Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

What's It Like to Be an Immigrant in Pittsburgh?

Five photographers reflect on those yearning to breathe free in a moving visual journey at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.




PHOTO BY NATE GUIDRY

 

“Breathe out, breathe in
American oxygen
Every breath I breathe
Chasin’ this American Dream.”
—American Oxygen

“American Oxygen” is one in a long line of songs that evokes the mythical American Dream, those who thirst for it and those who follow its siren call. It’s a song by Rihanna, an immigrant from Barbados who models that dream, gilded in 24 karats, skyrocketing to the top with fame and fortune.

Americans pride themselves on the romantic mystique of immigration and those coming to these shores — Atlantic or Allegheny — who seek liberty and the chance to grab for that brass, star-spangled ring. Ellis Island and the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh are among many monuments to that history, and in our daily lives we’re enriched in myriad small ways by immigrants — in language (nebby) or cuisine (pierogies).

Despite the Emma Lazarus poem at the Statue of Liberty, though, not everyone was wanted or welcomed here; some Americans have ancestors who were brought here unwillingly in chains.

Today immigration continues to be a focus of national discussion, debate and even controversy, with talk of building a new monument of sorts: a wall along our southern border.

Opening this month at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, “Emigration-Immigration-Migration,” organized and curated by photographer Brian Cohen and Laura Domencic, engages us through the lens of Pittsburgh-based photographers and writers

“Working with the premise that we all come from somewhere, the group explores the central role that immigration and migration have played and continue to play in the formation of our identity and culture and in the sustaining of our economy,” says Cohen, whose English accent reveals his own immigrant journey from London to Pittsburgh. “We aim to create a space for civil, constructive conversation about belonging and cultural heritage today.”
 

    
PHOTOs BY ANNIE O'NEILL
 

The exhibition is a project of The Documentary Works, a collaborative group of local photographers who visually examine social and environmental issues. It’s the same group that, in 2015, presented a riveting look at the air quality in the region, “In the Air: Visualizing What We Breathe,” at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Gallery.

This Westmoreland show marks another groundbreaking, oxygen-infused atmosphere for engagement and discussion, and it’s difficult not to become emotionally invested, both because of the quality and insight of the pictures as well as the accompanying essays, which provide depth and context.

“I only want what’s best for my babies,” states one father, photographed by Nate Guidry, who followed a Mexican single father raising his two daughters in Brookline for his contribution to the exhibit.

Other immigrant stories — two in particular — power Scott Goldsmith’s contribution, which follows a family of Bhutanese refugees from the moment they arrive at the airport into the first stage of their new life. A second story focuses on an Orthodox Jewish family putting down roots in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh’s traditional Jewish neighborhood.
 


photo by Annie o'neill
 

Annie O’Neill presents large-scale double-portraits to showcase her concept of pairing long-term immigrants with new arrivals to America. Neither had met the other, but each duo has something in common — linguistically, professionally, etc. — in addition to the shared experience of being an immigrant.

What’s more iconic and celebratory of our immigration heritage than the naturalization ceremony? It’s an almost sacramental event during which “foreigners” transform into “us” as American citizens. Lynn Johnson documents that moment, capturing its celebratory feel and ebullient energy and reminding us that The Dream lives on.

A compelling counterpoint to all of the portraits of people is Cohen’s contribution: architecture-focused portraits of local landmarks erected by or connected to immigrants. This colorful travelogue through the region reminds us of our immigrant roots, acknowledges their present continuity and sparks questions about the future.
 


photo by lynn johnson
 

To enrich your exhibition experience, don’t miss the catalog. It includes essays by Erika Beras recounting personal stories of the Great Migration of African-Americans in the 20th century and by Reid Frazier on the history and influence of immigrants in and around Pittsburgh.

The show at The Westmoreland is one component in a larger project, “Out of Many: Stories of Migration,” which features talks and discussions by artists, activists and experts. Community partners include Pittsburgh’s American Jewish Museum, City of Asylum, Repair the World and Union Project. The exhibition was preceded in late 2017 by a smaller show with the five photographers at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.

What can we take away from all this? In part, it might be summed up in another lyric from “American Oxygen:”
“This is the new America. We are the new America.”

(Jan. 20-April 22; The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 221 N. Main St., Greensburg; 724/837-1500, thewestmoreland.org)
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Pittsburgh Couples with Perfect New York City Proposals

Another city of bridges provided the perfect backdrop for these romantic engagements.

Millie’s Is on the Move, and Kevin Sousa Will Make Ice Cream for Dinner

Millie’s finds a new home in Homestead, and Kevin Sousa will host an ice cream dinner with OddFellows' Sam Mason at Superior Motors in Braddock.

See Crosby Delight Kenyan Hockey Team in Surprise Appearance

When you see the look on the Kenyan players' faces –– you can't help but smile.

Watch: Remembering Roberto in the 1971 World Series

Clemente was the series M.V.P. Enjoy highlights from Game 7 –– played on Oct. 17, 1971 –– complete with comments from Bob Prince in the broadcast booth.

Le Creuset Gets Cooking with First Pittsburgh Store

Located on the lower level of The Block Northway shopping mall in Ross Township, the store will host a weeklong grand opening celebration.

Return of the Ogee: Phipps Restores Historic Glass Architecture

For the first time since 1937 — and just in time for its 125th birthday — Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is bringing back the curved glass peak, known as an ogee, that sits atop the heart of the conservatory.

