Since Press Press’s founding in 2014, our practice has always been deeply informed by our concerns with immigration, and especially with experiences of what we call “cultural passage,” a term that is central for understanding Sentiments. The term “cultural passage” was introduced to our team by curator, Sharmyn Cruz Rivera, at a workshop we hosted this past winter in Chicago. Cultural passage has a broad meaning: It refers to experiences of transitioning and negotiating one’s way through multiple cultures. It is something that exists at every level of our lives as immigrants or immigrant-adjacent persons. It affects our familial and communal relationships, our conception of “home,” our access to various institutional benefits and opportunities, our self-understanding, and our emotional wellbeing. It leaves nothing untouched. Using the notion of cultural passage has helped center our conversations as a collective around the experiences of individuals, families, and communities, rather than relying on mainstream terminology that emphasizes legal status and bureaucratic categorizations (“refugee,” “alien,” etc.). We recognize that legal statuses and bureaucratic categorizations deeply affect our experiences as immigrants. However, the legalist jargon is often used in such ways that promote not seeing immigrants as people, drawing attention away from the types of personal experiences that cultural passage seeks to explicitly place in the foreground. Our use of the term cultural passage allows for a discussion of one’s experience in both a personal and legal dimension. Our team’s ongoing practice of openly talking about our personal experiences with cultural passage has helped us navigate the various projects we have undertaken. It has also enabled us to form the general principles that guide our practice: Embrace difference, not just similarity; commit to ongoing and open-ended dialogue; support the emergence of collaborative projects; and emphasize the importance of personal life experience.
Over the past few years, as xenophobia gained more prominence in national media, my collaborators In 2015 Bomin Jeon and Valentina Cabezas formally became part of the Press Press team, in 2016 Rahul S. Shinde joined as our website engineer, and more recently Bilphena Yahwon, Ayaka Takao, Samiha Alam, and Eleni Agapis became part of our efforts in various ways through this project. and I began to discuss the ways in which our (usually) private conversations about our own experiences of cultural passage might be helpful in combating aspects of anti immigrant violence. We became especially concerned with sharpening and revising the simplistic interpretations of concepts that inform—and often misinform—the public discourse around immigration. Specifically, we wanted to unpack overly simplistic concepts of “immigrant,” “citizen,” “sanctuary,” and “freedom.” For this purpose, we needed to grow our community. We needed to connect with people we could learn from and share experiences with, and who could collaborate with us to develop a more nuanced, sensitive, and substantive vocabulary for answering our questions: What does it mean to be an immigrant? What does it mean to be a citizen? What does it mean to build sanctuary? What does it mean to be free? We needed to cultivate space for subtler conversations around cultural passage that could do justice to the richness and complexity it involves, and thus, this collection of conversations, workshops, artist projects, and writings— Sentiments—was born.
Building on Press Press’s approach, Sentiments is a coordinated effort of multiple agents taking on various roles as co-organizers and contributors. The project involved extending invitations to individuals, groups, and families to participate in social gatherings and workshops, one-on-one conversations, and the production of artistic works. In this sense, community-building has been a central component of Sentiments. The multiplicity of roles played by participating individuals in Sentiments is what enabled us to create a compilation where the editorial voice reflects a vision that has been developed by the collective itself. Each voice in this compilation presents a different take on cultural passage. Although we all share the experience of cultural passage in some way, our perspectives and experiences are not reducible to a common denominator. Our multiple identities, our various circumstances and contexts, have all combined to produce the distinctive voices you will find in the pages ahead. Although this collection is not exhaustive of all of the possible experiences that immigrants and immigrant-adjacent individuals may have, our hope is that it can nevertheless bring us closer to understanding the complexity of immigrant experiences.