Tag Archives: immigration

Absence Makes the Heart

September 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Where are you from?” 

This common question is a complex one for Los Angeles-based conceptual artist and summer 2018 Bemis artist-in-residence Jenny Yurshansky. She was conceived in Moldova in the late-1970s, when it was part of the USSR; while her refugee parents were en route to the United States, she was unexpectedly born in Rome. The family ultimately settled in the San Fernando Valley in 1979. 

“I was technically stateless when I was born,” says Yurshansky, whose Jewish parents experienced systemic oppression before fleeing Soviet-era Moldova under great duress. In punitive acts by the Soviet regime as it worked to expel hundreds of thousands of Jews, they were forced to abandon their jobs for a year and surrender all educational documentation before leaving. Yurshansky’s surprise, early arrival in Rome caused an additional delay of a few months while her parents worked to assemble the proper paperwork for the family to complete its journey to the U.S.

But Yurshansky’s story is just one small stitch in a larger, intergenerational family fabric of borders, fear, fleeing, and absence. From her grandmother’s escape from the Nazis to her parents’ decision to leave their hostile homeland, the family’s ongoing diaspora deeply affected not just the individuals who had to leave, but the places they left behind.     

“There are two pockets of emptiness: One in the group that leaves—because as traumatic or difficult as their relationship with home may be, it’s still where they formed their identity and the core of who they are—and also in the place that’s left behind,” says Yurshansky of the refugee experience.     

Yurshansky’s past work explores the topic of immigration as it relates to the way we think about human migrants using the allegory of invasive plants species. During her Bemis residency, Yurshansky focused on her Crusted Memory project—a more personal exploration of immigration that looks at her family’s legacy as migrants from a matrilineal perspective. 

“Instead of dealing with migration on a general level like I did with the plants, I’m looking at my own family’s history as being a refugee story,” Yurshansky says. “It’s a case study that can be used to reflect on the refugee experience, not solely on a diaristic level, but also as a way to reflect one story onto other stories and experiences. I’m looking at the state of being a refugee, in terms of traumas experienced by the people who leave and also by the place that’s left behind.” 

As a conceptual artist, Yurshansky uses many mediums. Crusted Memory incorporates textiles, glass, sculpture, photography, and other elements to explore a family legacy she says is rooted with her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother was a highly skilled seamstress whose budding career was interrupted by World War II when, instead of heading to Paris for an apprenticeship as planned, she fled Moldova for Uzbekistan, narrowly escaping with her life. 

Fittingly, it was Yurshansky’s grandmother who taught her how to sew as a child during a visit to the U.S. Yurshansky calls sewing her “initial place of creative output” as an artist. “Since my mother’s mother is the root of the story, a lot of the work [in Crusted Memory] will focus on weaving or embroidery,” says Yurshansky.

In 2016 and again in 2017, Yurshansky and her mother traveled to Chișinău, Moldova’s capital city and her mother’s hometown. 

“Neither of my parents had been back because [it] was too traumatic,” she says. 

On their journeys, Yurshansky collected notes, artifacts, photographs, and conversations which inform the works in Crusted Memory. One piece—an embroidered, soft sculpture—draws from a visit to Yurshansky’s great-grandfather’s overgrown gravesite, where she did a rubbing of the towering headstone that mimics a limbless tree, symbolizing a life cut short. Another poignant piece is based around traditional rose-patterned Moldovan rugs.    

“At the house I grew up in, my mother planted 116 rose bushes,” Yurshansky says. “When we went to Moldova, I saw roses everywhere—from fabric patterns to medians—and something clicked. I said, ‘Mom, now it makes so much sense to me why you planted roses at home and had so many around—you were basically replicating home.’ But she said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. There were no roses there.’ For her, a lot of memory is suppressed, and that’s what I mean about these kinds of gaps, both in the person that leaves and the place that’s left behind. So, I’m recreating this carpet, but with the roses dropped out. A lot of my work deals with absence and plays with that tension of what’s there and what’s not there through how I’m presenting these objects.”

