This Land/Our Land: A interview with 17-year-old pianist Amir Siraj
This interview is part of This Land/Our Land, a music video project bringing together six young musicians from immigrant backgrounds to perform a new arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” The arrangement is by From the Top host Christopher O’Riley. Watch the video here.
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Artists have a great and urgent responsibility in today’s world: fostering social change. However, meaningful and comprehensive social change can only come about if we are able to listen to each other.
Amir Siraj lives in Boston. His mother immigrated from Iran and his father from Saudi Arabia. We talked to Amir while filming This Land/Our Land in New York City. The responses below are edited for clarity.
You were born here, but your parents weren’t. What do you think about being an immigrant in this country?
I’m amazed by the decision to move to America. Being an immigrant, coming to the US…is one of the most American things you can do, because you are are choosing this country because you want to be here. You’re not born here, it’s not something like.. your family was just here. It’s a conscious decision, it’s life-changing, and it’s often for the betterment of your future generations. So I am so grateful and humbled to be able to grow up in this country. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Tell us about your Mom’s experience when she first moved here.
When she came to Colorado for the first time, she had quite a fascinating experience. She was in a really small town on the border of Wyoming; it’s not very diverse. But she was welcomed with open arms. Everybody wanted to know about where she was from, what her background was; people were extremely accepting of her. I think she made real true friends. It kind of amazes me, and I think it speaks to at least some validity of the America spirit, that we can accept people.
Why is this video project important right now?
I think this video is a really cool and fascinating project. America has had many times in its history where it has gone over this internal struggle…defining what it means to be an American, what it means to be an immigrant. And it’s quite ironic because we are a country of immigrants. A video like this, that celebrates the diversity of America, and the arts, and arts made by immigrants, and just the idea of unity…is really important, because that’s just such a fundamental American value, and I think it’s really nice to share.
Artists have a great and urgent responsibility in today’s world: fostering social change. However, meaningful and comprehensive social change can only come about if we are able to listen to each other. Empathy, as manifested in art, civic discourse, and interpersonal relationships, is absolutely crucial if we wish to heal our nation’s deep divides. The act of listening frees our minds, hearts, and voices to realize a limitless collective potential.
Hear Amir play piano and discuss his outreach work in the Boston community on From the Top Show 334.