“PORTRAITS OF IMMIGRANTS”

February 01, 2019 at 5:00 am

Meet an artist who set out to change America’s perception of immigration through stories of tolerance.

 Aired on January 31, 2019.

Transcript Print

>> AMERICA, WE ARE A NATION OF
IMMIGRANTS, A MELTING POT OF
CULTURAL EXCHANGES, A PLACE
WHERE IDEAS AND FREEDOM PROSPER.
BUT SINCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL
ELECTION, THERE'S BEEN A
PALPABLE SHIFT IN PUBLIC OPINION
THAT'S GIVEN RISE TO INTOLERANCE
AND XENOPHOBIA ACROSS THE
COUNTRY.
ONE ARTIST IS NOW HOPING TO
CHALLENGE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT
FOREIGNERS AND RESHAPE OUR
PERCEPTION OF WHAT IT TRULY
MEANS TO BE AMERICAN.
AS PART OF OUR ONGOING
INITIATIVE, "CHASING THE DREAM,"
WHICH TACKLES POVERTY AND
OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA, WE
INTRODUCE YOU TO ARTIST BETSY
ASHTON, WHO BRINGS TO US
PORTRAITS OF IMMIGRANTS, A
COLLECTION OF ART INSPIRED BY
OUR NATION.
BETSY, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.
>> MY PLEASURE TO BE HERE,
JENNA.
THANK YOU.
>> SO FIRST OF ALL, WHAT DREW
YOU TO THIS?
BECAUSE WHAT I WAS SO INTRIGUED
BY, AS I SAID IN THE INTRO, IS
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN AMERICAN.
>> WELL, IT'S -- WHAT HAPPENED
WAS, I SPENT THE LAST 11 YEARS
ON MY SECOND CAREER DOING
PORTRAITS OF THE RICH AND
ACCOMPLISHED, AND EARNING MONEY.
IT WAS FUN.
>> I REMEMBER SEEING PORTRAITS
OF THEM.
>> AND I LOVE PUSHING P ING PAI
AROUND, BUT THEN CAME THE
ELECTION.
HERE I LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY,
WHICH HAS THE GREATEST NUMBER OF
FOREIGN BORN PEOPLE THAN ANY ONE
ON THE PLANET.
I'M HEARING THIS STUFF COME OUT
ABOUT RAPISTS AND MURDERERS AND
THESE ARE IMMIGRANTING.
AND I'M SAYING WAIT A MINUTE,
THAT'S NOT ANYTHING LIKE THE
STORY.
BECAUSE I PROBABLY SEE HUNDREDS
OF IMMIGRANTS A DAY.
I LIVE AND WORK AMONG THEM, AND
I INTERACT WITH THEM.
AND THAT'S NOT THE STORY.
THE PEOPLE THAT I SEE ARE
CONTRIBUTING TO SOCIETY.
AND THIS IS JUST -- THIS IS JUST
TRUE.
I LIVE HERE, I SEE THEM, AND IF
THERE'S A LITTLE BIT THAT'S
PROBLEMATIC, YEAH, IT'S KIND OF
LIKE THAT BIT ON MY FINGERNAIL
THAT'S GOING TO GET TAKEN OFF.
BUT THE REST OF ME IS THE STORY.
SO I JUST DECIDED -- I WAS ALSO
SITTING IN CHURCH, I MUST SAY.
>> OH.
>> YOU KNOW THAT BISHOP THAT
GAVE THE ROYAL SERMON OVER THERE
AT THE WEDDING?
I'M SITTING IN CHUMP AND
LEARNING ABOUT GOD IS LOVE, LOVE
THY NEIGHBOR, BE KIND TO
STRANGERS, AND I'M SAYING, I
THINK I'M GOING TO HAVE TO DO
SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.
AND ALSO MY JOURNALISM
BACKGROUND, I WAS TAUGHT TO SEEK
TRUTH, AS MOST JOURNALISTS ARE.
I THINK EVEN STILL TODAY, MOST
ARE.
AND I SAID, YOU KNOW, I'VE GOT
TO DO THE STORY AS I SEE IT, AND
GO OUT.
I'M GOING TO PAINT AND INTERVIEW
THE IMMIGRANTS, BEGINNING WITH
THE PEOPLE I KNOW.
>> SO WHEN YOU'RE DOING THESE
PORTRAITS, I'M WONDERING WHAT IS
IT THAT YOU'RE TRYING TO CAPTURE
TO CONVEY?
BECAUSE ONE OF THE THINGS I'VE
