MacArthur Fellows Reflect on Immigration

Recently, The New York Times published an op-ed highlighting how immigrants are over-represented among recipients of several prominent awards including the MacArthur Fellowship.

MacArthur’s Cecilia Conrad said that the immigrants who become MacArthur Fellows are often inspired by “the experience of dislocation, of navigating a new culture and a new set of norms.”

Here are a few quotes from MacArthur Fellows who are immigrants, children of immigrants, or people simply inspired by their stories:

“I was undocumented, and I was taught to not say a word, to try to be unseen, and that would have severely diminished my potential…the same could be said about the millions of people in our country right now that are forced to be in the shadows or forced to live life in fear.”–Financial Services Innovator Jose Quiñonez

“I think most of us feel very lucky to be here, so we work extremely hard. I think maybe trauma is part of what drives us…Having the different perspectives, having the different life experiences, makes you see things differently.”–Photographer An-My Lê

“For me, the word ‘immigrant’ only has positive connotations. These are people who start a life from scratch and do whatever it takes so their kids can fly. I’m constantly inspired by immigrant life in America, and it’s harder now than ever.”–Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda

“Nobody is ever just a refugee.”–Writer Chimamanda Adichie

“Being an immigrant is incredibly hard — you’re leaving everything. It’s a huge sacrifice and people do it because they want something better for their children.”–Community Leader Juan Salgado

“People can be taught to fear just as easily as they can learn to accept. When my family arrived from Ethiopia we landed in Peoria, IL. We attended an all white southern Baptist church, and we were the only black family at that time. We found a home there, despite the radical differences in culture, faith, history.”–Writer Dinaw Mengestu

“The saddest thing is that the tragedy of people having to risk their lives, and losing their lives crossing the sea or half of Europe, is seen as a desire to steal from us what we have, this wonderful privilege of living in a democracy and having a stable life.”–Writer Aleksandar Hemon

“That experience of touching down in a totally foreign place is like having a blank canvas: You begin with nothing, but stroke by stroke you build a life. This process requires everything great art requires — risk-tasking, hope, a great deal of imagination, all the qualities that are the building blocks of art.”–Writer Edwidge Danticat

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