Article

Welcome to (im)migration, Summer 2018

John Hartford, Johnny Cash, Bobbie Gentry

The Summer issue of No Depression is now available! Take a gander through the updated webstore and grab a copy. Or better yet, subscribe now to receive a full year of ad-free, long-form goodness on your doorstep every quarter.

The theme of this issue deals with topics of immigration and migrations within roots music. We came up with this idea in the beginning of this year and I wrote this letter from the editor, which opens the journal, months ago as well. But with everything happening in the world today, the topics in this issue feel even more relevant now than when we agreed on this theme. Although we'll be trickling out excerpts of journal features throughout the coming months, we’ve decided to reprint that letter in its entirety below due to the timeliness of the topic. Welcome to (im)migration, Summer 2018.

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Like so many Americans, I am child of immigrants. Seven of my eight great-grandparents passed through Ellis Island between the late-1800s and early-1900s. (The last one, my namesake, was born in New York, but her siblings came through Ellis Island.) My father’s grandparents came from Lithuania and my mother’s grandfather came from what he apparently referred to as “White Russia,” which I learned from a quick Google search is modern-day Belarus. Other details are hazy due to the fluid borders in Eastern Europe at the time, but, generally, the rest came from Poland, Romania, and Russia, after the Russian army began conscripting young boys of the region around the turn of the 20th century. They all made it to America 30-40 years before the Holocaust.

Every time I rode the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge back to Brooklyn, I’d think about their incredible journeys and immense sacrifices. On good days, as the train emerged from Manhattan’s dank and outdated underground tunnel system, the sun would splatter light like glitter all across the East River, illuminating a path clear through to the Statue of Liberty.

There on her base, the words of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet has welcomed all those who pass through her gates since the bronze plaque was mounted there in 1903. As her most famous words beckon, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Today, though, that symbol of hope seems dimmed, as the US faces perilous political times. Our supposed leaders are trying to divide our United States by banning certain people from visiting America based on their race, religion, or country of origin and deporting undocumented, yet tax-paying immigrants. Xenophobia is more visible than it has been in decades, and, as a result, Lady Liberty’s words are often used at once as political protest and peaceful plea.

When you make a quarterly journal, it’s often a challenge to stay current, whether regarding the album release cycle or the news. But when we at No Depression were considering themes for this issue, the stories of immigration and migration felt relevant in both music and in life —as much then as now that press time nears. To us, roots music is simply music of the people, a form that comprises a range of genres including but not limited to folk, country, bluegrass, blues, Americana, and jazz. Especially in America, those roots come from all over the world, borrowing and blending all kinds of musical elements along the way.

In 1940, Woody Guthrie signed his first set of handwritten lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” (the ones with the subversive and usually unsung extra verses) with a seemingly innocuous tagline — “All you can write is what you see.”

The following pages offer glimpse into what we — writers, readers, and music makers and lovers — see in the world around us in 2018. Stylized (im)migration, this issue explores stories of musical migration within the broader notion of immigration. We look at how people move by a range of natural elements — rivers and roads — and the means — planes, trains, and automobiles — that carry them and their music.

There are stories about Native migration and black migration within the US and how that helps shape America’s diverse musical history. There are stories about how South and Central American, Australian, European, and African musicians follow their dreams across international borders. There are stories about carrying instruments on planes, riding trains across wild terrains, and how the cars we drive influence the music we choose to listen to.

But in a bigger way, the (im)migration issue is a call for curiosity, compassion, and creative expression, and a case for how those characteristics prove we’re more alike than different. It’s our answer to Woody’s direction — a collection of stories we wrote to show how human migration carries the best of ourselves, especially our music, with us wherever we go.