Portrait of Giovanni Casadei

“I didn’t want to recreate Italy here.”

Giovanni Casadei is a painter and teacher.

13. Giovanni MG_0171

Photo by Jennifer Baker

My father was a barber, my grandfather was a barber. My mother was a homemaker. She waited on the balcony each evening for my father to come home with money for the next day’s food. That was the way it was. My mother and father wanted me to be able to get a job so I studied chemistry in a technical high school.

Every Sunday Uncle Roberto, my father’s older brother, would take me to museums. He was a sheet metal worker. I saw all the museums in Rome because of his dedication. At the Galleria Borghese there was a huge Caravaggio, it came all the way down to the floor. I was little and I could look at it at my level. I remember seeing Velazquez’s painting of the Pope. We went to all the small private galleries. I would copy paintings from books. At fourteen, I bought oil colors and painted at the kitchen table from photos and postcards of paintings. My first painting was from a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge with a tugboat. I spent a lot of time drawing pen-and-ink fantasy drawings, instead of playing soccer.

After I graduated there were no jobs, so I did house painting. The only way to find a job was if you knew someone. When I was twenty, I had a girlfriend who was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, and I found a free class to paint and draw from the model. Schools were free—all you had to do was get in.

My first contact with an art teacher was at Scuola Libera del Nudo. Alfonso Avanessian was my teacher for five years. He told me to apply to Academy of Fine Arts. I had a tech degree, not liceo artistico which meant that I had to take a state exam to qualify. There were five days of exams and I had to produce a portfolio. I got in but only went for one year. In the first year, we only painted once a week. To fulfill the curriculum we also studied etching, cast making, and anatomy. The Academy had a conservative mentality and I was impatient—I just wanted to paint. I went back to la Scuola Libera del Nudo and back to my teacher, Alfonso, who was very open.

While I was at the Academy, I met Nancy, who eventually became my wife. She was studying at Tyler in Rome, which was just behind the Academy. My father was diagnosed with cancer in 1982 and died in 1983. Just after he died I was sitting in a park with a friend and I just didn’t know what to do. Nancy wanted to go to the U.S. My friend said “there’s nothing for you here, you should go.” I had to get a fiancé visa, which would last for three months. It took six months to get the visa. I had an interview, a medical exam; it was a long process. I didn’t see a future in Italy, which was struggling financially. The political landscape was bad. Italy was living on American popular culture. My mother knew all American actors, watched American movies on TV. We got a TV in 1968 and fridge too. The U.S. reputation was to be free, to do what you want. I was fascinated.

I came to the U.S. on December 1, 1983. I was twenty-seven. I got married after three months. I only knew a few words of English. I worked for Tom Judd as a house painter. I had to go to school to learn English. I went to the Nationalities Service Center. There were good teachers there. The director knew how to say good morning in every language. I got my green card after getting married.

I would go to Italy every year, as long as my mother was alive. I still have friends in Rome, I am closer to them than to my cousins. With my cousins, our way of thinking became so different that we don’t relate very well.

I took night classes at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). I studied with Murray Dessner, Seymour Remenick, and also studied at Fleisher. There was a network of people helping each other within the artist community. Things didn’t work out with Nancy and eventually we got divorced. I started full time at PAFA in 1988 and worked as house painter in the evenings and summer. Then I got scholarships and I could work all day and night at PAFA.

I don’t remember the day I left Italy, but I remember my arrival. I landed late in the afternoon in New York and Nancy came to pick me up in a car. I was so surprised to see the huge highway, I-95, New York to Philadelphia—in Italy a highway has two lanes—and to see so many women driving cars! Not many women drove in Italy. Women stayed home, took care of family. We crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge at night. It was quiet with no traffic. Quiet, no traffic, tiny streets, so quiet and we could see the whole city. Nancy had an apartment at 9th and Spruce. It seemed like a little fairy tale town. Row houses in the city seemed strange. Rome is all big apartment buildings, dense traffic, smog.

I wasn’t sure if my move was permanent. I didn’t know how Nancy and I would work things out. In this country, there is mobility of people who work. In Italy a job is for life. I’d never heard of part-time jobs. After graduating from high school, I took a test for a low hospital job and after hearing nothing for three years, I got a job offer. My mother couldn’t believe I turned it down. My parents and sister were furious that I turned it down. When you get job it is for life. If you work for the government, no one will ever fire you. Job security was valuable—but for me it was a death sentence.

When I lived with my mother she cooked, barely allowed me to make coffee. Here I learned to cook, it was a connection to my country. I would call my mother and ask her how to make a dish I wanted to cook. I never felt I belonged only to Italy or to the U.S. I do not make that distinction. I am myself and I like where I live. I never felt out of place. I have an accent and my English is a bit sketchy. My understanding was not great for a long time. I knew I had to make adjustments and learn more English but I never felt out of place.

