Here Are the Immigrants Helping to Make American Design Great #Resist

Though we are certain few readers come to Sight Unseen for our political discourse, the events of the last few months have had to make necessary activists of us all. We don’t know a single blogger who isn’t struggling with the decision of how much and how often their personal beliefs ought to be revealed in their daily content. But here at Sight Unseen, we took a relatively obvious stance the day after the election, and when we heard the news last weekend of the immigration ban, we again leapt into action. The ban affects us all on a broad scale — after all, who among American families didn’t immigrate from somewhere? But when we began to think about our adopted family — which is to say the American design scene — and how much it might have been affected had this reactionary policy been in place only five, 10, or 20 years ago, we realized that we wanted to speak up. For not only does this inhumane ban on refugees make us less safe, it is an affront to our values and to the fact that immigrants have played a huge part in making this country — and its design — great. Some of our best mid-century designers, including Walter Gropius, above, came to the US to escape the Nazis. So this week, we’ve been putting the spotlight on just how much American design has been positively impacted by outside voices by sharing some of those voices with you on Instagram. Today we’ve compiled all of the stories so far. We hope they inspire you as much as they did us.

Ana Kras

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“I moved to the United States seven years ago, from Belgrade, Serbia — where I was born, and where I grew up. Earlier this year I was approved for a green card, as an ‘alien of extraordinary abilities’ for my work. You might be aware of the terrible political climate that happened in the former Yugoslavia in the 90’s — wars, bombings, embargo, blocked borders, refugees, and demonstrations. Before the war exploded in 1990, Yugoslavia was a nation of different religions living together peacefully. There were Orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians and Muslims. Growing up, I witnessed what brutal political decisions, greed, and self-interest can do to divide people, create hate, make refugees, destroy lives. My family and all of my dearest back home still live the consequences of politics from more than 20 years ago.”

“What is happening in America today triggers my deepest wounds and fears about what is yet to come if this monstrous leadership finds its way further. It’s devastating to feel helpless, and yet anger is the loudest of the voices. The one beautiful thing about this moment is that it makes people wake up, speak up, and come together. Nothing teaches compassion better than a collective tragedy. This new knowledge and awareness is something very precious that might shape our future, if together we manage to #resist.”

Mimi Jung


“I’m an immigrant, a 27-year resident of the United States, and a green card holder. My family and I left Seoul and immigrated to New York in 1989. When I arrived, all the words sounded like murmurs blurring into each other and even the basic act of standing in a line produced tremendous uncertainty. In an instant, the natural sense of belonging that I’d taken for granted back in Korea was gone. This cultural displacement has since shaped and defined me more than my nationality, my gender, my age or occupation. It wasn’t until this recent election (where the word ‘immigrant’ was predominantly used to promote fear and resentment) when I stood along side protestors fighting for justice that I realized I am a member of this country. I found myself belonging once again. I’m an immigrant and this is my home.”

Benjamin Kicic


“My family fled Sarajevo during the Balkan war and resettled in the United States as refugees. We left everything behind — friends, family, most of our possessions — to escape civil war and ethnic cleansing, hoping for a better life. On the night Trump was elected, I got a phone call from my mom that I’m sure many refugees can relate to. ‘It’s Sarajevo all over again,’ she said. To shut our doors to families like mine can be literally life or death. We can’t stand by and let this happen.”

Jean Lee


“I moved to the United States when I was eight years old, to live with relatives while my parents stayed behind in Taiwan to work and provide for my older sister and me. My parents’ plan was for us to get a better education, learn English, and eventually move back to Taiwan after college. Growing up, I identified more as a Taiwanese, always bringing weird Asian food for lunch and avoiding slumber parties. But it wasn’t until after college — when I was confronted with the decision to either stay in the States or go back to Taiwan — that I found myself identifying as American for the first time. I wanted to pursue what I loved here, and carve out a lifestyle that supported my creative endeavors. I am 100% Taiwanese. I am 100% American. I 100% believe that there is nothing more American than to embrace others who value the same spirit — and that no one should be deprived of the opportunity to find their own happiness.”

Jamie Wolfond


“Without the opportunity to move from Canada to study or work in the United States, I’d never have been able to start my business, @supergoodthing. But it’s more than that. It’s only because my grandfather was welcomed into Canada after surviving the Holocaust that I’m even here today.”

Alex Proba


“I am not just an immigrant to the United States. My family is Polish and we always have been immigrants — growing up in Germany I never felt unwelcome or disrespected, ever. I migrated to the US on my own 6 years ago and it’s only made me stronger and happier. I came here to be part of this amazing country made out of IMMIGRANTS and OPPORTUNITIES for everyone, no matter what. Quite frankly I know that because I’m white I already have it easier, and that makes me furious and so very sad. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to live in the US as a Muslim, black, Hispanic, Asian, or LGBT. AND IT IS 2017, PEOPLE. This must stop. This is not us. We have to be stronger together.”

Shin Okuda


“I moved to the United States in 1998 from Japan when I was 28, many years after college, looking to start something new, to be excused from the professional and creative hierarchy of Japan. Growing up, I saw the American experience as something mysterious and cinematic, and when I arrived first in Arizona and then moved on to Los Angeles, it was startling and authentic. I worked in a flower shop and at a restaurant and went to adult school to learn English. I worked two jobs for five years until I got a work visa with a Los Angeles–based sculptor. I made friends from many different communities. I had one job I liked and learned from. I lived in a warehouse that I renovated with my roommate. I changed jobs. I met my wife. I started making furniture. I had a son. America gave me the space to find my meaning. The spirit that draws us here to begin again, to put our energy towards a dream, to learn what is unfamiliar, to believe that we can build a life as full as we can make it, is a spirit specific to America. I hope the today we are experiencing now ends with finding peace, a compassionate voice, and acceptance of the many faces that define us as America.”

Bari Ziperstein


“My entire Jewish lineage came to the United States via Russia and Poland, finally settling in Chicago, to escape a fascist reign and to have religious freedom. I am 98% Ashkenazi — that’s a lot of sticking together, either by need or by circumstance. My late grandfather, Al, immigrated as a toddler on a boat to Ellis Island; his father died on that boat journey. Al built a life in Chicago where he started several business, was an avid photographer, and made furniture in his spare time. He married my late grandmother, Evelyn — a first-generation American Jew — and raised three children. I never got to meet my grandfather; he was murdered in 1975 by a hit with a handgun by a fellow American. Although his story is tragic, the United States’s welcoming immigration process allowed them to have a life in the United States; history tells my entire family’s fate if they hadn’t escaped. I am a second-generation American Jew, and I am able to have artistic freedom solely based on my ancestor’s choices, allowing the choice to make political artwork ever more imperative.”

Aleksandra Pollner

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“I am actually currently in a midst of a humanitarian refugee aid trip to Greece with my fellow designers, Alvin Stillwell and Jamie Iacoli. But this is not a Greek issue, nor a Syrian issue but a human issue that we all should be involved in, particularly as designers who focus and reflect upon a shared experience that extends beyond the boundaries of any political or religious system. As a kid, I had to flee Communist Poland with my family, which led to a long journey of uprooting, border crossings, and being on the periphery. It was the United States, one of the few safe havens, that offered a place for my family to create a home and start a life without discrimination against our origin, our Jewish heritage, or our religious faith.”