Although America is a “nation of immigrants”, apprehension towards new arrivals and “the other” is nothing new in this country. When Jewish refugees from Brazil arrived in New Amsterdam (modern-day New York) in the 17th century, governor Pieter Stuyvesant tried to turn them away, even if the colony was a free port whose government officially promoted religious freedom. Even the “enlightened” Benjamin Franklin wrote with derision about the “stupid, swarthy Germans” who were arriving en masse to Philadelphia in the 18th century. It seems like not much has changed, especially as official policies and public sentiment around the world becomes more and more hostile to immigrants. One nonprofit community art blog, Riding Up Front, has been aiming to counter this by telling the stories of immigrant cab drivers through illustrations.
These stories are contributed from people around the world, relaying real-life conversations with immigrant cab drivers. According to founder Wei-En Tan, herself a Singaporean immigrant living in the US, the blog, which focuses on interactions between cab drivers and passengers, is meant to “humanize” immigrants. Although the blog started out as a way to counter Trump’s policies, it’s intentionally featured the stories of drivers around the world. For much of Europe, for example, immigrants are still a relatively new phenomenon, who only began to arrive en masse due to a labor shortage in the aftermath of World War II. For many countries, this was their first experience with en masse immigration since the fall of the Roman Empire, leading to a rise in xenophobia and far-right nationalism that are only being amplified. That’s why it’s that much more important to think about immigration from an international perspective.
The site features donation buttons for readers to support the artists, as well as such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Rescue Committee and the American Immigration Council, all of which fight for immigrant rights. Just a week and a half after launching, it’s received story submissions from more than 30 people and four different artists, a great sign for the site going forward.