This Land/Our Land: An interview with cellist Mariya Zabara

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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…if you compare America to the rest of the world, that’s what people think about it: it’s changing constantly, it’s new people, it’s new ideas, it’s new cultures.

Maria Zabara in New York City

Mariya Zabara, 20, is from Belarus/Ukraine and has been studying in the US for four years. We talked to her while filming This Land/Our Land in New York City. The responses below are edited for clarity.

Tell us about coming to America for the first time:

I came to Chicago at first, and I stayed there for a month, and then I went to Minnesota, and the feeling of being in America overwhelmed everything. I think the only thought that was pulsating in my head is the fact that I’m on the opposite side of the planet, alone, and I wasn’t scared. I was so fascinated with the fact of coming here that for an entire year that was the only thing I was thinking about.

What stood out to you from those first days? What do you remember?

[laughs] The line at the airport, I guess, that I stood in for three hours. That wasn’t even boring. I was just watching people’s faces of how many different people there are. They all spoke different languages from all of the different countries, and I’ve never seen such diversity. I saw the entire world in one big room.

Why the United States? What do you hope might happen here for you?

The things that are attractive to me about the United States are…the opportunities. I can’t stand in one place. This country is constantly moving, this country, compared to so many things I’ve seen before, is not afraid of change. I mean, it is a little bit, but, mostly, if you compare America to the rest of the world, that’s what people think about it: it’s changing constantly, it’s new people, it’s new ideas, it’s new cultures. Everything gets mixed together. And that’s the fascinating part, and that’s what we create art from. That’s what we create movies from, we play music about it, we write stories about it, we act in plays about it. The differences are what America is about.

Why did you want to do this project? 

This is important for me, because when I came here I saw this incredible unity. And this year, I feel like it’s crumbling away. I live with many people from different countries at my college, and all of them are afraid. But they all feel like they are Americans. They feel like they belong here. And getting together with musicians from different countries felt like “we belong here.”

How did this project change your thinking about art, or about America?

The future of art is in collaboration. By exchanging views, ideas and cultural values with people around the world we create pieces threaded with international experience. In these works people find bits of their souls, because the story is not one-sided anymore. Seeing my fellow musicians take to this piece differently, every person in their own unique way, made me wonder how much more diverse our music and cinema could be. 

This project, strangely, made me feel like I belong in America. Like I finally have a right and a reason to be here – without my family, indeed, but not alone. I felt a unity with this country the moment I stepped close to the lady that welcomes us all.

Hear more music and stories from Mariya on From the Top Show 318.




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