If you weren’t born in the United States, there are several things you have to do to become a U.S. citizen—like carry around a green card for five years and take what’s called a “naturalization test.”
That will make you an American on paper, but what does it take to feel like one?
Kalamazoo artist Alessandra Santos Pye put together an exhibit called “Acculturation” for Friday's Art Hop. It will be on display at the Park Trades Center in the Saniwax Gallery. Rootead Dance Studio will also perform Brazilian music and dance at the event, as well as capoeira—a form of Brazilian martial arts.
The exhibit is about Pye applying to become a U.S. citizen and finding her identity as a Brazilian-American.
Pye was an exchange student in the U.S. for a year in high school, where she met Eric, her now husband. And in 1998, she left Brazil behind permanently to study art at Western Michigan University.
“Much of the motivation for moving here, besides the relationship I had with my now husband, was really running away from a lot of stuff. I was really try to run away and I think unconsciously I began this process of denial and complete [denegation] of Brazilian culture,” she says.
“That’s what this first piece represents. So it’s me kind of closing the door on Brazil and entering the American way of life.”
The first part of Pye’s exhibit is called “Assimilation” which is where a person or group replaces one culture with another.
In her work “Dear America, I am lost, have you seen my soul?,” American flags hang from string wrapped around nails that are stuck painfully into a painted spine. Pye says switching cultures wasn’t a healthy way to adjust.
“A huge part of belonging really takes place when you can go back to your core, to the origins of who you are and kind of figure out, ‘Ok how do I make this person that I am and these experiences that I have work with the world I live in now?’" she says. "And I didn’t do that.”
The second part of the exhibit is called “Integration” which means adding parts of another culture into one’s own. These are colorful paintings of the things Pye found to help her to keep her Brazilian roots while still living in the States.
“So engaging into my artwork and fully immersing into my artwork," Pye lists. "Really focusing on listening to Brazilian music, which just felt so great and it felt senseless that I didn’t do that for so many years. And speaking Portuguese to my children and speaking Portuguese myself and all of that.”
Once Pye connected with her Brazilian culture, she says America started to feel more like home. And before long, she was ready to apply for citizenship.
“When I started to care so much about the United States and its social issues—when I started to get angry about social injustices in every area—that’s when I thought, ‘I belong here. I’m a citizen.’ Right?" says Pye. "Because when you care, that means it’s important.”
Pye says she’s excited to become a real American citizen. She says her last piece, “ Transformação” symbolizes the multi-cultural person she’s become today.
“I love this country and I want to live here," says Pye. "I have meaningful, wonderful relationships here, but I want to be here authentically. I want to be here fully as a Brazilian-American. And that’s what that piece means to me.”