This young photographer brings the stories of immigrant children to light

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Marco Werman: For our next story, I want to introduce you to a young photographer. She’s 21-years-old and her name is Quetzal Maucci. Quetzal Maucci: I’m the daughter of two immigrant mothers from Peru and Argentina and I grew up in San Francisco. Werman: When she was a kid, Quetzal says she felt stuck between the identity of her immigrant parents and being American. Later, she discovered this was also the case for many children of immigrants around her. So, two years ago, she began to document their stories and take their pictures. Those photos portraits are now part of Quetzal’s project, called “Children of Immigrants.” Maucci: Growing up, I wasn’t able to realize that I could kind of hold on to my parent’s culture while understanding American culture. There is this in between that I’m still trying to feel comfortable with, because I call home the United States but I also have a lot of family in Argentina and Peru and around the world, where those places can also feel like home when I’m there. Werman: Let’s hear from one of the voices you have in your project. Her name is Sruti Swaminathan - I hope I’m pronouncing her name right. She’s a 22-year-old Indian-American. Let’s hear from her. Sruti Swaminathan: Honestly, it was just the perception of my peers that made me feel embarrassed about bringing Indian food to school, for example. It just was out of the ordinary and anything that’s unknown and unfamiliar to people is often threatening. I’ve wanted to do what the other kids were doing, like buy pizzas on Fridays, bring sandwiches, just try to embrace the American culture in some way because my physical appearance clearly didn’t give off the American vibe of what younger children would perceive it to be. Werman: So that’s Sruti Swaminathan, 22-years-old, Indian-American, with a pretty powerful statement. Quetzal, what we didn’t hear was her regret of being embarrassed and if she could go back, she would and eat Indian food at lunch. Did you find that sense of looking into the past and now being empowered from other people that you met? Maucci: Yes, I definitely feel like this project has created an empowering voice for these people and, that quote specifically from Sruti, I felt really connected to as well because I know that, growing up, I kind of ate different foods at home than kids were eating at school. So, I feel like talking to her about that has empowered myself and my own identity. I think that each person that I interviewed, we found ourselves laughing or talking over our experiences and connecting with each other, which made our identities stronger in itself, just to be able to communicate with each other in this community. Werman: I think we often feel it’s hard for immigrants to assimilate to their new homes in this country, or really any country, but do you find that this challenge is continuing for the next generation? Maucci: Definitely, if we don’t start to look at the - for me, it’s the education system, which I found that didn’t have much support, where even growing up in San Francisco, it’s known to be a liberal place, very open - I still felt uncomfortable being the child of immigrant parents, which I think had to be reflective of the school system that I was going to, where I wasn’t really sure how to feel comfortable in my own skin and to let people know that I am a confused child when I was little. Like going back to my home, we were speaking Spanish, we were eating a Peruvian meal and I definitely feel like it’s something that is going to continue if we don’t start to take away the idea of what could be normal. It could be that you are the child of immigrants and that’s okay too, and you can embrace your culture and it doesn’t have to be some kind of strange outcasting identity or something like that. Werman: What’s been the reaction from your parents about this project? Maucci: Incredibly supportive. This project, for them, is making it easier for us to talk about how I felt growing up here, which is wonderful. Werman: And those reactions that you’ve been getting from all over the world, what has really struck you about what people have been saying about these photographs and what the people whose portraits you took, what they’re saying? Maucci: I think what struck me is that everyone seems to be really resonating with it, which isn’t something that I should be so surprised about, but it is incredibly wonderful to hear from all these people their stories, because they’re just opening up to me. Because of this project, they’re telling me about their stories about where they come from, people in Pakistan and Australia, in Canada. I’ve had emails from all over and it’s not just a couple sentences, there’s kind of like essays in these emails and it’s wonderful because I can see that this can connect to so many people. They keep thanking me for creating this project because they don’t really see it often. Werman: San Francisco-based photographer Quetzal Maucci. Her project about the Children of Immigrants was featured in the New York Times. Quetzal, great to meet you, thank you. Maucci: Thank you.