“I cried every single day for an entire year after arriving in the U.S. I knew we were never going back.”
Amalfi Ramirez Finnerty is an artist.
Art is my life. I paint and teach.
Adventure was a great motivator for my parents’ decision to leave South America.
I was nine when they with my two brothers and I left Caracas, Venezuela. I cried every single day for an entire year after arriving in the U.S. I knew we were never going back.
Travel was natural for my Andean mother and Caribbean father. As a teen, my mother left the Andes and moved to the city. My father had always been on the move. He left the Dominican Republic, traveled to Aruba then on to Venezuela. At that time, he was also visiting his childhood friend who lived in “America.” So it seemed a natural progression when he returned from one of the trips to the U.S. and informed us that we were all moving to Philadelphia.
Caracas was cool and crispy the morning we left. My grandmother had traveled fourteen hours from the Andes to Caracas to say goodbye the day before we were leaving. Even after the long trip, she set out to make us one last supper. She had brought with her on the bus a pot of Pisca Andina, a soup more like a stew made of chicken, potatoes, carrots, and eggs. We ate some and watched her prepare Pabellón criollo, the typical Venezuelan dish full of colors and flavors—shredded beef, white rice, black beans accompanied by slices of sweet plantain. My grandmother let us know she was actually making Pabellón Andino, the Andean version which substitutes the sweet plantains for the crispy fried plantains called tostones. And in the morning she got up before any of us to prepare Arepas con Perico: cornmeal flat breads filled with scrambled eggs, onions, tomatoes and peppers. With our bellies full and her rosary gifts in hand, we went to the airport. I remember having the window seat in the Pan Am airplane and seeing my grandmother standing on the tarmac waving goodbye.
It was the last time I saw her.
We arrived in New York. It was February. My father’s friends were waiting. They ran to us with thick bundles of fabrics of various textures, wool, fur, tweed. They said we had to put these on because it was cold and snowing. Everything seemed surreal. Then we all got in a car and drove to Philadelphia.
Parents on the move created a person bitten by the travel bug. In my adult life, I have lived in Italy for three years, four years in France, and a Fulbright year in England. I have traveled most of Europe and throughout the United States. I have also spent extended time in Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Morocco, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru . . . and got stuck in Moscow for four days once. I love traveling. It is my favorite thing. To be on the move makes me feel peaceful.
Most of my early artwork was done during my travels.
I do not feel pulled by different cultures. I think it has helped that I arrived in the U.S. at the age of nine. Sometimes I tell people that I am the real American. I’m from South America, my father was a Caribbean American and I grew up in North America.
I also feel that I have integrated all my cultures, the Andean, the Caribbean, the European, the American, the traveler and the one who makes herself at home wherever she goes.
I have included one of my paintings called “Carpe Diem” because it expresses the idea that my parents, by the act of immigrating, taught me to seize every opportunity to explore.
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.