Smithsonian explores America’s immigration story through “H-1B”

By Arun Kumar

WASHINGTON– In a spin-off from the Smithsonian’s “Beyond Bollywood” exhibition, 17 South Asian American and Asian-American artists explore America’s immigration story in a new digital exhibition simply titled “H-1B”.

 F-1 to H-1B Visa American universities continued to be a magnet for immigrants. Yogeeswaran Ganesan was born in India and came to the U.S. on an F-1 student visa to study in the nanoscience program at Rice University. Upon graduation, Intel hired him as a semiconductor research scientist and obtained for him an H-1B non-immigrant visa. ( Yogeeswaran Ganesan and his mother, Palani, Tamil Nadu, India, 1985 Courtesy of S. Ganesan Family via Smithsonian Museum)


F-1 to H-1B Visa
American universities continued to be a magnet for immigrants. Yogeeswaran Ganesan was born in India and came to the U.S. on an F-1 student visa to study in the nanoscience program at Rice University. Upon graduation, Intel hired him as a semiconductor research scientist and obtained for him an H-1B non-immigrant visa.
(Yogeeswaran Ganesan and his mother, Palani, Tamil Nadu, India, 1985; Courtesy of S. Ganesan Family via Smithsonian Museum)

Inspired by the employment visa coveted by Indian techies, the artists comment on their immigration journeys depicting the range of emotions-anxiety, dignity, isolation and opportunity-associated with living in America. Approximately one-third of H-1B visas that permit foreigners highly skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to work in the US on a temporary basis, annually are issued to South Asian workers.

“Our H-1B Visa exhibition explores a historic part of the American story from the perspective of South Asian Indians,” said Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Centre.

The H-1B programme has recently come under fire because the demand for H-1B visas has exceeded the 65,000 cap every year since 2003, this year getting 233,000 applications in less than a week.

Closely tied is the H-4 visa for dependent spouses and children of H-1B visa holders.

“Drawing heavily upon my experience as a spouse living on an H-4 visa,” wrote artist Aishwariya in her artist statement for “Dual Intent.”

“My work traces everyday manifestations of the duality of belonging and alienation for families living here in the United States on this visa category.”

Artist and activist Tanzila Ahmed wrote in her artist statement about “Borderless”: “I wanted this painting to reflect the complexity of distance and longing that comes with immigration, lack of a nation-state identity and diaspora.”

Dr. Masum Momaya, Curator of “H-1B” told NBC News that the exhibition “illuminates an immigration status that often gets stereotyped or left out of dialogue around immigration in this US.”

“Each year, people from all over the world come to the United States for a better life; some find opportunity, and others endure great hardship,” she said.

“The artists in this show take us through the emotions and nuances of their journeys, illustrating new and complex layers of what has been a defining characteristic of America and American history: immigration.”

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Centre is also encouraging people to share their H-1B stories using the hashtag #MyH1Bstory.

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