One summer day, I roamed the streets of Paris and stumbled upon an art museum showcasing the art exhibit “Émigrer.” The differentiation in the spelling of immigrant caught my eye as I was accustomed to seeing the word spelled with an I ( “immigrer”), in efforts to discuss the experience of arriving to a new country. However, it was clear that the exhibition’s purpose was to emphasize the artists’ feelings regarding the experiences of departure from their home country, an experience that is often disregarded and unexplored.
I wandered through the museum observing every piece of art, and I was moved by a sculpture of a man carrying a thin suitcases. I was instantly fascinated by this piece because it highlighted the effects of transitioning to a new country through simple body language. In the sculpture, though the person is only carrying two suitcases, his posture suggests that they weigh him down. The caption for the sculpture adds a metaphorical dimension to the weight the figure carries: “Men without luggage or homes have had to lighten themselves and turn their familiar objects into memories, stories, and images.”
I could not help but envision that his story began when he left. When he opened his mind to the idea of leaving and did not look back. When he stuck all of his favorite photos and objects into a suitcase and headed for France. Initially, I had observed the physical burden of carrying suitcases but I had not considered the emotional burden of carrying memories and pieces of your heritage. The sculpture depicted an invisible baggage, an emotional versus physical burden that weighs us down in different ways.
It was this caption that struck a chord. I, myself, am a first generation immigrant, as I am the child of immigrants. My parents were born in the Dominican Republic and as a result, my life has not always followed a “typical” American trajectory as I have also been influenced by the ideals and cultural values my parents instilled in me. Seeing this picture, I could not help but think that my parents may have carried the same burden with them as they aimed to create new lives for their family in America. The sculpture in this picture tells the story of those before me and the experience of others to come. Today, I cherish this picture as it has helped me understand the complex emotional burden my parents and others emigrating have faced as they departed their home countries.
Nichole Rondon ’18 was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She is currently a senior at Smith College majoring in Psychology and French Studies. At Smith, Nichole sought out opportunities to explore minority issues on campus by writing for the school newspaper. She also did so in her overseas experiences in Kenya and France, where she promoted the issues of women and immigrants respectively. She is known as a traveler, an activist, a thinker and intersectional feminist. She is inspired by the world, its diverse people and the sudden societal push and embrace of intersectionality.by