Mother of Exiles

(Photos and post by Emily Hartford. Pictured: Collin McConnell, Antonio Minino, Daryl Lathon, Carl Li, Stephanie Willing, Lori E. Parquet.)

Whenever I read or think about our country’s immigration policies— the way we talk about the laws that alter so many families’ lives, the ways we deal with the people who come in search of the American Dream—I can’t help but return to the lines of poetry that gave this event its name. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” As the 19th century drew to a close, Emma Lazarus personified the Statue of Liberty—personified, really, a national identity that recognized the United States as a country built by immigrants. The sentiment in that poem is incredibly specific: “the wretched refuse of your teeming shores” is greeted with a beacon of “world-wide welcome.” At some point in our history, we allowed compassion to be a part of the dialogue on a national scale. Now, as I consider how I can contribute to this Food:Soul, I feel its absence starkly.

The piece I am leading for Food:Soul—BREATHE FREE seeks to examine the presence and absence of compassion in both current and historical dialogue about immigration. With an ensemble of actors, we are using found text: splicing together political speeches, personal stories of migration, and the things people say on TV and the Internet. We are interested in what happens when we place rhetoric next to real lives.

The experience of creating the piece has refocused for me the importance of our participation as artists in conversations like these. Empathy is one of our collective strengths, as is the ability to get at what’s really being said in the heat of complex arguments. There are deep complexities to be considered in our immigration policy, to be sure, but there are also loud voices speaking from fear. There are pervasive arguments that continually place ‘us’ against ‘them,’ as if one person’s success necessitates another’s failure. But what happens if we as artists speak loud enough to be heard? What might happen if compassion returned to the conversation? The actors on my team are bringing such empathy, and thoughtfulness, and intelligence to their collaboration on this piece. The whole of the Food:Soul team has gathered such an exciting roster of voices to lift the conversation. I hope that you’ll join us, too.

(And now, a word from our Mother of Exiles dramaturg.)

Dramaturg (1)

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