Walking” or walking when the light is showing ‘red’. Jay walking is walking outside of a designated pedestrian area. Following the flow of traffic in the same way that road traffic occurs is also the usual rule-of-thumb in retail environments. All retail establishments expect that you enter and stand in line if there are others ahead of you and respectfully wait. Restaurant servers usually receive a tip (or gratuity) as part of their service. In the U.S., a standard 15%-20% gratuity is common, however, tips are not expected for fast food locations or drive-throughs.



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