HEARD A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY IS
PART OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT SO
MANY DON'T HAVE THAT KIND OF
INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WHERE THEY
KNOW PEOPLE WHO ARE FOREIGN BORN
IMMIGRANTS IN THE COUNTRY.
SO IT'S A LOT EASIER TO BE
AFRAID OF WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW.
SO WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO
CAPTURE WITH THESE PORTRAITS?
>> I'M DOING PORTRAITS THAT ARE
LIFE-SIZE, AND THAT YOU'RE
LOOKING AT THEM SO THAT PEOPLE
CAN WALK INTO THE GALLERY AND
COMMUNICATE AND SEE THE SPIRIT.
I REALLY GO FOR THE SPIRIT AND
THE CHARACTER AND SOUL OF A
PERSON WHEN I PAINT THEM.
FIRST OF ALL, I DO A BIG
INTERVIEW AND I'LL TALK TO THEM
FOR AS LONG AS IT TAKES TO GET
THE BASIC STORY ABOUT THEM, AND
I'M SKETCHING AT THE SAME TIME.
I DO LIVE PICTURES AND A BIG
PHOTO SHOOT AND I'LL TAKE
HUNDREDS OF PHOTOS AND GO BACK
AND LOOK AT THE GESTURES AND
THINGS THAT SEEM TO BRING OUT
THAT PERSON'S CHARACTER.
AND MY WHOLE POINT OF THIS IS
I'M TRYING TO DO DIFFERENT
PEOPLE FROM COUNTRIES AND
CULTURES.
SOME HAVE BEEN HERE 10, 20
YEARS, SOME HAVE JUST ARRIVED.
SO YOU GET A FEEL OF WHO TODAY'S
IMMIGRANTS REALLY ARE.
THESE ARE THE PEOPLE, THIS IS
WHY THEY CAME HERE, THIS IS WHAT
GETTING HERE WAS LIKE AND THE
SETTLING IF WAS LIKE, WHICH IN
SOME CASES WAS VERY DIFFICULT.
AND WHO THEY ARE, AND WHAT
THEY'RE CONTRIBUTING, WHAT THEIR
STRUGGLES AND THEIR LOVES AND
THEIR BELIEFS, AND I HAVE TO
TELL YOU, THE STORIES THAT I'M
GETTING ARE AS GOOD AS THE ONES
WE CELEBRATE FROM YEARS PAST.
>> SO DO YOU SEE THIS AS MORE OF
A POLITICAL STATEMENT OR MORE
ABOUT THE ARTWORK OF THE
PORTRAITS?
DOES ONE WEIGH MORE THAN THE
OTHER FOR YOU?
>> IT'S KIND OF SMUSHING IT ALL
TOGETHER, BUT IT'S NOT INTENDED
TO BE POLITICAL.
I DIDN'T THINK THAT THE STORY OF
IMMIGRATION IN AMERICA WAS A
TERRIBLY POLITICAL STORY.
I SUPPOSE THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN
CASES WHERE IMMIGRANTS HAVE BEEN
NOT WELCOMED.
THE IRISH DIDN'T USED TO BE
WANTED, AND THE ITALIANS, AND
WHATEVER.
>> YEAH.
>> AND TODAY, I THINK AMERICANS
WHO DON'T LIVE AMONG IMMIGRANTS
AS I DO, WILL BE SURPRISED TO
FIND OUT TO FIND OUT THAT THEY
ARE, IN MANY WAYS, AS AMERICAN
AS THEY ARE.
THAT THEY HAVE THE SAME HOPES,
SOME OF THEM CAME HERE FOR MORE
ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE
THE COUNTRIES CAME HERE DON'T
HAVE IT.
SOME OF THEM REALLY CAME TO HELP
THEIR CHILDREN, AND NOT HAVE
MORE OPPORTUNITY.
SOME ACTUALLY WERE REFUGEES
FLEEING TERRIBLE STRIFE AND
ECONOMIC COLLAPSE IN OTHER
PLACES.
AND SO THEY WILL FIND THAT -- I
THINK TODAY'S IMMIGRANTS ARE THE
SAME AS IMMIGRANTS THAT ALWAYS
BEEN.
>> LISTEN, BETSY, THANK YOU SO
MUCH FOR THE SHOW.
>> THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME TO
BRING IT BEFORE THE PUBLIC.
>> ABSOLUTELY.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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