The Los Angeles Convention Center is the site of many thousands of U.S. citizenship ceremonies each year, sometimes administering the oath to as many as 10,000 people at a time. And as you might imagine, it is a rich pageant of global humanity that puts Benetton and Disney's It’s a Small World ride to shame.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that such a celebratory spectacle of personal stories would attract the attention of L.A.-based creatives Sam Comen and Michael Estrin — a photographer and a writer who have each avidly explored, throughout their careers, the diverse range of people who make L.A. the special place we all know it to be.
The pair attended a series of naturalization ceremonies in February and March of last year, and Comen’s on-the-fly portraiture and Estrin’s witty and empathetic street-beat journalism style combined to create the compelling and exuberant portfolio “The Newest Americans.” Comen and Estrin recall feeling a contagious spirit of joy and optimism at each event they attended, and they had no trouble finding newly minted citizens eager to share their stories.
“We asked how they came to this country,” the duo say. “We asked what the American Dream means to them. We asked these newest Americans if they had a message for the new president.” The range of answers to that last question was intriguing then, and all the more poignant now, as America and the world have since witnessed an assault on immigration policy and the rights of immigrants. But at the same time, the portraits convey the hope, gratitude and relief of those who have already made themselves an indelible part of our nation.
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These regal yet candid and intimate portraits and interview texts exist as a web-based archive and, now, as a major traveling exhibition. Before embarking on a multivenue, five-year national tour, “The Newest Americans” will be on view through July 8 at the California Museum in our state capital, Sacramento.
The California Museum, 1020 O St., Sacramento