Nancy’s family were Main Line WASPs. They weren’t happy. We had a protestant wedding. It went completely over my head. I smiled and didn’t understand anything. She translated what was going on for me.

I knew I had to learn to speak English. I couldn’t care how I sounded or I would never learn. No matter how many times I failed I just had to keep trying. I had a constant headache for two years, trying to figure out what people were saying. I turned down a job for an Italian house painting company. I didn’t want to recreate Italy here.

Italian translation (excerpt) by Giovanni Casadei


Giovanni Casadei

Mentre studiavo all’ Accademia di Belle Arti a Roma, Ho incontrato Nancy che poi divenne mia moglie. Nancy a quel tempo studiava a Tyler School of Art a Roma. Mio padre nel 1982 ha scoperto di essere malato di tumore e muore nei 1983. Dopo qualche giorno la morte di mio padre, stavo seduto in un parco con il mio amico, ero perduto emotivamente e non sapevo cosa fare nella mia vita. Nancy voleva che andassi negli Stati Uniti con lei, ero molto indeciso. Il moi amico mi disse, ” Non c’e’ niente per te qui in Italia, devi andare”.

Non mi ricordo la mia partenza dall’Italia, ma mi ricordo l’arrivo negli Stati Uniti. Ho atterrato a New York JFK aeroporto, Nancy venne a prendermi con la sua automobile. Sono stato cosi sorpreso dall’autostrada I95 da New York a Filadelfia, autostrade con molte gareggiate mentre in Italia ero abituato ad autostrade solo a due gareggiate, e vedere molte donne dietro al volante. Nel 1983 non erano molte donne che guidavano in Italia. Le donne Italiane stavano a casa ad accudire la famiglia. Attraversammo il Ben Franklin Bridge a sera inoltrata. Filadelfia era quieta, silenziosa, non c’era traffico, strade a senso unico, potevamo vedere tutta la città dal ponte che stavamo attraversando. Nancy abitava in un appartamento sulla Nona strada e Spruce. Filadelfia mi e’ apparsa come un paesino da favola.

Non ero sicuro se la mia visita era permanente. Non ero sicuro se Nancy ed io potevamo ristabilire la nostra relazione che avevamo in Italia. La famiglia di Nancy erano dalla “Main Line WASPs”. Non erano molto felici della nostra unione. Abbiamo avuto un matrimonio Protestante. Mi sentivo cosi perso al mio matrimonio ( perché non parlavo inglese bene e non potevo capire). Sorridevo e non capivo quasi niente. Nancy era la mia traduttrice personale.

Per due anni ho avuto un mal di testa costante, per capire cosa mi dice la gente in questa lingua straniera. Ho rifiutata di lavorare per una compagnia di imbianchini italiana. Non volevo ricreare l’Italia qui in America.

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.

Portrait of Martin Gallagher

“My mother wants me to go back, but I won’t, but I don’t tell her that.”

Martin Gallagher is the owner of Northeast Stucco Inc.

26. IMG_0391Martin Gallagher

Photo by Jennifer Baker

I came to this country in 1994 when I was 20 years old. I am the oldest child and only son, from a small farm in the hills of Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

My father was a contractor, farming was his side job. We raised pigs and other animals and could sell an animal if we needed pocket money. We did all our own maintenance on our farm, and my grandfather lived with us too. He taught me to do a lot. My mom was psychiatric nurse in a hospital in Omagh.

I got involved in the troubles and a bunch of my friends were shot. The violence came too close. A lot of sons were getting killed. People respected families who lost their sons defending their country, and still do. Where I lived was a war zone. The front lines moved—it was a guerrilla war. I saw friends get killed. In my town, Sixmilecross, the population was 50/50. People tolerated each other, at least until they were behind closed doors.

I went to Belfast to go to college. There was an incident in a bookshop and the Loyalists killed everyone. After that my mom made me come home. Normal life wasn’t normal, but it was what I grew up with. There would be a bomb attack and it wouldn’t even be on the news, it was so common. I lived a few miles from Omagh where there was a bomb that killed 28 people. The troubles started the year I was born. We thought we were bullet proof. All that hatred is not healthy. The police and the army were dangerous. Here the police are not going to kill us.

I had an opportunity to play football (Gaelic football) semi-pro with Kevin Barry GFC in the US for the summer of 1994. Things got worse at home and my mother thought it might be better for me to stay. A bunch of the team stayed, about twenty percent. I managed to get cash jobs and kept under the radar. Then I met a girl and that was it. We got married and had kids. Getting married enabled me to stay. It was ten years before I went back. During that time, we talked on the phone and we could Skype, but there wasn’t always coverage, and still isn’t sometimes. I have four kids 18, 14, 10, and 2. My first wife was born here; her family was all here so they helped out. My second wife is from Dublin so neither of us has family here, which makes it harder. I went to Strayer University and studied computer management and computer science. I was a student athlete so it was easier.