Yurshansky feels fortunate to have the resources provided during her Bemis residency to tackle this important project. “I’m really lucky to have this much room to play in and such an amazing set of resources,” says Yurshansky, who welded at Bemis’ Okada Sculpture & Ceramics Facility and did ceramics at The Union for Contemporary Art in addition to the multifaceted work she completed in her studio. “Being a conceptual artist, I start with the idea first and then find the materials, methods, and techniques that best express that idea, and Bemis is really wonderful because there are so many resources available to me and the people are so helpful. That has been invaluable to my work.”

While Yurshansky had never been to Omaha before, she’d been aware of the Bemis for a long time. 

“I had no idea what to expect from Omaha and I’m very pleasantly surprised,” she says. “There’s a lot going on and it’s really hip. There’s great food, concerts, the culture is awesome, the museums are great, and the people are just amazing.”

In addition to her summer in Omaha, Yurshansky has been exposed to many other locales, having also lived in Sweden for 11 years and traveled widely, which greatly informs her global perspective. Though she acknowledges the heightened current conversation around immigration, she says it’s actually long been a been a major issue.

“It just continues to escalate,” Yurshansky says. “I think that’s a reflection of our world as it becomes more undeniable that the idea of a border is actually an arbitrary thing, considering what a globalized society we are in terms of policy, economics, and how much, especially in the U.S., we have a hand elsewhere in the world.” 

Just as each thread is crucially connected in the tapestry of our globalized world, Yurshansky’s work showcases the poignant interconnectedness of people, places, and empty spaces—the places that made us who we are, those that make us who we will become, and the empty spaces we create along our journeys. 


For more information, visit jennyyurshansky.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Agustin Delgado

August 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Agustin Delgado is humble when talking about his work, yet when you see his red-carpet-worthy designs walk the runway, you would never guess the man behind these ethereal, bold looks is quite shy.

Growing up with his great-grandmother, Victoria Hernandez, in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Delgado got his first taste for fashion at an early age. Hernandez was a seamstress who created and designed hand-sewn embroidered home goods and clothing. Her son, Delgado’s great-uncle, was a tailor. The two shared a design studio where Agustin was immersed in both womens and menswear.

At only 8 years old, Delgado left Mexico and his great-grandmother to be reunited with his parents in the United States in search of the American dream. Now 38 years old, he is a first-generation American, and for the last 16 years he’s called Omaha home.

A self-taught fashion designer, Delgado had his “aha” moment in junior high while learning how to sew in home economics. He stayed after school to get one-on-one lessons on patternmaking and fitting from his teacher, who later became his mentor.

The years between junior high and college were some of the most trying in Delgado’s life. When his family’s visa expired, the paperwork for Delgado and his siblings was lost in the immigration bureaucracy. This setback restricted the opportunities he could pursue, and ultimately led to him putting his dream on hold.

In 2014, he and his fiancee hired “an outstanding immigration attorney.” In a matter of a few weeks, his 25-year-long struggle to become a citizen finally came to an end. He’d made it. 

Fortunately, he always kept sewing as a hobby. Many friends told Delgado he had the talent to be a fashion designer. He wasn’t so sure they were right until he started taking classes at Metropolitan Community College for fashion design last year and his dream was made new again.

“Now I have all this time that I lost because of my citizenship status, and I want to do everything I wasn’t able to do,” Delgado says. “It’s never too late to try something new, follow your dreams, and try to reach them.”

This spring, Delgado took a significant step toward living his dream. He showed in, and won, Omaha Fashion Week’s Innovate Featured Designer Showcase. 

One of those friends he mentioned, Phillip McGuire, says he believes this is just the beginning for Delgado, who has made several pieces for McGuire’s drag alter ego, Phoenix Fallentino.

“His talent is endless. I think what’s so wonderful about him is he doesn’t reflect anyone, he’s truly himself,” McGuire says. “I told him after his Omaha Fashion Week runway show, his life is now changed.” 

While the win was certainly a lovely feather in his cap, Delgado considers himself more artist than fashion designer due to his love for art and for the garments he creates. Drawing inspiration from designers Alexander McQueen, Charles James, and Guo Pei, and artist Frida Kahlo, he takes his time creating hand-beaded haute couture and avant-garde pieces that simply wow.

He says he enjoys learning everything he can about previous eras and incorporates those fashion elements into his work by modernizing them to his taste and today’s society.

“The past itself is where the future is at,” Delgado says.

