October 25, 2016


        This morning I gave a talk about the effect of immigration over the centuries on the English language.  Not surprisingly, since this is really interesting stuff, the audience had all kinds of questions and thoughts on the matter, the room was overflowing, and the question period ran to the end of our allotted time.  Much fun was had by all!  So for today’s blog post I thought I’d do a quick search and see what relief block prints depicting immigrants I could turn up.  I was pleased to find some very cool ones to share.
        First, this view of the Jewish immigrant neighborhood of New York City’s Lower East Side.  The artist, Albert Potter, was an immigrant from Russia, although he grew up in Providence, Rhode Island.  I love the framing of the overpass bridge.  I’d also like to point out that the prices on the pushcarts are backwards - yes, it can happen to anyone making a relief block print!
        The next artist is also an immigrant, a Bahamian who lives part time in the United States.  His piece is darker and more dense, showing immigrants on the move, picking up what they can carry and going.  These people are strong and determined, and those of us who have never been immigrants should imagine ourselves in that situation and appreciate what it takes to pick up and move your whole life.  The people are depicted entirely in thin outlines and sketchy white highlights so that the crowded carving reflects the crowd of people.
        Finally, an image of Mexican immigrants in Milwaukee made by Raoul Deal.  (I don't know whether he's an immigrant, as well.  I couldn't find a full biography.)  Apparently this woodcut is quite large, so I’m sorry I can’t get the full impact of it by seeing it small on my computer screen.  The people in this image are sandwiched between the Mexican and USA flags, representing that feeling of being between.  I can imagine from their postures the love and aspiration they feel toward their new country, and the enveloping beloved identity of their old home.
        The issue of immigration has, of course, been a hot topic recently, with much hysterical rhetoric.  It’s complicated and messy, I know, with lots of concerns that must be addressed and needs that must be balanced.  But I confess that I cannot help but see immigrants as simply people: human beings who just want what all humans want - to have food and shelter, to feel safe, to have meaningful work, and to care for those they love.  These things shouldn’t be too much to ask, and I like how these three wood block prints focus on the humanity of their subjects, something we must never lose sight of no matter how difficult the situation.

[Pictures: Eastside New York, woodcut by Albert Potter, c 1931-5 (Image from Library of Congress);
The Immigrants No. 2, woodcut by Maxwell Taylor, 1996 (Image from invaluable.com);
From the series Ní De Aqui Ni De Allá (From Neither Here Nor There), woodcut by Raoul Deal, c 2013 (Image from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).]

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