I started to work for myself, small jobs, and then started getting more jobs and hired more people. The guys I work with are all from Tyrone. I knew some of them back home. We stick to our own.

My first impression was the heat and the vastness of this country. It is so flat. I lived in the mountains at home. You don’t understand how pretty it is until you leave. There is a lack of stress back home. Here life is motivated by the need to get ahead and make money. In Ireland you can step back and look at a problem, if it doesn’t get done today it will get done tomorrow. Time is money here. Back home, if you go to someone’s house you have to eat, have tea. If you refuse that would be rude.

I don’t get to go fishing as much here. There was a river behind our house, and I miss that. Was it worth it? I kept out of jail and stayed alive, but I miss home. My mother wants me to go back, but I won’t, but I don’t tell her that.

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.

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Bashkim Kokona

“The conditions were very harsh for health and well being. It was not a good place to work.”

Bashkim Kokona, from Albania, is a research associate at Haverford College.

22. Kokona DSC02419-2I am one of six brothers. When the Berlin wall fell, there was a tectonic shift in Albania, not as drastic as in East Germany but it had a huge effect on the country. I finished my degree in geology and worked in a chromium mine in northern Albania. The conditions were very harsh for health and well being. It was not a good place to work.

I left Albania in 1990 for one year and went to Greece and worked as a waiter. It was good money for the time being. Then I went back to Albania with the idea to invest in a business with my brothers. One brother is a carpenter, and we built a shop and apartments above it. In 1992 I wanted to go back to Greece. Some of my soccer friends worked in the German Embassy charged with the security of the embassy. I asked them for help with the visa application. I went to the German embassy and asked for help to get a visa. Instead I was offered a translator job in the visa section because I spoke German. I worked there for five years.

In 1996 I got engaged. My fiancée’s family had emigrated to the US via visa lottery system. My fiancé and her sister were both over 21, so they could not go along with their parents to the US. Her sister, who is in a wheel chair, got a medical visa. My fiancée and I and got a visitor’s visa, planning to go along with her sister and visit her parents for two weeks.

While we were visiting in the US, the Albanian economy collapsed and the country fell into chaos. My co-workers at the embassy were being air lifted out by German bundeswehr. We decided not to go home. I went from a visitor’s visa to a student visa. I had always wanted to be a doctor. It had not been my decision to study geology. Only one in three persons in a family was allowed to go to university. I had two older brothers who already went to university, so our quota was filled. There was an opening to study geology so I took it.

In the US, I went back to school and studied biology at Drexel University, and graduated in 2002. Biology was closest to my interest in medicine. The stress of living with my fiancée’s family added to disagreements so I parted ways with my fiancée. In 2000, I was at a tennis tournament in Upper Darby, where I met my wife Helen. We met playing tennis and lived together for a year, then got married in 2002.

On Sunday mornings, we like to drink coffee and read the Inquirer. I saw an ad for a job at Haverford College in a structural biology lab. In 2003 I became research assistant there. I love my job doing research and working with students. I got my masters degree in chemistry at Bryn Mawr in 2008, while still working full time at Haverford.

My brother who is a carpenter and his family moved here in 2008. His daughter just graduated from Drexel and wants to go to medical school and his son is studying business at Temple University. Another brother works in Belgium, in Brussels, for Eurocontrol. I have three other brothers still in Albania. One is an attorney, one works at the airport, and the other can’t work.

Am I pulled by different cultures? This is the dilemma. I am not an introvert, I dive right into society. Here life is more work oriented. Friends are from work or business. Family time is not as important. There, family and friends spend a lot of time together and nothing is planned, life is more casual. That part of life is much more easy going. But the difficulty is with the economy.

When my mother passed, we all went back. I stayed for ten days, and tried to give a hand. I saw the family pulling it together in such hard times, and l saw the passion. Family is the center of people’s lives. Being there reconnected me again to something that over time had lost. We get lost here with work, and as a result forget what is most important. I try to strike a balance between work, family and friends.

This country is great for people from all over. People in this community come together on Sunday mornings to play soccer. There is not as much segregation between communities, that is something rare here.

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.

Portrait of Sarah

“I am 21, and I have not felt safe for my whole life.” Some details of Sarah’s story have been changed to protect her identity.

18. IMS IMG_0333

Photo by Jennifer Baker

I am 21, and I have not felt safe for my whole life.