Since winning the showcase at Omaha Fashion Week this spring, Delgado’s confidence in his work and his voice as a designer has soared. His plans are to expand nation- and worldwide next year and eventually call Paris home.

To live amongst all the oldest fashion houses would be a natural fit for him. His great-grandmother found similar inspiration for her work after seeing Coco Chanel’s house in Paris.

“I’m a strong believer that one must understand the past to understand the future,” he says. “I got it from my great-grandma. She believed our mistakes make us the better person that we’re going to be in the future.”  

Makeup Artist: Natasha Patterson
Hair Stylist: Abigail Talkington
Set Stylist: Re’Chaun Styles
Models: Caitlyn Perman & Lena Makui


Visit amdelgado.com for more information about the designer. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Ted Genoways

August 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Award-winning poet, journalist, editor, and author Ted Genoways of Lincoln, Nebraska, has long been recognized for his social justice writing as a contributor to Mother Jones, onEarth, Harper’s and other prestigious publications. While editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, the magazine won numerous national awards. 

His recent nonfiction books—The Chain: Farm, Factory and the Fate of Our Food, and This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Farm—expand on his enterprise reporting about the land, the people who work it, and the food we consume from it. The themes of sustainability, big ag versus little ag, over-processing of food, and environmental threats are among many concerns he explores.

He often collaborates on projects with his wife, photographer Mary Anne Andrei.

His penchant for reporting goes back to his boyhood, when he put down stories people told him, even illustrating them, in a stapled “magazine” he produced. His adult work took root in the form of secondhand stories of his paternal grandfather toiling on Nebraska farms and in Omaha meatpacking plants. 

His father noted this precociousness with words and made a pact that if young Ted read a book a week selected for him, he could escape chores. 

“I thought that was a great deal,” Genoways says. “Reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was the first time I remember being completely hooked. After that, I tore through everything Steinbeck wrote, and it made a huge impact on me. I thought, there’s real power in this—if you can figure out how to do it this well.”

Reading classics by Hemingway, Faulkner, and other great authors followed. The work of muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair made an impression. “But those Steinbeck books,” he says, “have always really stuck with me, and I go back to them and they really hold up.”

Exposing injustice—just as Steinbeck did with migrants and Sinclair did with immigrants—is what Genoways does. Nebraska Wesleyan professors Jim Schaffer and the late state poet of Nebraska William Kloefkorn influenced his journalism and poetry, respectively. Genoways doesn’t make hard and fast distinctions between the two forms. Regardless of genre, he practices a form of advocacy journalism but always in service of the truth.

“I’m always starting with the facts and trying to understand how they fit together,” he says. “There’s no question I’ve got a point of view. But I don’t show up with preconceived notions of what the story is.”

He’s drawn to “stories of people at the mercy of the system,” he says, admitting, “I’m interested in the little guy and in how people fight back against the powers that be.”

While working at the Minnesota State Historical Society Press, Genoways released a book of poems, Bullroarer: A Sequence, about his grandfather, and edited Cheri Register’s book Daughter of a Meatpacker. At the Virginia Quarterly, he looked into worker illnesses at a Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota, and the glut of Latinos at a Hormel plant in Fremont, Nebraska. He found a correlation between unsafe conditions due to ever-faster production lines—where only immigrants are willing to do the job—and the pressures brought to bear on company towns with influxes of Spanish-speaking workers and their families, some of them undocumented.

That led to examining the impact “a corporate level decision to run the line faster in order to increase production has up and down the supply chain” and on entire communities. 

“That’s become an ongoing fascination for me,” Genoways says. “I can’t seem to stop coming back to what’s happening in meatpacking towns, which really seem to be on the front line of a lot of change in this country.”

The heated controversy around TransCanada Corp.’s plans for the Keystone XL pipeline ended up as the backdrop for his book, This Blessed Earth. He found “the specter of a foreign corporation coming and taking land by eminent domain” from legacy farmers and ranchers “and telling them they had to take on this environmental risk with few or no guarantees” to be yet another challenge weighing on the backs of producers.

His focus became a fifth-generation Nebraska farm family, the Hammonds, who grow soybeans, and how their struggles mirror all family farmers in terms of “how big to get and how much risk to assume.”

