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This Land is Our Land: A Young Immigrant Group’s Reinvention of the Woody Guthrie Classic

Music speaks for the soul, and in this case, six immigrant musicians from ages ranging 11 to 24 came together in New York City to reinvent and understand the Woody Guthrie classic: ‘This Land is Your Land.’

The musicians were all a part of NPR’s (National Public Radio) From the Top program, which showcases the abilities of young, classically trained musicians. When Christopher O’ Riley, the radio program’s host, combined the national anthems of the musicians, the idea came to life. Traditional themes from the anthems of Bulgaria, South Korea, Mexico, Ukraine, Bolivia, and Iran made up the beautiful reinvention of ‘This Land is Your Land.’

I felt this would be a clear vision of what immigrant culture is contributing to our American lives — culturally, emotionally, moment-to-moment.

Christopher O’ Riley

A series of interviews reveal who each musician is, and most importantly, their thoughts on ‘This Land/Our Land.’

Bella Hristova (Violin)Bella Hristova on the Ferry to Ellis Island

Bella Hristova came to America from Bulgaria to study Violin when she was just thirteen years old. In an interview, she states that she was “…very excited to leave Bulgaria” to come and study the violin.

Why was it important to take time to do this project?

“…It’s very important to me that I remember my roots… The really special thing about this video is that we played a classic American folk song but are all people from immigrant backgrounds. The twist was that each of our national anthems were woven seamlessly into the song. It was incredibly inspiring to be a part of this project, and to express togetherness as musicians who are grateful to live here.”

Mariaya Zabara (Cello)

Maria Zabara in New York City

Mariya Zabara is a twenty-year-old cellist from Belarus/Ukraine and has been studying in the United States for four years. She stated that the only thought pulsating through her head was the fact that she was on the opposite side of the planet, alone, and not afraid.

Why did you want to do this project?

“This is important for me because when I came here I saw this incredible unity… I live with many people from different countries at my college, and all of them are afraid. But they all feel like they are Americans. They feel like they belong here. And getting together with musicians from different countries felt like ‘we belong here.'”

Javier Morales-Martinez (Clarinet)

Javier Morales-Martinez

Javier Morales-Martinez is a 16-year-old Clarinetist. His parents immigrated from Mexico to the United States approximately twenty-five years ago. In an interview, he talked about how his parents struggled to get a good education in Mexico, going to school in different city miles from home, and how they had to also start working to support their families. He admires his parents for getting through that struggle and coming to America to give him a better life with better opportunities.

Why are musical collaborations like this important?

“Despite what might be going on, music is something that can always bring people together. This collaboration was special to me because I felt proud to represent where I come from. Getting to work with people from different parts of the world and supporting each other to make this music video was definitely a great experience.”

Jiji (Guitar)

Jiji points to her home country on a giant globe in New York City

Jiji is a classical guitarist from South Korea. She came to America to study guitar when she was fifteen years old. In an interview, she states that she remembers having to spend the night at the airport after her flight to Cleveland was delayed in Detroit. It was a scary feeling for her because she was alone, and did not know a lick of English.

What drove you to leave home and come to America at such a young age?

“I was really passionate about classical guitar, and at the time, my current teacher/mentor came to Korea and gave this master class. I remember just being mind blown, and immediately expressed my feelings of wanting to study with him. And then he was just like, ‘Well, you’re in! Come to CIM (Cleveland Institute of Music)!’ And I said ‘Okay! I’m coming!’ And so, I just told my parents…”

Oscar Paz-Suaznabar (Piano)

Oscar Paz-Suaznabar at the Statue of Liberty

Oscar Paz-Suaznabar is an eleven-year-old pianist. His parents immigrated to the United States from Guatemala and Bolivia. He says that his father came to the U.S. because his mother told him he would have great opportunities. His mother came to the U.S. to start a new life.

Why do you think projects like this are important?

“I think that musical collaborations are important so people can listen to all the different types of wonderful anthems of different styles and countries. Also to hear how the people of that country interpret their national anthem.”

Amir Siraj (Piano)

Amir Siraj sits in a New York City park

Amir Siraj is a seventeen-year-old pianist living in Boston. His mother immigrated from Iran and his father immigrated from Saudi Arabia. In an interview, he talks about how he’s amazed at his parents’ decision to move to America because it’s a life-changing, conscious decision that they both had to make.

Why is the video project important right now?

“Artists have a great and urgent responsibility in today’s world: fostering social change. However, meaningful and comprehensive social change can only come about if we are able to listen to each other. Empathy, as manifested in art, civic discourse, and interpersonal relationships is absolutely crucial if we wish to heal our nation’s deep divides. The act of listening frees our minds, hearts, and voices to realize a limitless collective potential.”

Written by Liss Castillo

Liss Castillo is a 17 year-old high school student living in Miami, Florida. She spends her free time researching and writing about art, art history, music, literature, the people behind it, and how these things influence each other. Liss enjoys meeting, and shedding light on the work of local artists and strives to bring attention to artists who are resistant to silence, and call people to action with their art in order to create a better, and more tolerant world for the future.

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