Talking about the challenges and struggles of being an immigrant in the U.S. has become a hot topic under the Trump administration, but what happens regarding the children of immigrants? What challenges and dilemmas do they face in their daily lives?
This issue has become a matter of concern for Latino American documentary photographer Quetzal Maucci, one of the 20 million American-born children of immigrants who are now adults living in the United States today. Maucci is the author of “Children of Immigrants,” a series of portraits of young immigrants in the U.S., published in The New York Times a year ago. She currently lives in London, working as a photographer and editor for Comic Relief, a non-profit humanitarian organization.
Born and raised in San Francisco, CA, Maucci herself is a child of two Latin American mothers, one from Peru, and one from Argentina, who separated when she was very little.
“They are both very strong, passionate women,” she recalled in a thorough email interview with AL DÍA NEWS from her home in London. One of them was a dancer and visual artist, the other was a poet, interested in music and photography. “Throughout my childhood, I lived all over San Francisco and the bay area, moving around from house to house as money was tight,” she said.
Although San Francisco is considered very gay-friendly, she still felt uncomfortable saying that she had two mothers during the '90s. “Something changed in me when I graduated from middle school and I decided that if anyone had a problem with me having two mothers that I would try to discuss their views, but I knew that I didn’t have to be friends with anyone who was discriminatory,” she said.
From her mothers, she learned Spanish - the language they spoke at home - and learned to be someone “continuously challenging her own, to follow my heart, and cultivate my mind. I am still learning about myself and my roots every day,” she said.
After graduating from High School, Quetzal moved to New York, where she earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts, studying photography and imaging at New York University (NYU). It was then when she started to think about the idea of identity, of who she was. A child of Latin American immigrants? An American? A Latino?
“Borders are a social construct, owning land is a capitalistic illusion and the idea of building walls between countries is absurd and horrifying on many different levels,” she said. “What I know about myself is that my roots run deeply into various cultures and lands. My mothers proudly taught me about their South American cultures and saved their money to show me their homes."
She grew up eating an array of South American foods: "seco, estofado, lomo saltado, caucau de pollo, milanesa, empanadas, dulce de leche and asados…” she added, recalling her trips to Uruguay, Argentina and the Andes when she was younger.
A matter of responsibility
Unfortunately, the United States is experiencing a disappointing time in regards to immigration (among many other things), according to Quetzal, who in the past has known family and people around her who have been deported, something that “destroys and tears families apart.” Being a child of South American parents and growing up in the U.S. has instilled in her a responsibility “to fight for them, for myself, for immigration, for open borders, and against the injustices in the system,” she said.
In this fight, photography has become her best weapon. Maucci explained that her interest in photography started as a child, taking pictures of her mum near the sea in San Francisco on a sunny day. She was only four. Her mum told her: “toma aire, no respires” (“take a deep breath, then hold your breath”) before she took the photo. “And even today, I still hold my breath before taking a photograph,” said Queztal, whose work has been featured in BBC, The New York Times, among others.
The project “Children of Immigrants
” began when she was a student at NYU. A professor of documentary photography asked the students to create a documentary series that meant something to them. And something that she felt close to her heart was immigration.
“I wanted to explore having immigrant parents and delving into my own upbringing and how others who grew up similarly felt about their childhoods”, Quetzal explained. She found inspiration in August Sanders’ work on People of the 20th century, Zanele Muholi’s "Faces and Phrases" and Seydou Keita’s series on people in Bamako.
“Children of Immigrants” was more than simply portraying children: she started by recording interviews with various children of immigrants in a blank studio with hot lights and afterward she would leave them for a couple minutes to stare into the camera, alone, in order for them to reflect over their conversation and ruminate over their ideas of identification, childhood, and labeling.
“It started as a moving image portrait series. A moment of reflection. A way to have this community and the public come face to face with one another,” Quetzal said. “I wanted to give voice to these stories.”
After interviewing and portraying many different children of immigrants, I asked the artist if she could give any advice to parents raising immigrant children abroad. Her answer was clear and simple: “Give your children the space to grow into who they feel they are. If there are different cultures present at home, teach them about those cultures, about how you grew up, the music you listen to, and the food you enjoy. Speak every language you know and remind them that they are rooted in many parts of the world. That they can enjoy and learn from the culture of the country they were born into and the country you were born into,” she said. Also, “urge them to travel, not to resorts and fancy restaurants, but to truly understand another culture by immersing themselves in a place, by seeing the parts of a town or city that only the locals go to, to eat the food that represents that country, and interact with the residents. And to truly feel the dirt underneath their feet and climb the tallest trees."
Maucci currently lives in London and works as a picture editor and photographer for Comic Relief
, a major charity organization based in the United Kingdom that fights against poverty by driving positive change through the power of entertainment.
“It is frightening to see where the U.S. and UK are moving toward and to see these countries discriminate for so long, as if history has taught nothing,” said the artist, who in past years has been following closely the news about DACA and the situation facing undocumented people under Trump’s government, as well as the Brexit referendum.
“Sadly, discrimination is rooted in the system we are all living in and without dismantling that, we will continue to see injustices thrive. Without question, I believe the children under DACA should definitely be protected. It’s absurd to think otherwise,” she said. “There is so much pride and money in politics and it sickens me to think that people are barred from living in different countries or moving or migrating or taking refuge because of where they were born. Borders are a social construct,” she insisted. “And it is very hard for me to stay calm when faced with news about Trump’s wall, Brexit, climate change, gun violence, and the refugee crisis, amongst everything else that is happening in the world. So, I try to work with organizations that fight against injustices.
If you want to know more about Quetzal Maucci’s recent projects with immigrants and refugees you can visit her website
, or visit her online exhibition at the New Americans Museum
in San Diego, CA.