The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to become more resourceful. Musicians and artists in particular have had to find new ways to connect with audiences and continue to spread their work and messages to the community.
In turn, with all the extra time at home people have been consuming more media and turning to art and music to stay entertained and uplifted. Local singer-songwriter Amanda Pascali has branched out into a new project, one that she admits is bigger than her own mission as an artist, with the goal of connecting to Houston’s immigrant community.
Pascali’s Immigrant American Folk Music Project was awarded a grant by the City of Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance. The Let Creativity Happen! digital grant called for projects which would use technology to connect art with communities.
The Immigrant American Folk Music Project will provide online ESL classes beginning in mid July. The project will use music within the lessons along with collecting and documenting the stories of our city's immigrants.
The project is funded in part by the Houston Arts Alliance but Pascali and her musical partner Addison Freeman will be performing online on July 10, at 7 pm CST to raise the remaining funds necessary to complete the project. The concert will be available to stream on Facebook and Instagram with viewers encouraged to make any donation they can.
“I think it's something that our community really needs right now, especially in the most diverse city in the country. We need something to engage with the immigrant community,” says Pascali.
She and Freeman applied for the grant when encouraged by members of the Music To Life organization, started by Noel “Paul” Stookey of the '60s folk group Peter, Paul and Mary and his daughter, Elizabeth Stookey Sunde. The organization strives to modernize the role of activist artists and increase their connection with communities.
“I’ve always been a music activist,” says Pascali. “I've always sang about immigration issues or civil rights issues because of my family's history, but this was a way for me to be more legitimate and smarter about it.” She credits the Music To Life team with providing her the resources and information to apply for and obtain the grant.
“I feel like if you're going to call yourself an activist, you have to make sure that you can be the best that you can at making that happen and sometimes, even as a musician, you have to put that before your own personal goals.”
“When I was developing this project, it started with the idea of me asking myself what it means to be American because growing up I’ve had some wrestling with myself and my identity of trying to figure out where I come from and where I belong. I started digging into that and I realized that language has a lot to do with that.”
As a first generation American, Pascali experienced a very common experience with her parents working long hours and learning English. She spent most days with her Romanian grandmother who spoke her own version of English mixed with Romanian, leading Pascali to mimic her grandmother's way of speaking.
“I started inventing my own way of speaking English from the art that I was consuming, specifically music, and so I invented my own way of speaking. I had no language except broken English and I had to fill in the gaps myself. I thought if music could do that for me, I wonder if it could do the same thing for people who are learning English as a second language.”
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Her unique perspective contributes to her understanding of what students need to learn and feel comfortable doing so. It can be easy for native English speakers to be unaware of the complicated dynamics between speaker and listener and the needs of the non-native person.
“It goes both ways, when somebody is trying to learn English it's not just that they are trying to speak to you and you are letting them come to you. You have to go to them to the same extent, you have to make an effort to listen just as much as the other person is making an effort to talk.”
Pascali is currently working on partnering with a local non profit who provides ESL classes in the community to develop and implement her program. Pascali also will be collecting stories from students, documenting their own personal experiences. Once it is safe to do so, she plans to hold concerts to raise money for local organizations that serve immigrants and refugees in Houston.
“I think at a certain point in my life I realized that my family’s story seemed extraordinary to me, but these days communicating with more first generation kids, I realized my family's story is not that extraordinary. There are so many people that have similar stories, it's just that we never hear about them so I think that we need to raise awareness that this is what the changing face of America is. America is the immigrant, but I think people don't know that because that story is not often told.”