Immigration's Role in the Arts

The use of art as a means to enact social change and spur creative problem-solving is nothing new in today’s society, especially in the City of Boston. However, there is one theme that has gained momentum over the past year: immigration. Given the recent political climate and the ever-changing policies regarding immigrants, refugees, and undocumented citizens, it’s no surprise that many of the City’s local artists have taken to what they know best to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns over an issue that affects so many of us.

Mayor Walsh (whose parents were both immigrants) has said it many times—Boston is a city built by immigrants, and he has vowed to ensure that all immigrants in Boston feel safe and accepted. With this goal in mind, he rebranded the Office of New Bostonians to the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, which has served as a resource for immigrants as well as a means of engaging the immigrant community by encouraging their active participation in the city's policies and programs.

In the past year and a half, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement has done so much to recognize the value of immigrants to the City, and give them a voice. Recently, we collaborated with them to bring the national “To Immigrants with Love” campaign to the City of Boston with murals. The Mayor’s Mural crew created two murals in Roslindale and East Boston—neighborhoods known for their large immigrant communities. The first mural, on the wall of the building that houses Atlas Wine & Liquors, features Russian immigrants Louise and Beatrice White who first opened the liquor store as a supermarket. Alongside the couple is Alex Castillo, owner of Digitech Electronic Solutions (which is across the street from the mural) who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a child.

The second mural, located on the building that houses “Dr. Dental” in East Boston, depicts Italian immigrant Carmello Scire, who is responsible for founding a family catering business known today as Sammy Carlo’s Delicatessen and Catering. Next to him is Veronica Robles, a Mexican immigrant who has served as a cultural ambassador, educator, and community activist in the City of Boston, and is the founder of the Veronica Robles Cultural Center. Veronica was very active in the Boston Creates Cultural Planning process. The Mayor’s Mural Crew is also being awarded Love Your Block’s Art Beautification Award on November 16th for all of their hard work on this mural!

Photo of "To Immigrants with Love Mural" in East Boston

A third project by the Mayor’s Mural Crew is in the works right now on the East Boston Greenway under the Maverick Street Bridge. The mural revolves around the theme of immigrant grandmothers, and features relatives of local residents who submitted photos of their grandmothers to Heidi Schork, Director of the Mayor’s Mural Crew. I’m so excited to see the finished product—and see the result of an entire community coming together to recognize those who came from all over the world to make this city great. The project especially resonates with me because I’m the daughter of an immigrant from Panama and the photos remind me of my own abuela Selma.

The Mayor’s Mural Crew isn’t the only way the City of Boston is addressing the theme of immigration in the arts. Several of the City’s Boston AIR artists developed projects during their residency that specifically tackle this theme. One of these artists, John Walsh, painted visual narratives of Boston’s Immigrant Community through graphic novels. One of his subjects was David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library, who is an immigrant from Ireland. Salvador Jimenez-Flores (who was born in Mexico) was another artist-in-residence who used Boston AIR to address the theme of immigration. His project involved teaching over 100 elementary school students in Chinatown the art of printmaking as a way of embracing the historic and present immigrant communities that have shaped Chinatown into the neighborhood it is today.

Photo of John Walsh's graphic novel, "Out of Many, One Boston"

 Boston is a city rich with culture, history, and traditions, and none of that would be possible without immigrants. I’m so glad to see the ways in which we’ve worked toward establishing a cross-cultural exchange of the arts, a goal that we highlighted during the Boston Creates planning process and have strived for ever since. With a new round of Boston AIR and another season of the Mayor’s Mural Crew fast approaching, I am eager to see what else is done to recognize immigrants and their contributions to the City of Boston.  


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