Saddam Hussein targeted my family—we are Shia. His army came to our house and broke in, my father was arrested three times and tortured in prison. We couldn’t say publicly that it was Saddam Hussein who did that, and my mother would say to us, me and my sisters and brothers, that he was a good leader, in order to protect us from him. In 2003 there was war. I always say I have mixed feelings about the war: the US saved us from Hussein, but it was war and it was terrible, but we made it through alive.

I was nine years old at that war. In 2006 I was kidnapped. After I was returned, my father decided we should leave the country, and we went to Syria. We lived there for three years as refugees. Things were getting worse in Syria also, it was the beginning of the war there, my family was poor, and we had no choice but to return to Iraq, which was nothing but bombs, kidnapping, and violence everywhere.

I wanted to educate myself more about my religion, and began reading the Quraan. I started to read about other religions as well. I felt that I was in an Iraqi Muslim bubble; I really wanted to see the world outside that bubble. I wanted to learn more about other people, so I started to teach myself English by watching movies. I wanted to be able to use the internet to talk to other people. We had internet in 2011. I watched movies and try to speak with people of other faiths. I realize we all have things in common. I remember my teacher says Jewish people are evil and Christians do not follow the right way but I read in Quraan to respect Jews and Christians. I ask my father, I said you have a Christian friend and he is kind. My father said, “Do you believe teacher or Quraan?”

At fifteen I started reading everything I could to better understand the world—not considered a good thing for girls to do. My father did his best to get books I wanted to read. I started to talk to friends saying that we should give minorities in Iraq their rights. I received many bad comments but I kept going. I made an effort to understand the hostility between Sunnis and Shiiaes. I went to the University of Bagdad. My immediate family was happy for me, my extended family was not happy with what I was doing. Because of my activism, I was selected by the US Embassy for a summer program to study in the US. Five students from Iraq were chosen, twenty students altogether from the Middle East. We studied religion, American democracy and American history at an American university.

It was my first time visiting other places of worship. We visited churches, synagogues, a Buddhist temple. I posted photos of different places of worship online trying to tell my friends, “Look, I worshiped in other places, we are all the same. I have the same feeling as in mosque.” A militia group in Iraq—so prejudiced—think only Shia will go to heaven so I was against them from the beginning. They saw my posts and knew I talked to others and would continue to do so. They told my father your daughter is a spy for the US and she is not a good Muslim. She is dangerous and should be killed, and so I couldn’t go home. If she comes home we will kill her, she should stay with kuffar (Arabic insult for nonbelievers). My father, in order to save his life and the rest of my family, said he did not support me and I was wrong.

Because I believe that all these problems are because of prejudice, I believe we should have a secular government. They try to stop me but I will not stop. I think religion is personal. We don’t have to be the same, but we do have to find a way to live together. I was freaking out, so worried about my family and worried about myself in a new country alone. My friend Jacob said don’t worry I will help you. His parents found a lawyer for me who took my case for free. His parents got me a cell phone and gave me money and found me a family to live with. I have lived with them for six months and they treat me as one of them.

The asylum process is very long. I have a lawyer, wrote my story, had fingerprints taken, and I will have to go before a judge who will decide. I can’t work, and I want to go to school but I can’t get financial aid and I do not have money. My family is trying to get out of Iraq to go to India. Jordan is not taking refugees any more, and neither is Turkey. It is not easy to get a visa: to come here it takes at least five years. I could apply for my family if I had a green card. If my asylum is approved, and there is no way to know how long before I get a hearing, it is then one more year to get a green card. Then I can apply for my parents and siblings under eighteen. The two older ones couldn’t qualify.

How can I describe being here? I am happy to have freedom that I didn’t have in Iraq. I can go to where I want, to places of worship. I can meet people from other places; it is very diverse. Another part of me is really sad. I can’t go home again. I put my family in danger. I know that I didn’t do anything wrong, but people don’t understand. I go to the social service agency to try to help refugees. The US Embassy program has two groups per year. I was an intern for the group that came after me. I don’t have to sit alone in secret when I want to read. I go to interfaith groups to try to create more dialog to understand each other. I am trying to get into school. I visited Community College but it costs $1300. per class. I want to study architecture. Baghdad has been destroyed by bombs and war. I want to help rebuild. And someday I want to build a place of worship where people can worship together no matter what religion they are.

When I call my family, I miss them so much. I don’t show them, but then I cry and cry. I miss my traditions—sitting on the ground to eat, not in a chair. I miss going to my grandparents’ house every week. People don’t do that here. Families live far apart. My extended family thinks I am terrible. I pray for the day when they can accept me. I also pray for the day when Iraqis wake up to the sounds of birds, not bombs. In Iraq our lives are so cheap. Three hundred people die every day from bombs. In the US my life is more important. I had a tough life and I don’t want others to go through what I have, so I want to work for peace.