“They were especially intriguing because they were building this solar and wind-powered barn right in the path KXL decided to cross their land, and that seemed like a pretty great metaphor for that kind of defiance,” he says. 

Pipeline or not, small farmers have plenty to worry about.

“Right now, everything in ag is geared toward getting bigger,” Genoways says. “The question facing the entire industry is: How big is big enough? What do we lose when we force farmers off the land or make them into businessmen more than stewards of the land? To my eye, you lose agri-CULTURE and are left with agri-BUSINESS.”

Farming as a way of life is endangered.

“Nebraska lost a thousand farms in 2017,” he says. “Those properties will be absorbed by larger operations. The ground will still be farmed. The connection between farmer and farm will be further stretched and strained. That’s the way everything has gone, and it’s how everything is likely to continue. Agribusiness interests argue these trends move us toward maximum yield with improved sustainability. But it also means decisions are made by fewer and fewer people. Mistakes and misjudgments are magnified. So we not only lose the culture of independence and responsibility that built rural communities, but grow more dependent on a version of America run by corporations.”

Chronicling the Hammonds left indelible takeaways—one being the varied skills farming requires. 

“We saw them harvest a field of soybeans while keeping an eye on the futures trading and calling around to elevators to check on prices; they were making market decisions as sophisticated as any commodities trader,” Genoways says. “This is one of the major pressures on family farms. To survive, you have to be able to repair your own center pivot or broken tractor, but also be a savvy business owner—adapting early to technological changes and diversifying to insulate your operation.”

The Hammonds weathered the storm.

“They are doing well. They got good news when the Public Service Commission only approved the alternate route for KXL,” he says.

Meanwhile, Genoways sees an American food system in need of reform.

“We would benefit mightily from a national food policy,” he says. “How can you explain subsidizing production of junk food and simultaneously spending on obesity education? How do we justify unsustainable volumes of meat while counseling people to eat less meat? If we really want people to improve their eating habits, we should provide economic incentives in that direction.”


Visit tedgenoways.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Red Tape, Red Flags

May 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“People need to understand [H-1B] is particularly vital for small states like ours where we’ve got low unemployment and a high need for STEM jobs,” says Amy Peck, an immigration attorney with Jackson Lewis, P.C.

One recent search on the popular monster.com job searching database revealed more than 30 software development jobs in Omaha posted within one month—jobs for a field where the overall unemployment rate is 1.6 percent.

That’s why many in IT or other STEM-related fields paid attention when, in July 2017, President Donald Trump signed the “Buy American-Hire American” executive order, which subjects already hard-to-obtain work visas to even greater scrutiny.

This was a blow to those employers recruiting skilled labor on H-1B visas. The visa allows for 65,000 employees to be hired from abroad and 20,000 to be hired from students enrolled in U.S. colleges (under the H-1B advanced degree exemption). More than 200,000 applications are expected for H-1B visas in 2018.The application process opens on April 3, and, if the trend continues as it has in the past several years, applications will only be accepted for five to seven days.

Unlike hiring an employee from the United States, when the start date is often two weeks from the acceptance of a job offer, the earliest an H-1 B-status employee could begin work is Oct. 1…if the application is accepted.

Fortunately, there are plenty of folks who can help navigate the legal system. On behalf of clients, Peck fields increasing government reviewer challenges.

One of the biggest impacts this executive order may make is that employees seeking an extension to an H-1B visa will now face the same scrutiny they faced to obtain the visa.

“When we file extensions on cases that got approved without challenge before, they now get challenged even though the facts have not changed,” Peck says.

That means an employee on an H-1B visa who has worked hard, innovated, and generated income for a company could be denied an extension and the company could lose an employee for no reason other than checking the wrong box
on the paperwork.

Each denied visa extension would cost a company a skilled, trained worker, filing fees, lawyer fees, and much more.

“This change is very disturbing to employers who want to keep a good employee but fear they may lose them during the extension process,” says Omaha immigration attorney Mark Curley. “Foreign workers feel less secure in their employment. They understand their H-1B extensions could be denied.

“Employers could lose a good employee after three years if [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] re-adjudicates the petition and determines the occupation or employee do not meet H-1B requirements…There is already a backlog in the employment-based green card process for applicants from India and China working high IT-related jobs in Omaha.”

