Angy Rivera, a Colombian-born undocumented immigrant, was petrified when she was stopped at the airport on her way to North Carolina last summer. She was relieved to discover it was only a can of hair mousse tucked away in her bag that was attracting attention. “I’m there panicking, I don’t know what to do…they are going to take me away,” she said. The 22-year-old Queens resident said those are the kinds of situations she and other undocumented young adults run into all the time.
As part of the 2nd episode of the on-stage radio show “Where I’m From,” Rivera shared some of the advice she gives regularly through her blog for undocumented youth, “Ask Angy.” Brooklyn’s Jalopy Theatre was filled for the June 8th event featuring Angy and a cohort of other diaspora voices from around the city and the world.
“Where I’m From” is a new radio initiative created by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism that is done in front of a live audience, and also recorded and produced for broadcast. Host and CUNY Journalism instructor Jesse Hardman said the second episode of the show helped define the project and what it’s trying to accomplish. “During the program you could see people in the audience, and on the stage, starting to not only get, but engage the “Where I’m From” concept. We want to introduce voices that can address sensitive subjects, like immigration, race, and fair wages, and instead of a lecture, create a real dynamic conversation. Seeing people talking after the show, sharing opinions and ideas, exchanging phone numbers, that’s how we measure success.”
The show attracted a diverse audience, who tweeted in answers to the question, “where are you from?” with locations as diverse as Kenya, Queens, Brazil, Buffalo, and the Philippines. Mark Toller, a Brooklynite originally from Canada, was impressed by the diversity of the performers and the information they shared. “I’m not from here so it was interesting to hear things I maybe had an idea of but never thought of,” said Toller.
CUNY J-School Radio Director Tina Pamintuan oversees the “Where I’m From” project. She said she’s excited about the future of the program and identifies personally with the mission of the show. “My parents came to the U.S. from the Philippines and I grew up in a tiny town in Delaware. When I was a kid, people always asked where I was from. They couldn’t fathom that I’d been born in the same hospital as them! The name of this show reflects how different the country’s demographics are today and celebrates that.”
One of the connections made during the program came from comedian Vladimir Caamaño, who referred back to Angy Rivera’s comments by sharing his own struggles growing up as the son of an undocumented Dominican father in the South Bronx. His stories of navigating the move from the city to a mostly white liberal arts college in Connecticut and then back to New York got the crowd laughing. He touched on the reality of the changing demographics of the U.S., using the last presidential election as an example. “The Romney campaign looked like a Florida retirement home, the Obama campaign looked like a community center in the Bronx.” Cammaño also shared how humor has been his survival tool. “I started going to comedy to get it off my chest, to kind of heal a little bit,” Caamaño said.
Other “Where I’m From” guests included Ai-Jen Poo, the head of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who spoke about the lives of the more than 2 million nannies, home health care workers, and housekeepers in the U.S. Chris Ochun, a Nuyorican Santaría priest and spiritualist in the Bronx, talked about his realization as a teenager that he had powers of intuition, and how that led him to the Afro-Caribbean religious practices of Orisha.
Recent CUNY J-School graduate Nabil Rahman shared an essay about his experiences stuck in the immigration office at JFK airport. Originally from Bangladesh, Rahman has been a U.S. citizen since his teens. Still, he gets stopped and questioned every time he returns to New York from abroad. “My parents brought us here for a better education and life, wanting to take us away from a system of bribery and corruption, to a place where there’s no favoritism or discrimination. Getting stopped feels so unfair,” he said.
The musical guest was the all-female Mariachi ensemble, Flor de Toloache. Founder and lead singer Mireya Ramos brought three of her band mates to play both original and classic Mariachi tunes. She talked about what it’s like to immerse in a musical tradition that is dominated by Mexican males. “In the Mariachi community we’re sometimes criticized about our costumes, because we’re not Mexican. But we love what we’re doing. We do it with a lot of respect and a lot of passion.”
The audience was treated to pupusas by the El Salvadoran food truck, Solber Pupusas, which specializes in the special corn and cheese pancake native to Central and South America. Cesar Fuentes, the head of the Red Hook Food Vendors Association, also dropped by to talk about the evolution of street food in New York City.
Visit whereimfromshow.com for more information, tickets, and upcoming show dates.
* Oulimata Ba contributed to this story.