American Art and National Identity

Family Portrait

Fig 4. Paul Sierra, b.1944
Family Portrait, 1991,
oil of canvas, 60 x 90 inches
Brauer Museum of Art, Sloan Fund Purchase, 92.8

If Anglo-Saxon Americans wanted to believe that their nation was as self-generating as the act of planting trees, the reality was that the nation was the result of immigration and colonization, a dense intermixture of racial and ethnic groups over many generations. In the nineteenth century Irish, German, Slavic, Italian, and Asian immigrants joined the Anglo, African, and Latino immigrants of former generations. Immigration has continued to this day to enrich the nation with renewed stories of exodus and deliverance. Paul Sierra's Family Portrait (1991; fig. 4) conveys the mythic stature of emigration in the mind of a young boy who crosses the stretch of water separating Cuba from the United States. A column of
fire, a watery passage, the loss of one world and the discovery of a new one these are the elements of mythic narrative, of an epic quest for the self and homeland.

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