Arabic translation (excerpt) by Sarah

ساره

العراق

في عمر ال١٥ بدأت بقراءه الكتب لأفهم العالم بشكل افضل – لكن المشكله تكمن فيان مجتمعي لا يحث الإناث ع القراءه كي لا يثرن ع واقهن. والدي كان مختلف فلقدبذل أقصى جهده ليحصل على الكتب التي كنت اريدها. مع القراءه بدأت مفاهيميتختلف فبدأت أكلم الناس من حوالي ع افكاري الجديده و من بينها كانت دعمالأقليات الدينيه في العراق و أعطاءهم حقوقهم. و بالطبع تلقيت تعليقات سيئه لكنياستمريت.

بسبب نشاطاتي في الجامعه اختارتني السفاره الامريكيه الدراسه في أمريكا فيالصيف. درسنا عن الدين، الديمقراطيه و التاريخ الامريكي. زرنا أماكن تعبد مختلفه ولقد كانت مرتي الاولى لزيارة كنيسه و كنيس و معابد بوذيه. لقد كنت متشوقه لمشاركهتجربتي هذه مع الأصدقاء فقمت بنشر صور ع الفيس بوك و قلت انني شعرت بنفسالشعور عندما أكون في الجامع

لكن هذا الكلام للأسف لم يعجب الكثير من الناس فلقد قامت ميليشيا في العراقبتهديدي و قالوا لابي انهم قد اكتفو من افكاري و ترهاتي و اتهموني بأنني جاسوسهاعمل لصالح الحكومه الامريكيه. قالوا لابي أيضاً بأنني مسلمه غير صالحه و خطرعلى المجتمع و انه من الأفضل قتلي. لذلك لم استطع العودة الى بلدي.

يحاولون إيقافي لكني لن أتوقف عن الدفاع عن حقوقي و حقوق الاخريين. الدين هومجرد مسأله شخصيه. ليس من المفروض ان نكون نسخ تؤمن بنفس الدين لكن يجبعَلِينا ان نتعلم كيفيه العيش معاً رغم اختلافنا.

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 in June 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.

Portrait of Amalfi Ramirez Finnerty

“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.

19. City Hall_Carpe Diem AlmafiMy mother named me Amalfi. My father’s family name was Ramirez and my husband’s family, Irish immigrants, name is Finnerty.

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.

Spanish translation by Amalfi Ramirez Finnerty


“Lloré todos los días durante todo un año después de llegar a los Estados Unidos. Sabía que nunca regresaríamos”.

Amalfi Ramirez Finnerty es un artista.

Mi madre me llamó Amalfi. El apellido de mi padre era Ramirez y la familia de mi marido, inmigrantes Irlandeses, es Finnerty.

El arte es mi vida. Yo pinto y enseño.

La aventura fue un gran motivador con la decisión de mis padres de abandonar Sudamérica.

Tenía nueve años cuando ellos y mis dos hermanos salimos de Caracas, Venezuela. Lloré todos los días durante todo un año después de llegar a los Estados Unidos. Sabía que nunca volveríamos.

El viaje fue natural para mi madre Andina y mi padre Caribeño. Cuando era adolescente, mi madre dejó los Andes y se mudó a la ciudad. Mi padre siempre había estado en movimiento. Se fue de la República Dominicana, viajó a Aruba y luego a Venezuela. En ese momento, también visitaba a su amigo de la infancia que vivía en “América”. Por lo tanto, parecía una progresión natural cuando regresó de uno de los viajes a los Estados Unidos. Y nos informó que todos nos hibamos a mudar a Filadelfia.

Caracas estaba fría y crujiente la mañana que nos fuimos. Mi abuela había viajado catorce horas desde los Andes a Caracas para despedirse el día antes de que nos fuéramos. Incluso después del largo viaje, ella se dispuso a hacernos una última cena. Ella había traído con ella en el autobús una olla de Pisca Andina, una sopa más parecida a un guiso hecho de pollo, papas, zanahorias y huevos. Comimos algo y la vimos preparar Pabellón criollo, el típico plato venezolano lleno de colores y sabores: carne de res desmenuzada, arroz blanco, frijoles negros acompañados de rodajas de plátano dulce. Mi abuela nos dejó saber que estaba preparando Pabellón Andino, la versión andina que sustituye los plátanos dulces por plátanos fritos crujientes llamados tostones. Y a la mañana siguiente se levantó antes que cualquiera de nosotros para preparar Arepas con Perico: panes planos de harina de maíz rellenos con huevos revueltos, cebollas, tomates y pimientos. Con nuestros estómagos llenos y sus regalos del rosario en la mano, fuimos al aeropuerto. Recuerdo tener el asiento junto a la ventana en el avión de Pan Am y ver a mi abuela parada en la pista de aterrizaje diciendo adiós con la mano.

