Walking and driving every day in my native Los Angeles, I look around and see an economically thriving microcosm of a multiracial, immigrant America. As the great-grandson of Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, I can’t help but think of skilled trades jobs in Los Angeles as a contemporary analog to my forebears’ late 19th Century experience in Chicago and Boston doing garment piece work and selling sewing supplies.
It’s them in mind that I’ve come to question how, in light of recent anti-immigrant rhetoric stoking wide debate across the U.S., their story might still be relevant today. I decided to consider immigrant and first-generation Americans through the historical portrait approach of the “small trades,” re-engaging with works the masters of photography Eugéne Atget, August Sander, and Irving Penn made to study national identity, work, and class in their own times.
To that end, I intend Working America to be a meditation on American belonging and American becoming. I’m curious if the national trope of hard work as a path to economic independence and inclusion is a reality. Is that path open to immigrants? To people of color?
While these questions are both urgent and dire, my hope is that this series serves first as a document of the lives and contributions of the Angelenos on the screens before you here.