E PLURIBUS: A United States Art Flag series that celebrates diversity within Unity
After 33 years as a Green Card immigrant from England, aka alien, in 2000 I became a United States citizen. I suddenly realized how disenfranchised I felt without knowing I felt that way. Naturalization brought a special sense of belonging especially when I took my first vote and voted for Al Gore. Soon after in 2003 I was dismayed by the call to war in Iraq and by the sudden flourishing of US flags displayed to promote war. Flags popped up on cars, in windows, homes, and offices even on clothing. It felt so wrong to me and to many others of my friends who were immigrants or descended from immigrants.
The US flag is about unity in diversity and unity in adversity, about coming together to make a powerful union for good. It is also about respecting difference and honoring cultural heritage. People like me come from all over the world to partake in the elevated idea that we are all equal, that fairness and respect will prevail here in the US and people in other parts of the world look to us in longing. That ideology is sacred but fragile. With the tremendous diversity of US citizens here today it feels as though making war elsewhere in the world is to make war with our selves.
Dismay in 2003 prompted me to think about the US flag, Old Glory. I saw that it has much greater meaning and represents inclusiveness. The idea to make diverse cultural flags popped into my mind. So I started making American flags from materials representing as many different people that live here as I could find.
My book, E Pluribus, will comprise of two main sections. The first section will include the flag collection with an introduction, a personal history and a detailed discussion of the art flag’s meanings and materials.
My main point with this art project and the book is that we can be different and yet still share a unity within our hearts. We can celebrate and share each other’s different ideas, style of dress, music, food, cultural celebrations and traditions and yet share in our same desires for respect, recognition, opportunity and equal place in society. I feel that we have moved away from a melting pot kind of immigrant integration to what I call a symphonic integration. If all the instruments in the orchestra were the same the music would be dull indeed. More than ever before we need to respect and enjoy diversity and recognize how diverse ways of living and viewpoints enrich all of our lives. The idea is under threat today. To me that is what the US is about and I try to share that in my flags.
In the second part of the book I will include a series of interviews with friends, family and colleagues about their experiences of being American, We will dive into questions of how they have integrated and brought old world life to blend with new. Elements of the flags may highlight cultural expressions relating to things like food, fabrics, clothing, ornament, music, and dance as well as family life. We will also explore intimate symbols concerning identity, allegiance, spirituality, psychology and religion. The most important part of the overall discussion is to indicate that we can live in harmony together. My associations here in New York City prove that, I will interview family members from Germany, Poland and England; friends from Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy, Canada, France, Iran, Vietnam and Israel; acquaintances from Scotland, China, Australia and more.
Over 75,000 people have seen the E Pluribus flag series and the response is always enthusiastic. LaGuardia College students who represent immigrants from all over the world immediately apprehend the significance of the project. Comments like, “I feel recognized because my American Flag is there” and “It is the most diverse project I have seen here” aptly describe their appreciation of my intent.
According to the USCIS.gov Immigration and Naturalization site in the last decade more than 6.6 million people became naturalized US citizens. Each year more than 700,000 people join us as new Americans. Immigrants rave about the US and the opportunities they have here but their contributions to the fabric of American life are rarely pointed out and celebrated. We are very sensitive about our identity and lately events, politics and media coverage have focused on divisive issues. When people see my flags they feel recognized, included and appreciated.