Fue la última vez que la vi.

Llegamos a Nueva York. Era febrero. Los amigos de mi padre estaban esperando. Corrieron hacia nosotros con brazos llenos de telas de diversas texturas, lana, pelo, tweed. Dijeron que teníamos que poner esto porque hacía frío y nevaba. Todo parecía surrealista. Luego todos nos metimos en un automóvil y nos fuimos a Filadelfia.

Padres en movimiento crearon una persona amante al viaje. En mi vida adulta, he vivido en Italia durante tres años, cuatro años en Francia y un año Fulbright en Inglaterra. He viajado la mayor parte de Europa y de todos los Estados Unidos. También he pasado más tiempo en Egipto, Sudán, Kenia, Marruecos, México, Ecuador y Perú. . . y una vez quede atrapada en Moscú durante cuatro días. Amo viajar. Es mi cosa favorita, estar en movimiento me hace sentir en paz.

La mayoría de mis primeras obras de arte se realizaron durante mis viajes.

No siento conflicto con mis diferentes culturas. Creo que me ha ayudado que llegue a los Estados Unidos a la edad de nueve años. A veces le digo a la gente que soy la verdadera Americana. Soy de América del Sur, mi padre era caribeño y crecí en América del Norte.
También siento que he integrado todas mis culturas, la andina, la caribeña, la europea, la estadounidense, la viajera y la que se siente en casa adonde quiera que vaya.

He incluido una de mis pinturas llamada “Carpe Diem” porque expresa la idea de que mis padres, por el hecho de emigrar, me enseñaron a aprovechar todas las oportunidades y explorar.

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.

Portrait of Pablo Meninato

“There is a permanent feeling of longing, of missing places, smells, food, family, and childhood friends.”

Pablo Meninato is an architect.

Pablo Meninato's passport photo.

Pablo Meninato’s passport photo.

I immigrated twice to the US: I first came as a student (after four years I went back to Argentina), and after ten years I returned with my family. In regards to our second departure, I remember we had a gathering with friends and family at our home. I don’t recall any particular food we had that night. We just wanted to spend time together with people we love, talk a little bit about the oncoming challenge of moving to a new country (an experience that could be particularly hard for the kids), though we also chatted casually about diverse and mundane topics.

We flew from Buenos Aires to JFK airport in New York, from where we rented a van to Philadelphia. We were not certain if the move was going to be permanent; though we thought that was a possibility. I definitively feel pulled between two cultures and two languages. Seems to me, once eradicated from your place, you never feel again completely “at home.” In my case, since I left the first time, I have never felt completely at home either in the US or in Argentina.

Sometimes I think I’ve become a sort of “amphibious,” since I can survive in different environments, though I never feel fully adjusted. Moving, like most experiences, has its positive and negative aspects, no doubt it is wonderful to get to know so well a different culture, make new friends and engage in a new language; though by the same token, there is a permanent feeling of longing, of missing places, smells, food, family, and childhood friends.

Spanish translation by Pablo Meninato


Pablo Meninato, Arquitecto

En dos ocasiones emigré a los Estados Unidos. La primera vez vine como estudiante, pero luego de cuatro años retorné a la Argentina. Luego de establecerme diez años en Buenos Aires, regresé a Filadelfia esta vez con mi recientemente creada familia: mi mujer Silvana, y mis pequeños hijos Paula y Lorenzo. En ocasión de la segunda despedida, tengo vivamente presente la reunión con nuestros familiares y amigos en nuestra casa en Buenos Aires. De esa noche no recuerdo alguna comida en particular, tan solo el querer disfrutar los últimos momentos con la gente que queremos, hablar del desafío de mudarse a otro país, y especular sobre cómo nuestros hijos confrontarían la inédita experiencia. También conversamos sobre cuestiones mundanas, como ser libros, películas o fútbol. Desde Buenos Aires volamos al aeropuerto JFK en NYC, donde alquilamos una camioneta para ir a Filadelfia. En ese momento, con Silvana no sabíamos si la movida era permanente, pero teníamos claro que era una posibilidad. Definitivamente me siento tironeado por dos culturas y dos idiomas. Me parece que, una vez erradicado de un lugar, uno no termina de sentirse completamente “en casa” en ningún otro sitio. En mi caso, desde que me fui de Argentina la primera vez, nunca me sentí completamente en mi lugar ni en los Estados Unidos, ni en la Argentina. A veces pienso que me he convertido en una suerte de ‘anfibio,’ ya que puedo sobrevivir en diversos ambientes, pero nunca me hallo totalmente adaptado a un sitio. Mudarse, como la mayoría de las experiencias, tiene su aspecto positivo y negativo, sin duda es magnífico poder conocer tan bien una cultura diferente, hacer nuevos amigos, y aprender un nuevo idioma. Pero al mismo tiempo, hay una persistente sensación de ‘falta,’ de extrañar ciertos lugares, aromas, comidas, familiares, y amigos de la infancia.

