Migration Stories

Antoinette Ellis-Williams
Antoinette Ellis-Williams

I would be lost forever in the sea of Uncle Sam’s, dawgs, grits, and snow! I wanted my parents to take me back home so I could stop pretending that this was all right. But I just kept hearing my parents’ words over in my head, “We came to America to get better for you.” Better? What is better mean? I swore to the white judge that day I would be true—true to be me. Joke is on them I laughed to myself—I swore to be true to myself, with my fingers crossed behind my back.

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Antoinette Ellis-Williams
Antoinette Ellis-Williams

Eight years after our arrival to New Jersey my parents sat us down and told us we had to become citizens of America. Before the news I had concluded that I would remain Jamaican forever. What does this new citizenship mean for me? I know America did not want us (black or white) and I was now a traitor to my Jamaica. How could our parents make me do this? I will belong nowhere, an exile and traitor.

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Julio-40
Julio-40

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Antoinette Ellis-Williams
Antoinette Ellis-Williams

I would be lost forever in the sea of Uncle Sam’s, dawgs, grits, and snow! I wanted my parents to take me back home so I could stop pretending that this was all right. But I just kept hearing my parents’ words over in my head, “We came to America to get better for you.” Better? What is better mean? I swore to the white judge that day I would be true—true to be me. Joke is on them I laughed to myself—I swore to be true to myself, with my fingers crossed behind my back.

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Migration Stories is a collaboration between myself and Catherine Raissiguier, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Hunter College in New York City. During the fall of 2013, faculty members and students from New Jersey City University, came together to narrate their lives, hopes and struggles as first-generation immigrants. This exhibition launches an oral history/photography project sharing their dreams and lived experiences of im/migration, through my photos and their words. During the spring semester of 2013, one-on-one photo shoots took place enabling me to hear each participant’s story in depth. Participants were also asked to share moments of their lives through snapshots and pictures from family albums. Some photographs are of household objects or special moments, each with a tale to tell. The narratives are stunning moments of their personal lives, and the foundation of this exhibit. America has been known as the melting pot of the world for decades, yet immigrants today are still expected to adapt, assimilate, and formulate themselves into this thing or being, called “an American”. Each participant, in some way, expressed deep resentment on being expected to conform, almost immediately upon arrival, to change his or her language, dialect, slang or accent. I was extremely moved by each story that unfolded before my eyes and my camera. There was a lot of laughter, some from nervousness or bashfulness, some from a deep connection all immigrants share. There are some painful stories of loss and loneliness, along with a never-ending homesickness that is always slightly present. I hope you enjoy the exhibit, and if you are a first-generation immigrant, consider taking part in our project. There are so many stories that still need to be told.