‘WE THE PEOPLE” by Myriam Abdelaziz
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In 2015 I received an email from my immigration attorney, asking me if I was ready to file for American citizenship. I soon realized I didn’t know if I was. What did that even mean to be an American? Having lived in New York for a decade I knew I was ready to be called a New Yorker. But an American? That was nowhere as clear: would I fit in?
I decided to take the road, to go meet the rest of the country, to go meet the Americans to understand what this identity meant.
I drove about 15 000 miles over the course of 4 months all over the country and met over 100 people that I photographed.
I was welcomed everywhere and people were eager to help me with my project, proposing itineraries, offering hospitality in their homes and putting me in touch with other contacts who could help me down the road.
My doubts about fitting in as an American faded pretty fast and instead a sense of belonging grew in me.
A country build by people who immigrated from all over the world, of course I fitted in, more that anywhere else in the world and that was very exciting.
Shortly after I came back to New York and received my American citizenship I was able to vote for the first time in the USA but immediately after the election a travel ban was announced, pointing immigration as being a threat to the country while it was for me the core of it’s beauty, the main reason why I joined.
‘We the People’ is a conceptual photography project tracing the journey I took and the people I met along my path becoming a US citizen.
It is not a regular photo book, it is an album of Americans from all paths of life, background, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, social class, political affiliation and sexual orientation trying to see them as one by bringing them together instead of separating and labeling them. Instead of singling out individuals who would stress social divisions further, my aim is for the viewer to get a sense of a complex community layered with contradictions. To underscore this approach, all portraits in the book will be anonymous - to discourage the involuntary attribution of particular attitudes to particular names – the photographs will not be bound together to emphasize the concept of mixity and distance the project from ideologies such as pre-selection or ordering; finally all excerpts from conversations with the subjects will be scattered randomly throughout the piece, preempting any attempt to attribute a particular quote to a particular person pictured. The aim of this conceptual piece is not to create yet another collection of individual biographies, but to sketch out the outlines of a national biography of the American identity.
I am proud to have become an American citizen at a time in history when we need to honor the blend of cultures and traditions brought by immigration, making the United States of America such a unique and powerful country.
Now is the time more than ever to unite as American citizens: to celebrate our identity and its diversity, to recognize its uniqueness and to honor its strength.