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.

Portrait of Laura Marconi

“After living abroad it was hard to go back to the ‘old’ Italian ways.”

Laura Marconi is a painter.10. IMG_0163

I was born in Rome. I always loved art. Giovanni Casadei lived in the same building and we often drew and painted together. I wanted to go to art school, but my father had a stroke so my family decided that it was best for me to choose a different kind of high school. So instead of the five-year Liceo Artistico I had hoped for, I studied to be a travel agent. Then my brother suddenly passed away. Everyone was dying or getting sick, my father couldn’t speak anymore. It was not a good place for a teenager.

I always felt different. I didn’t want to follow the usual pattern, I believed that it was not my destiny. I left everything and came to the US, alone, in 1980. I wanted to test myself in a new country, new culture, new language. I arrived in New Haven in December, I had a friend of a friend there. I had studied English and French, but American English was so different. In New Haven, I went to an ESL school for several months, then I moved to New York City. After staying in the US for nine months I went back to Rome to work.

I came to the US to see if I could handle it; it was a right of passage for me. After living abroad it was hard to go back to the “old” Italian ways; I couldn’t stay there. So I left my apartment in Rome, my boyfriend, my cat, my family, my friends, and I went to San Francisco where I started taking classes at UC Berkley Extension and then at California College of Art and Craft.

Giovanni was in Philadelphia. He introduced me to his friend, a musician. We got married and had a son; we are divorced now. We lived in Wayne, and in Center City. When my son started school I applied to PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts). Finally, after all those years, I was able to go to an art school! I graduated in 2001. The Academy traditional method of teaching reminded me of Italy: the building, the sculptures in the cast hall were familiar to me. It was a way to connect to my background. It took me almost 40 years to do what I really wanted to do. I’ve done things here that I would not have been able to do in Italy.

When I first moved to this country, I was looking in from outside. It took a long time for me to change that. Not being born in US, my roots were not here; I felt subtly uncomfortable, a little apart or different. At some point I realized that I was not missing anything but instead I was fortunate to have two different points of views. I’m both Italian and an American citizen. I know now that I could be anywhere in the world and be fine.

When I go back to Italy people relate to me in the same way they did before I left, as if I were still in my twenties. Especially the older generations relate to me this way. They are living their normal lives, nothing much has changed for them—Italians are into traditions. When they come here they don’t adapt. But when I go there, I have to adapt. It is a one-way street.

To go to a new place, there’s a thin line between fear and excitement. Everything is different from country to country. It was exciting when I left, but I cried every day at first. I was looking for adventures, but it was scary too.

I remember when I was little looking at atlases. My father had been in the navy and told me about all the different places he visited. I was always intrigued. My choice to emigrate gave me strength, courage, hope for a better future. Most important it has been a way to get to know myself, and my limitations. There is a high price to pay though. Missing every day events with my family and friends. Big and smaller events, going out for a pizza, looking at a sunset in Rome over the Tiber, the wonderful monuments and squares, the smells, the colors . . .

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.

Portrait of David De La Mora

“When that place is missing, the heart and mind suffers a conflict.”

David De La Mora is an orchestra conductor, professional musician (viola), and professor.

La Mora 5

I left because in my country the “music and show world” is very controlled; a small group of people control orchestras, theaters, recordings, music contracts, concert halls, budgets, everything, and don’t allow anyone to take part if they feel that you could be a “threat.” It cost a lot of time, patience, and human health to find something, to create, to keep trying or change something, and if you do your first steps in some way not under their control, even like that you will have to avoid many difficulties from the Cuban cultural system. In other words, I left because I wanted to create a great career and they won’t ever let me do it or be able to fight for it.

I know that my move is not permanent: I’m looking to develop a professional career and I’m trying in this new place and with a new system—lets see how it goes. The world is always changing and we never know where is the “Triumph” that’s waiting for you. That is why we have to look everywhere, and surely never forget that Home is always Home.

For someone who indeed loved and very deeply his place, his world, family and friends—when all that is missing, the soul, heart, and mind suffers a conflict. Many emotions come to you and surely in the most intimate times of your life, which in my case are the moments when I play my instrument or conduct an orchestra. A musician feels so much underneath the skin when they play music, and all those feelings turn more dramatic with his performance. Being a musician is all I am, and in order to be my greatest I had to look outside of my country—where I cannot find the way to work and develop my self as I would like to

David de la Mora
Maestro Orchestra Conductor
Viola Master Performance, 
Violin and Viola Major Professor, 
Piano Professor
National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba
 Guest Conductor
National Ballet of Cuba,
Guest Conductor
Georgian Court University, NJ
, Music Adjunct Professor

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.