Last to Buy a Ticket and She Gets Best Seat in the House

A lifelong fan buys a last minute, front-row seat to see Elton John in Pittsburgh, no scalpers needed.

Find the Devil in Gallery D at the Carnegie International

The 57th Carnegie International is now open, and with it the premiere of Alex Da Corte's "Rubber Pencil Devil."

Tango in the Taproom on Tuesdays

North Side pub will offer Tango Tuesdays where you can move to the music and take some dance lessons.

A Comedy about Coming Out: CMU Grad's New Film, “Lez Bomb”

Jenna Laurenzo's new film about a woman who brings her girlfriend home for Thanksgiving in an attempt to come out to her family will be featured at the Reel Q LGBT Film Festival on Saturday.

Leslie Odom Jr. Bringing “Hamilton” to the People

The “Hamilton” star will perform with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall for a one-night-only concert perfect for those who may miss the musical in January.

6 Things You Need for a Successful Fundraiser

We asked local nonprofits to give us their best tricks and tips.

Sweet Spot: The Bakery that Serves Dessert with a Purpose

Wes Lyons and Amber Greene's Cakery Square serves its cupcakes with a side of youth empowerment.

Healing with Music in The Key of Community

A Mt. Lebanon resident and her friend create a nonprofit that aims to transform lives by sharing the arts through piano donations, community projects and educational programs.

Single Black Mothers: How One Woman Changed the Narrative

The traveling photo essay and video series created by Heather Hopson aims to change the narrative surrounding the negative stereotypes.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


See Crosby Delight Kenyan Hockey Team in Surprise Appearance

See Crosby Delight Kenyan Hockey Team in Surprise Appearance

When you see the look on the Kenyan players' faces –– you can't help but smile.

Comments

Watch: Remembering Roberto in the 1971 World Series

Watch: Remembering Roberto in the 1971 World Series

Clemente was the series M.V.P. Enjoy highlights from Game 7 –– played on Oct. 17, 1971 –– complete with comments from Bob Prince in the broadcast booth.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Millie’s Is on the Move, and Kevin Sousa Will Make Ice Cream for Dinner

Millie’s Is on the Move, and Kevin Sousa Will Make Ice Cream for Dinner

Millie’s finds a new home in Homestead, and Kevin Sousa will host an ice cream dinner with OddFellows' Sam Mason at Superior Motors in Braddock.

Comments

The Black Cat Market is Pittsburgh's Newest Cat Cafe

The Black Cat Market is Pittsburgh's Newest Cat Cafe

Co-owners Olivia Ciotoli and Indigo Baloch opened the Lawrenceville location to provide a venue for animal interactions for those without the ability to keep pets themselves.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Places to Shop If You Have a Green Thumb

The 5 Best Places to Shop If You Have a Green Thumb

Hone your gardening skills at these top Pittsburgh-area nurseries, garden centers and shops.

Comments

The 5 Best Movie Theaters in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Movie Theaters in Pittsburgh

A movie-going experience is about more than just the movie. PM Film Critic Sean Collier takes a break from movie reviews and shares the best spots for cocktails, classics and comfort.

Comments


Phantom Fright Nights is Creepy, Essential Kennywood

Phantom Fright Nights is Creepy, Essential Kennywood

The Halloween attraction turns the playful park sinister in delightful ways.

Comments

What Lurks in the ScareHouse Basement?

What Lurks in the ScareHouse Basement?

Venturing into the popular haunt's extreme, underground attraction.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Shazier, Steelers Return to Cincinnati Still Seeking a Happy Ending

Shazier, Steelers Return to Cincinnati Still Seeking a Happy Ending

Sunday's return to Paul Brown Stadium will be the Steelers' first trip back since last December when linebacker Ryan Shazier went down and stayed down. But this time he’ll be back on the sideline with his team, and most significantly he’ll be back on his feet.

Comments

Pens Want to Send Early Message, More Will be Necessary

Pens Want to Send Early Message, More Will be Necessary

The Pens open the season against three teams that have a legitimate shot at hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup nine months from now.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: First Man

The 400-Word Review: First Man

"First Man" manages to capture the awe that landing on the moon should — and all but guarantees Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: A Star is Born

The 400-Word Review: A Star is Born

The high-profile remake is a good, old-fashioned movie musical with a lot to offer.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Pittsburgh Couples with Perfect New York City Proposals

Pittsburgh Couples with Perfect New York City Proposals

Another city of bridges provided the perfect backdrop for these romantic engagements.

Comments

Love and the Law: This Couple's Professor Nailed It

Love and the Law: This Couple's Professor Nailed It

When Julia Conley and Scott Scheinberg's law school professor predicted two people in the class would end up married to one another, they never imagined it would be them.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Le Creuset Gets Cooking with First Pittsburgh Store

Le Creuset Gets Cooking with First Pittsburgh Store

Located on the lower level of The Block Northway shopping mall in Ross Township, the store will host a weeklong grand opening celebration.

Comments

Return of the Ogee: Phipps Restores Historic Glass Architecture

Return of the Ogee: Phipps Restores Historic Glass Architecture

For the first time since 1937 — and just in time for its 125th birthday — Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is bringing back the curved glass peak, known as an ogee, that sits atop the heart of the conservatory.

Comments