“The H-1B is a specialty occupation visa with very specific requirements,” Peck says. “The job must require at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific field or related field. The government has certain wage levels you’re required to pay. A very sophisticated analysis goes into that.

“So, this is not something employers are eager to do. Often, it can be the last resort because they can’t get U.S. workers to do the job. As an economy we rely on this visa category in ways many people don’t want to admit and would like to deny.”

Vetting is done by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center officers. Requests for evidence usually challenge specialty occupation designations.

“We spend a lot of time and effort with employers to describe what the job is,” Peck says. “We cross reference that with the government database. Then we look within the company sponsoring the H-1B to determine if others in that job have a similar degree and we use that to support our submission. The vast majority of our cases are getting approved, but we’re having to really fight. It’s taking all of our skills, tools, and resources to maneuver successfully in this environment.”

First Data is among several Nebraska employers using H-1B visas due to a shortage of skilled U.S.-born workers.

“There’s a myth employers are undercutting the U.S. labor market by hiring H-1Bs, and it really isn’t the case because with H-1B labor there is a cost involved not present with a U.S. worker,” Peck says. “The filing fee alone if you’re an employer with 25 or more employees is $2,460. If you want your case expedited you add another $1,225—and then attorney fees on top of that.”

Pending federal legislation aims to further scrutinize H-1B visas.

“The practical effect will be fewer petitions filed,” Curley says. “It will decrease the number of foreign students who enroll in U.S. colleges and universities.”

One thing is certain. H-1Bs are a hot item—as a topic of business and political discussion.

Amy Peck


This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Nicole 
Carrillo

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Originally published in March 2015 HerFamily.

Nicole Carrillo says she can make friends anywhere. Even at the airport.

Case in point: On a chilly night in November, Nicole stood with her fellow Thrive Club members at Eppley Airfield holding colorful signs. Nicole’s read “WELCOME TO OMAHA!” with the O’s shaped like hearts. Moments later, wild applause, laughter, and some tears erupted from the relatives, students, and coaches gathered for this moment.

Nicole’s soon-to-be-new friends were a refugee family just arriving from Burma. Marisol, Nicole’s mother and one of the sponsors of Thrive, was overwhelmed as tears flooded her eyes. “It was life- changing,” Marisol recalls.

Members of the Thrive Club, along with Lutheran Family Services, provided a cozy home environment for the immigrant family in an apartment volunteer’s chocked full of groceries, clothes, and furniture.

Nicole, a junior at Northwest High School, had filled out a grant to present to her principal, Thomas Lee, to do something for a family that would be lost in a foreign world.

Emigrating is hard, scary, often emotionally draining. Nicole’s empathy stems from hearing the story of her parents. Marisol, a native of Mexico, left for the United States in her teens to pursue a cosmetics license. It was difficult, she says, but she argues she had it easier than her husband Joel, who she would later meet in English classes.

Joel started his first job in the “worst town you can think of”—Aguascalientes, Mexico. He loaded heavy bricks into trucks and, along with 15 or so other boys, sold them house-to-house. He was five at the time. Joel came to the United States when he was 15. Later, he worked 60 to 70 hours a week while attending college classes at night, sometimes even taking a course during his lunch hour.

Nicole sees what her parents had to go through—all their hard work. So she strives to be the best. As a 4.0 student, Nicole is currently right behind her best friend for the top spot on the GPA ladder. “It has been a long steady fight,” she says, “but it’s all in good fun.” However, like most high achievers, Nicole gets upset if she receives a B on a test or paper, but her parents do not.

“My parents are like ‘you are doing the best you can,’” Nicole says resting her hand on her cheek during a recent interview.. “Love them.”

Nicole says attending Northwest was one the best decisions she has ever made. “She is one of the best ambassadors for the school,” Lee says. Nicole is active in all aspects of the school, including student council, National Honor Society, and choir. She has won numerous community service awards and was one of five in the nation to be selected for the National Youth Advisory Council.

Nicole is now eager to show the Burmese family all the “simple things we take for granted” around Omaha—“like the mall and zoo,” she says.

“Nicole has the heart to help…to make a better world,” her mother says proudly.

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