Portrait of Patrick Crofton

Patrick Crofton is a semi-retired make-up artist, and a painter of portraits and cityscapes.

Patrick hanging some of his paintings in an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Patrick hanging some of his paintings in an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

In 1981 I was living in Cape Town, South Africa, where I had grown up. A friend invited me to visit him in New York, and while there I met and fell in love with a man who turned out to be my life partner—we were recently married after spending more than thirty-three years together. I had to return to Cape Town after a couple of months of our being together to begin the immigration process, and also to see whether the new relationship would survive being separated. After about nine months I was able to return, and we’ve been together ever since. Leaving there was a bit of a wrench, as I was very close to my mother who was my only living parent at that point. I have a sister as well, and at least she and her own growing family were able to provide some distraction for our mother.

Professionally it was a bit of a gamble as I was fairly successful in South Africa in my career, admittedly though a big fish in a small pond! Fortunately things turned out fine and I’ve done very well.

Initially adjustments had to be made by both of us, but I’m very glad I stuck it out. I do miss some friends I had in South Africa very much, and am still in touch with a few . . . the new technology has made it very easy.

I was given a number of send-off parties by friends, who possibly thought that I’d be back soon. At that point though, many people were exploring their options for leaving South Africa, as the future there seemed (and indeed still does seem) uncertain. I don’t really remember a sense of finality on the day I left, just mostly being excited at reconnecting with my lover and being quite optimistic about the future. I flew into JFK, returning about nine months after we had met. I had already made some professional connections, which gave me a reason to hope for a bright future in the States. I think I expected it to work out from day one. Obviously there were times I was homesick but periodic visits from my mother and friends, and trips back to South Africa, did much to help, as well as the fact that every time I went back I realized how increasingly insecure and precarious life had become there.

I assimilated fairly quickly into the rhythms of life in New York, which seems to be largely made up of immigrants anyway! I have always tried to remain myself though, and am very conscious of my heritage of Anglo-Irish/Dutch ancestors. I would never go back to live in South Africa now, though, as I couldn’t live with that kind of uncertainty. I’m very happy here, and we’ve made a good life for ourselves in Philadelphia, where we both moved in order to study painting. For a while I missed New York far more than I ever missed Cape Town, but we simply can’t afford to live there any more and my partner/husband has developed such an aversion to New York City crowds that we seldom venture there for longer than it takes to see a show!

I can’t really say that emigrating to this country has affected my work, as I only really developed my painting after I came to Philadelphia, years after my move.

There I was a graphic designer who switched to being a make-up artist, which I continued until we decided to move to Philly to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. My painting is principally portraits and cityscapes. I recently made some woodcut prints, though, for my grand-niece in Cape Town for her wildlife conservation cause.

My work in general was one of the main reasons I came to this country (apart from falling in love); although successful there, I was part of an industry with limited opportunities and a growing number of competitors fighting over a small amount of jobs.

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.

Portrait of Isora Bosch

“I understood early in my exile that I only had two choices: feeling like a victim or adapting to new cultures and playing the lead role in my story as a Cuban refugee.”

Dr. Isora Bosch is an organizational and clinical consultant, life coach, and therapist.

IsoraMy journey started at age fourteen when my parents and I left Cuba after the revolution in 1962. We arrived in Miami as refugees. Although my father had been a banker and my mother an educator, we arrived with nothing and had to start from scratch.

I will never forget the Pan Am flight that took us from Havana to Miami. The first time we tried to board the airplane, government officials told us that we could not fly on that day; no reasons were given for this decision. The day after, we returned to the airport; I was anxious thinking that it could happen again. When we landed in Miami I was in a state of psychological disorganization, feeling uncertain about my new surroundings and about the future. One thing I will always remember is that, even during the most difficult times, my parents always stressed the importance of education.

After leaving Miami I lived in Puerto Rico, Spain, and New York. Later on I moved to New Jersey where I have resided for many years. I understood early in my exile that I only had two choices: feeling like a victim or adapting to new cultures and playing the lead role in my story as a Cuban refugee.

I cannot remember any farewell supper. What I remember is that in 1962 food was already rationed in Cuba. I do not remember a family gathering; it was very painful for us and for the relatives who stayed in Cuba.

I currently consider myself a citizen of the world and try to adapt to any culture or any person I interact with. Living in this country has enriched my life and has offered me the opportunity to meet wonderful people from all walks of life. I have embraced a new country while maintaining the connection with my own ethnic heritage; today my exile is one of the things I am grateful for in life.

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.